The Non-Expert

Credit: Jennifer Daniel for TMN

Thy Neighbor’s Wisteria

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. When a reader asks about housewarming gifts, we see Armageddon in the neighborhood.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


Question: What’s a good housewarming present?

Answer: Welcome! The whole street is so glad this house finally sold. It has a sweet yard in the spring, you’ll see. That ivy along the side fence has a tendency to grow over into Mrs. Harrison’s driveway, which she doesn’t like much. Ditto for the holly on the other side. That’s Mr. Dobb’s place. He built half the houses on the street and can tell you everything about growing roses.

What a pity you’re not keeping the flower bed. Our street has been on the garden tour every spring since 1988. Guess you won’t be needing this trowel, then. Never mind. No, really, I could use a new one. I’ll bring you something else.

So you’re remodeling. That’s great. Oh, rebuilding? You mean like knocking the whole thing down and starting over?

From where to where?

Wow. That’s not going to leave a lot of room for gardening, is it? Not even very much grass, really. Will the sidewalk still run by here? What a large house you’re building! Are you having quintuplets? Just kidding! When are you due, by the way? I didn’t know babies needed that much space. We raised three in our house, with only two bedrooms. And the Plunketts raised nine in that pretty little bungalow behind yours. No one had playrooms then. Or, what did you call it, a downstairs media room?

The new house is really going to fill out the lot. Gosh. What about the old oak in the back? Mr. Plunkett’s great-great-grandfather planted it. Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. I love that tree. The sugar maple, too—and the beech? A sunroom needs light, sure…. Do you have something against trees? Allergies?

I’m sure it is a hoot, watching your husband jump out of a fake grave.That’s our house, with the dark green door and boxwood hedge. Twenty-one years we’ve lived there. Still hoping to redo the kitchen. Finally did the upstairs bathroom, though, last year. Had to wait until my husband’s great aunt died and left us some money. But I’m sure it will be different for you. You’re young and ambitious and seem to have a lot of money. I mean, right?

Well, it’ll be nice to have kids playing on the street again. We don’t really have a tradition of block parties, no. Halloween isn’t that big around here, either. Oh, I’m sure it is a hoot, watching your husband jump out of a fake grave to scare the trick-or-treaters. Wow. It’s just that it would be a lot of work to get the grass to grow back.

It’s nice of you to offer your landscaper to help. The block’s never had a landscaper. We have a snowblower we all chipped in for about 15 years ago. It’s in the Plunketts’ garage and you’re welcome to it. We don’t have a leaf blower. Those things are too noisy. I put them in the same category as wind chimes: totally unnecessary noise.

I’m sorry. I’m sure yours are nice if they’re made in Peru. And the sound will be charming from the third-story—turret? How many turrets did you say the house will have?

That’s a lot.

Soooo, let’s see, I’m sure you know about the water in this part of town? Can’t drink it. I mean you can, but it has been linked to…limping in children. A total mystery. Your real estate agent didn’t tell you? Well, she wanted you to buy the house!

And when the moon is full Mr. Dobbs has a collection of vintage rifles he likes to shoot. Just up in the air. No one’s ever gotten hurt. Oh, there was one time, but he was a visitor. We’ve got an excellent crime watch association, so there’s no need to worry. Service is mandatory, but just 90 minutes. Per night. Patrol duty. Dues are steep, but I’m sure that won’t be a problem for you!

Hey, I’ll bet you don’t have a DayGlo night vest yet. Wait here, I’ve got an extra. Oh, but I wouldn’t stand there. You know about the sinkhole, right? Why do you think the house was on the market so long?


TMN Contributing Writer Jessica Francis Kane’s first novel, The Report (Graywolf Press, 2010) was shortlisted for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize and was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. Her story collection, This Close (Graywolf Press, 2013) was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Story Prize and was named a Best Book of the year by NPR. She lives in New York with her husband and their two children. More by Jessica Francis Kane