Dear Neighbor

Let’s say your next-door neighbor, who may or may not be mentally ill, wrote you a letter. This happened to my friend, Brian, in the fall of 2013. He was living in a sherbet-orange bungalow with his wife and three-year-old son in Highland Park, L.A. The letter was out on the walkway to the front door. No postage. When he picked it up, he noted his neighbor’s name, Ashley, in the return address.

In the year that Brian had been living there they had rarely spoken to one another. Ashley was a quiet neighbor, a mumbler in his mid-to-late forties, who kept to his side of the fence. Brian figured he might be living on disability. He never thought of him as a threat.

Ashley was often seen pacing about his own yard in an orange hoodie, smoking one Kool cigarette after the other. But the evening Brian discovered the letter on the walkway, Ashley was neither out on the lawn, nor peering out from behind the slats of his cream-colored bungalow. Brian could have just thrown the letter away without reading it, rather than bringing it to the kitchen to open it up with a butter knife.

It was only years later after Brian moved back to Brooklyn, New York he told me about the letter. This was over dinner at Sammy’s Noodles on 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village. We’d both ordered the same hot curry soup with prawns. He said it was crazy letter, that at the center of it all was some horrible loneliness. Ashley doing his best to reach out and make a new friend with Brian. But as you’ll see there are elements of the letter that are chillingly off-kilter, perhaps even verging on psychotically insane. Yet from our conversation Brian and I both agreed that it seemed Ashley was unfortunately without people skills along with an anxiously haywire way of communicating. If there was any laughter between us it was faint and nervous, both of us perspiring heavily from having slurped hot curry. I think Brian was relieved to no longer have Ashley as his neighbor.

I continued to think about the letter long after our discussing it. Soon I called him up and asked if he still had the letter and if he’d send me a copy. He took pictures of it with his phone and sent it over. There was much more to the letter than what Brian and I had discussed. I found Ashley’s handwriting difficult to read, so I made a recording of the letter (you’ll find below). There are still a couple of words I don’t think I got quite right. Also, I don’t think Brian ever thought I’d post this so I redacted and blurred their last names to preserve anonymity. 

You’ll also see Ashley requested a lettered response from Brian. It seems he was inviting him to an epistolary relationship though they lived less than twenty feet apart. I don’t think Brian ever wrote a response, but part of what Ashley wanted to know was what he thought of the drawing at the end of the letter.

Here’s my audio rendition of Ashley’s letter.

I’ve looked at it several times myself. It’s a sort of alien string bean body with nervous scrawl for a head and a long codpiece hiding its gender. I’m still not sure what to make of it, except for it giving me the heebie jeebies. Still there’s something weirdly playful about it all.

I added some coloring here to brighten the mysteries of Ashley’s letter.

Also, I dig what Ashley wrote sideways along the edge of the paper, which is featured above right side up, “Your Moons Showzn.” I’m not sure what that means either, but, hey, if you can crack the code on that, and or the rest of the letter I wanna know.