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Our neighbor rocks

We had our doubts when we heard a rock musician was moving in, but we changed our tune when we got to know Nine Inch Nails' Robin Finck.

October 26, 2009|Ray DeTournay | Ray DeTournay is a retired television producer. Nine Inch Nails disbanded as a touring group in September.

In a man's lifetime, he finds he has little influence over two important things: growing older and choosing his neighbors. Usually these two items run separately, but on occasion they come together in unexpected ways. A little more than a year ago, my wife and I were in one of those situations.

We were in a local sports arena standing at the edge of the crowd when a security guard came over.

"Sir," he said, "no offense, but do you know where you are?"

"Sure," I said. "I'm at the Forum."

"And do you know what's happening here?" he asked.

"A concert by Nine Inch Nails."

He nodded, as if I had just passed a test.

"No disrespect, sir," he said, "but what are you doing here?"

I got his drift. My wife and I didn't quite fit the audience profile. She was wearing a plaid blouse and a denim skirt; I had on a Beijing Philharmonic Orchestra T-shirt. Pretty much everyone else was wearing black and was easily 30 years younger than we were.

"I have a pass," I said, showing my wristband.

"Where did you get that?" he asked.

"We are invited guests." I was getting a little defensive. "The lead guitarist is my neighbor. He wants us to see what he does for a living."

The guard's eyes grew wide. "No way!" he said.

--

His reaction was exactly how I'd felt some years earlier when the agent removed the "For Sale" sign from the house with which we share a driveway. On paper, the previous neighbors had seemed like a great fit. He was in law enforcement, and she worked for a public utility; still, they turned out to be the neighbors from hell. When they decided to sell, we were overjoyed but apprehensive. I asked what we were in for next.

"Oh, you'll just love them," the agent said. "They're great kids."

Kids, I thought. How can kids afford to buy in an upscale neighborhood? "The gal is just great and so pretty," she enthused. "She was an aerialist with Cirque du Soleil."

OK, a trapeze artist doesn't sound too bad. "What about the guy," I asked.

"Oh, he's so sweet. You're just gonna love him."

"But what does he do for a living?"

"He plays a musical instrument in a group," she said, eyeing her car nervously.

"Which group?" I asked more pointedly.

"He's the lead guitar for the rock group Guns N' Roses," she said. "But you're gonna love 'em." She raced for her car and was down the drive before I could react.

I headed for my computer. Clicking on the Guns N' Roses website didn't ease my concerns. Maybe it's him, I thought, or it might be him. It turns out it was the tall, lanky guy with frizzy hair below his shoulders holding a guitar in a cocky manner. There were photos of thousands of crazed fans with hooked fingers pointed skyward, presumably singing unprintable lyrics.

It didn't take much imagination to conjure what was to come. The noise level would be deafening. Our block would be crawling with groupies carrying scissors to clip memorial blades of grass from my neighbor's lawn. They would camp in the street at night, while the odor of marijuana overcame the fragrance of barbecued ribs from my Weber grill.

On the day the new neighbors moved in, a small parade of vehicles came up the driveway. His family, her family and his and her friends. They weren't loud, boisterous or destructive, and the only smoky smells came from chicken and steaks barbecued for the celebration. So far, so good.

Several days later, the rock star came down the drive with a mailbox under his arm. In the spirit of neighborliness, I offered to help him install it. To my surprise, he was an intelligent, gentle young man, friendly and talkative, who had no problem working with his hands. He'd made his money for guitars and lessons by mowing lawns and doing odd jobs in his hometown in Georgia.

"If you ever need help," he offered, "just give me a call."

Praise be to God: a neighbor with tool skills, a work ethic and a willingness to lend a hand. I decided to overlook the hair.

Since that day, Robin Finck and I have helped each other on many projects. There was a trapeze to erect in their sideyard when his wife went freelance. (The unexpected benefit is we can watch her practicing routines while sipping wine on our patio.) One day, while clearing brush on my hillside, he announced he had joined Nine Inch Nails.

We've made only small adjustments in our values. Our taste in music still runs to the Three B's -- Bach, Beethoven and Brahms -- but we started to read rock concert reviews in The Times.

--

At the Forum, the security guard was fascinated. "That's awesome," he said.

I'm not sure what he thought was cool, that a rock star lived in the suburbs next to neighbors who looked like us, or that the rock star would deign to speak to the old folks, let alone invite them to a concert?

"Thank you for explaining things, sir," the guard said, giving me one last careful once-over. Then he reached into his pocket.

"Better take these," he said, putting four earplugs in my hand. "You're gonna need 'em."

Boy, was he right.

The next morning, I went up the driveway to give Robin the earplugs, having burned the ends with a match.

"What happened to these?" he asked.

"That's why we had to leave early," I said. "They kept catching fire."

It's great to have a helpful neighbor with a sense of humor too.

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