Wagner and I rolled into Ketchum, Idaho near Sun Valley on November 12th. It was a long and uneventful 1950 mile journey from Detroit. Wagner, my 5 month old blue heeler puppy was surprisingly well behaved in the car and in the motels. We took our first off-leash hike together in Jackson, Wyoming, and we had so much fun we stayed an extra night in the Cowboy Cabins.
Only 250 more miles before we reached our new place and met our new landlord / neighbor Judy Schpankter *, a long-time Ketchum local. Schpankter* flashed a few red flags before I signed the lease. Living above your landlord is never ideal, I knew that…but her fenced in yard, the walk-to-the-lift and walk-to-town location and Judy’s* dog friendliness were all positives. The price was right, I was willing to take a chance…so I signed. Judy* said “we’re going to have a puppy”. I thought …who’s we?
Woodsy Road is a beautiful street. It’s a mix of big daddy homes “on the river” mixed with some log cabins and more modest homes. Judy Schphankter* greeted us on the driveway. She seemed excited to meet me and more excited to meet Wagner. Within the first two minutes Judy* gave me a scouting report on the neighbors. “Those people across the street are mentally unstable” she said. “Their daughter tried to break into your bathroom” she added. “Why?” I queried . “She’s mentally ill” opined Judy*. As we walked into the yard I noticed that the bathroom window was 8 feet above a set of stairs. Who is this mental daughter?…Wilt Chamberlin? Spider Girl? I made a note-to-self to form my own opinion about the neighbors.
Judy* welcomed Wagner into the yard with good intentions and a loving caress. She said “ go ahead let him off the leash”. I was reluctant and warned her that he was a very active puppy and “we’ve been in the car for 5 days”. Jud*y said “Gabby* will love him”. Gabby* is Judy’s 9 year old Golden Doodle. As I predicted, Wagner went wild. He was jumping on Gabby*and trying to herd her around the yard. Judy screamed “why is he jumping?”. I laughed it off and said “he’s a puppy”. Judy grabbed him by the collar and scolded Wagner. “Why are you using this kind of a collar?” she asked. “You are a bad dog trainer”. I took Wagner from her and put him back on leash. " I’ll train my own dog, thanks”. “Well you’re doing a bad job”. My first conflict with Schpankter*…and I hadn't even been inside yet.
She offered to show me the apartment and we walked up the stairs together. Gabby* came along and ran free through the unit. Wagner was going schitzo because of the presence of another dog. I asked her to leave Gabby* downstairs so we could get settled. I could tell she was miffed. She then suggested “let’s take the dogs for a walk down by the river”. I tried to be nice and said “it’s been a long drive, we just want to get settled”. She was miffed again. She then went into an extreme monologue about the contents of the unit. “12 forks, 12 spoons and 12 knives”. She went on and on and on and must have mentioned the inventory check list about 10 times. When I asked if the cable worked she proceeded to give my a doctorate level lesson in the use of the remote. “I’ll figure it out” I said. She shook her head and kept talking.
After what seemed like an eternity she finally left and I began to unload the car.
Schphankter*was eye-balling my every move. Each trip up and down the stairs I got the once-over from Judy*. She was giving me the creeps and it was still the first hour of my 6 month lease.
The next morning I got a text asking me to “please stop running up and down the stairs”. I ignored it. The second morning I got a text bright and early, “please stop slamming the door”. Wow, I was getting pissed already. The third day she came out as Wagner and I were leaving. I tried to be nice and friendly and shared. “ ya know, I'm not a bad guy and I’m trying to be considerate and quiet and I’m not really running up and down the stairs, I guess that’s just how I walk”. And I added “the door is unbalanced so it closes itself…I’m not slamming it”. She gave me a dirty look and gave me a dissertation on the idiosyncrasies of the house. How dare I tell her about her house. I stopped to listen for a minute, but she went on and on again. It was an uncomfortably long monologue. I thought to myself, Wagner’s gotta take sh*t…so I sort of nodded and started walking. She was miffed yet again.
On Day 4 I bought a used bike from the local pawn shop. Nothing special...but a decent townie ride. When I came home I leaned it against the wooden fence in the large back yard near the entrance to my stairs. Almost immediately I received a text chastising me for “ruining her view”. How dare I lean my bike against HER fence. Her text went on… Wagner and I no longer had yard privileges. I returned her text saying “we need to talk ASAP”. I went downstairs and knocked on the door. She refused to answer.
Before I was back up the stairs the phone rang and she proceeded to verbally assault me. “You’re selfish, inconsiderate , aggressive and mentally unstable. You come here and act like you own the place”. Wow, I was dumbfounded. I was trying to be a quiet considerate neighbor and she was flipping out on me. She shouted into the phone “and your plastic tote lid is leaning against the base board heater…that’s a fire hazard and a violation of house rules, you’ve been warned Mister”. I responded, “first of all, the heat isn’t even turned on and secondly, how do you even know that anyway?” She screamed “I have good intuition”. I was almost certain she entered my unit without my permission and no prior notice. This is not allowed as specified in the lease and by Idaho law. I was shaken.
The next morning I rigged up a string on the door knob and tied it to a rubber dog toy. I also decided to innocently check to see if there had been any previous police incidents at my address. I rode my new bike to the cop shop and asked if there had ever been any police issues at 666 Woodsy Road. The young officer said “not that I can recall”. “My landlord is a little strange”…but I did not mention her name. “Do you mind checking?”. 10 minutes later he came down and asked “is your landlord Judy Schphankter*?" “Yes” I answered. “yeah we know her” he shared. “How well do you know her?” His body language and tone of voice indicated that he wouldn’t share too much. “Pretty well” was all he said.
When I got back from the Police station and opened my door...the rubber dog toy was on the floor. I was almost certain she had entered my home again…without permission. I was freaked. I gathered up Wagner and a few overnight items and drove down to Twin Falls, the closest real town, about 80 miles away. First stop; Best Buy. I bought a nanny cam, and after two hours on the phone with a nice lady in China I finally got it to work. I also posted a no trespassing sign.
The situation at home deteriorated quickly. Judy*sent me nasty texts, mean e-mails and she screamed at me every time she saw me. “That’s a violation, mister!!!” One night she got really close to me and screamed in my ear "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU". I knew she was watching me too. This sh*t was creeping me out. I knew I had to leave even thought the apartment was great. But, Finding dog-friendly accommodations in a ski town in December…not an easy task.
I went back to the Cops and politely asked for an open records request about Judy*. “We’ve never done one of those” the nice officer mentioned. “I smiled and said, “well let’s figure out how to do it…cause it is a federal law”. The Ketchum PD was extremely cooperative. There were 10 incidents of various nature related to Schpankter*. The worst was a misdemeanor for putting dog doo in the neighbor’s car. She was given a no trespass edict for that. I checked the Idaho Repository, a list of court cases. Judy* had 17 lawsuits mostly small claims, in the past 8 years.
I was not happy. I was nervous. You can’t predict crazy…and this lady was “one of them”, one of the “Ketchum Krazies”. I think there are more of them than anyone will admit. I saw her as I was leaving the house on the day before Thanksgiving. I smiled and said “I’m really trying to follow the house rules”. She smiled and said “gimme a big hug”. I did not want to hug it out with her…but I didn’t want to rock the boat, so we embraced. She invited me over for Thanksgiving Dinner…how nice. I politely declined, she was miffed again.
The next day I gave her notice that I was terminating the lease. She responded by telling me I had “forfeited all the money” and she wanted me “out as soon as possible”.
I immediately put most of my stuff in storage and diligently started searching for a new place.
I did what any (past) middle aged, Jewish, well educated, ski bum from Detroit would do. I ran. Now I'm out $5K but Wagner and I are so happy in our new home.
Welcome to Ketchum.
* Judy Schphankter is not a real person, and *Gabby is not a real dog. This story is based my personal experiences in Ketchum.