Help me rescue my knitting from the neighbors' yard!
April 3, 2015 5:33 AM   Subscribe

A knitting project I had pinned out on my roof blew down into my neighbors' walled-off backyard. I don't think he understands what happened. I want it back ASAP. What's the best and fastest way to make my intentions clear and get my project back?

I have roof access in my apartment, through a door in my living room. The roof faces the backyards of two houses around the corner. Those yards are completely walled off and invisible from the street below; the only way to access them is by going through the houses they're attached to.

Two nights ago, I pinned a knitted lace scarf out on blocking mats on the roof. The scarf stayed beautifully pinned out through the night, but it was still damp in the morning (part of blocking is wetting the object), so I left it out to keep drying while I went to work.

You see where this is going. I stupidly didn't weigh down the mats, the wind picked up while I was gone, and by the time I got home (in the early afternoon), they'd blown off the roof and into the neighbors' yard. (I can see them there looking down from the roof; the mats are still stuck together, and it looks like one end of the scarf draped over a low-hanging clothesline.) I went downstairs and knocked on the door of the house where I'd seen my project. When I didn't get a response, I slipped a brief note, saying who I was and what I was looking for, along with my phone number, through the mail slot.

Later that afternoon, I decided to try the door again. An elderly man with a walker answered, along with a much younger woman. I tried to clearly explain who I was and what I needed, but he seemed confused, hard of hearing, or both. The woman, who said she was his aid, told me to possibly try back when his niece was visiting that Monday, that the man physically couldn't get into the back yard at all I tried to reiterate who I was, picked up the note (which was still on the floor) and told them how to reach me, but... I still get the vibe that I weirded them out.

I'm an aid for elderly clients too; I realize how weird I must look, and I wouldn't necessarily trust me to go into a stranger's yard either. But at the same time, I'm not entirely sure she understood what I wanted, and I'm afraid the niece won't trust me either (plus, I don't know exactly when she'll be there.) Is there any way I can make my intentions absolutely clear? Any way I might be able to get my scarf back before Monday? It's looking like rain today here, and this scarf is a gift that I put a ton of work and love into; I'd really like to get it back undamaged!

If I just need to suck it up, wait the three days, and hope for the best you can tell me that too; just hoping there's another way!
posted by ActionPopulated to Human Relations (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you can make yourself understood to the aid, can't she go get the knitting? No need for you to enter their home or yard at all.
posted by jon1270 at 5:41 AM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not to threadsit, but one more thing; getting the aid to get it was exactly what I was going for yesterday, and she wouldn't; she was the one who suggested waiting for the niece. Carry on.
posted by ActionPopulated at 5:50 AM on April 3, 2015

It might be overkill, but maybe call the nonemergency police number and have an officer accompany you? You just need to retrieve your property, and doing it with an officer makes it more official and less "weird person maybe casing my house".

That might be a level of escalation you're not comfortable with, though - I'm in a small town and our local police would probably be grateful for the diversion.
posted by SeedStitch at 5:56 AM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Might be time to be less nice to the aid. "Something of mine fell into the yard of this house and I need it back now. Either you can go and get it or I can go through the house and get it. I'm not leaving unless you retrieve my property."

This might not work of course and could backfire horribly but unless she is extremely stubborn I don't see why she wouldn't just go get the thing once she realizes you're very serious about it.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:00 AM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Or, maybe bring cookies, and show her ID with your address so she knows you're really a neighbor.
posted by Mizu at 6:02 AM on April 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

The aide has a job to do. I would not expect her to do - nor pressure her into doing - anything beyond what she is there to do. You have no idea what is wrong with the neighbor. Even getting him to come to the door might have interrupted a therapy session, exacerbated a physical ailment, confused/agitated him... expecting his aide to set aside her work for your knitting is not very neighborly.

When the niece is there on Monday, go talk to her and retrieve your things from the yard.

I would also suggest giving the niece your contact information. It would probably ease her mind to know there is a caring neighbor who can check on her frail uncle from time to time.
posted by headnsouth at 6:12 AM on April 3, 2015 [15 favorites]

Unless the aide doesn't understand English or you are really bad at explaining, she's being willfully dumb. This would frustrate the piss out of me.

I would go over there again right now and firmly say, "hi, I know I was just over here, but I need my property back. Something that belongs to me blew into your back yard and I need it back now. Please go into your back yard and get it for me. It's by the [tree] near the [shed]. I'll wait here." And then just stare at her with a polite, expectant look on your face.

Have the local police non emergency number queued up on your phone. If she doesn't make a move or gives you business, call the police and do exactly what SeedStitch says.

It's your stuff and it got there via act of god. You have a right to have it back.
posted by phunniemee at 6:13 AM on April 3, 2015 [19 favorites]

Is the aid still there? Bring your needles and extra yarn with you. Ask her to just go look and see that the scarf is there. Tell her you will wait out front, she can close and lock the door while she does that. When she returns show her the yarn so she can see that it is the same and that therefore the scarf is very likely yours. Tell her you need it right away because you are giving it to someone this weekend and it will get ruined if it is not brought inside. If she still refuses, ask her if she will just bring it inside to protect it, and give her a note addressed to the niece to be placed with the scarf. The note should explain the situation and give your contact info.
posted by girlpublisher at 6:19 AM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

If someone showed up on my door and announced that they weren't leaving until I did [whatever thing they wanted - boy, would I stop caring about whatever it was at that point], I would call the police, and would probably be rather freaked out. And the thought of you showing up on this elderly man's doorstep with police in tow just makes me feel so sad for everyone involved - if he's already confused or not quite with it, I have to think a stranger showing up with police would only cause him a lot of undeserved stress.

Surely you can understand why the aide is nervous about this? Home invasions can and have happened when someone has opened their door to strangers (and I realize I'm going to the worst-case/alarmist scenario here, but if I were an employee responsible for the safety and well-being of someone who was probably not able to take care of themselves, this is the kind of thing that would loom in my mind). By knitting a hand-made gift for someone, you're putting something good out into the universe - please don't undo that by making life scarier for these strangers; I can't imagine your friend wanting you to do that.

I do sympathize with your predicament - I can't imagine being able to SEE what I'd worked so hard on and not being able to get it (and man, would that lead to some cockamamie scheming on my part, probably involving very long fishing poles er, don't do that). But since you've already left a note with your phone number, and tried talking to the aide in person, I think unfortunately you need to leave them be and wait for the niece. Who knows, maybe the aide will find your scarf in the backyard and give you a call before then - and I hope she does - but otherwise, I think you've done everything you can reasonably do.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:20 AM on April 3, 2015 [49 favorites]

Can you are take a picture showing the item in the yard to more clearly indicate what/where it is.
posted by saffry at 6:30 AM on April 3, 2015 [17 favorites]

Ask if the aide can go fetch it some time within the next hour and that you'll call back for it then. I can understand her not wanting to go into the garden if she thinks you know when she'll be leaving the neighbor alone in the house. But if you call back, she'll have had time to think about it and to go and do it, and it'll work much better.
posted by ambrosen at 6:37 AM on April 3, 2015

that the man physically couldn't get into the back yard at all

I don't see what the point of arguing is, they're not getting your stuff because they can't. Which is totally allowed, no one has to keep their yard accessible for your convenience. The man can't get in there, it's not the aide's job or problem to try and work out how to get back there, all you can do is wait and go back when the niece is there and hope she's willing to work out how to get in to the yard for you. Going back over there now and demanding stuff is just going to upset them more and make that less likely.

They're not doing anything wrong. It was your responsibility to make sure your stuff doesn't blow over the fence. I get how upset you are and being able to see the scarf must be even more frustrating. But that's sadly not their problem.
posted by shelleycat at 6:50 AM on April 3, 2015 [17 favorites]

I wonder if when the aide said that the old man physically couldn't get into the yard, she meant that physical access to the yard wasn't actually possible at all. Perhaps the niece has locked the access door to increase security for the old man and taken the key to stop him wandering? I know of an older gentleman who had to to be physically locked in his house (with a carer) for his own safety - he had Alzheimer's.

Please don't cause the police to turn up. That's likely to scare and confuse the older guy.
posted by Solomon at 7:09 AM on April 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

A couple things. I doubt the niece locked the access to the yard, that would be a big no-no in the event of a fire.

That being said, whether the man can't get in the yard because access is blocked, or he can't get in because he is infirm, the bottom line is that he can't help you. And the aide can't help you either. What if you are lying and she gives you the old man's property just because you said it was yours? Poof! There goes her job.

Telling the aide to let you in the house is a terrible idea. If I were her I'd call the police if you threatened me like that.

Calling the police yourself is also a horrible idea. If this were a situation where you needed help to retrieve your property due to a domestic violence situation, they would be there to help. In this situation, you're wasting their time.

Your only option is to try to get in touch with the niece on Monday. As someone said above, while the situation is unfortunate, it is no one's problem but yours.
posted by amro at 7:29 AM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

To make any progress here, you'll have to get someone the aide trusts to vouch for you. Best would be the niece, although that'd be easiest if you actually know her; other options include other neighbors whom the aide actually knows.

If I were you, I'd go back over, ask for the niece's contact info so that you can arrange a time to meet when she returns. Then go ahead and contact the niece now, ask to arrange a time, but also ask if it's possible to get the knitting inside before the rain. The answer, sadly, may be no (for reasons outlined by other posters).
posted by nat at 7:29 AM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I had an escaped cat go into my neighbor's yard. I went by and they said "You have to come back in a day or two because we can't get out the back door." Right, sure, I'll just leave my cat out for a few days. But yes: in the manner of slightly dodgy old people everywhere, they had barricaded themselves into the house permanently. (Please don't let this happen to me.) I suggested that they might not mind if I jumped our common fence using my ladder and they agreed to that.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:31 AM on April 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

As a knitter myself, I feel your pain in losing your scarf.

As a person who's had elderly relatives nearly taken advantage of several times, my greater sympathy lies with your neighbor's aid. Her job is, in part, to protect him. She is responsible for him.

I would do as suggested and try to find a way to contact the niece directly, but I'd also start accepting the fact that you might not get the scarf back or you might not get it back in the condition it left you. And I'd take this as a lesson not to block things outside any more.
posted by zizzle at 7:39 AM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

The scarf's gone: deep breath, start on a new one. It sounds like you wouldn't get it back until Monday anyway, by which time it may have been rained on/worried by kittens/pecked at for nesting material by sparrows/used as an allegorical motif by the ghost of Edward Gorey.

When it comes time that you lead your lace blocking masterclass and a pupil asks why you vehemently reiterate the importance of securing blocking mats, you can say that you once saw six weeks of your best work carried off by the wind. They will learn, and need never know the loss that you have.
posted by scruss at 7:44 AM on April 3, 2015 [11 favorites]

The aide's job is to care for your neighbor, not to retrieve your belongings from his back yard. If your neighbor cannot physically get into his backyard, that means the aide would have to leave him to retrieve your belongings. Not her job, not her problem, and potentially irresponsible of her. Yes, I'm sure she leaves him for things like bathroom breaks, but perhaps the logistics of doing so are more challenging than you know.

I absolutely cannot believe someone would suggest threatening the aide, as Potomac Avenue does above. We're talking about yarn, people. It's not like you dropped a sack of gold into this man's yard.

You admit that your things fell into his yard due to your own carelessness. You're fortunate, frankly, that the aide even suggested a plan and that your things are still in the yard as far as you know. Wait until the niece is home and speak with the niece. Do not threaten the aide, do not call the police.
posted by pecanpies at 7:48 AM on April 3, 2015 [12 favorites]

Fishing line, hook. Cut the barb off. Blocking mat may have to wait, but I you could get the scarf. Add a fishing pole for more control. (DingoMutt was on to something.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 7:55 AM on April 3, 2015 [8 favorites]

It sounds like there are two houses with backyards next door to each other. You might try knocking at the door of the other house, perhaps that neighbor would know the man and/or the aid, and would be able to intercede for you. If there's a language or other barrier in your communicating with them, the other neighbor could possibly help you get around that.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:59 AM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Write up a polite explanation and leave it on their door. They might need time to read and digest. This will also provide something for the niece to read and process on Monday. Sorry if that's too long to wait, but lesson learned, right?
posted by intermod at 8:33 AM on April 3, 2015

I think your best options are a) to try to get contact information for the niece so you can reach out to her directly or b) leave a note for the niece, ideally with a photo of the backyard marked with what you're trying to recover.

Please don't pressure the aide. Those are precarious jobs often done by people whose status in the country is dependent on them maintaining their employment. They're not going to want to do anything with their client's property that seems even slightly sketchy for fear of being fired and possibly deported. I'm a knitter, so I can understand the feeling of desperation to get it back, but the aide can't be your target.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:40 AM on April 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

I don't get why you don't just jump the fence for the 30 seconds it would take to retrieve your stuff. While technically trespassing, I highly, highly doubt that anything would come of it. This fishing pole stuff is crazy, that's going to take 10x longer and look 10x more suspicious than just grabbing it.
posted by zug at 12:18 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would try again, as there may be a different aide was working that day/shift. You could get someone for whom it's no big deal to gather your knitting project.

If you do get the same aide, you can ask her to consider moving your project away from the upcoming rain instead. Express empathy/understanding for her first decision ("I understand that you can't return my project to me, since it's on your patient's property. I'm actually an aide too, I get it!"), and frame the option to move the scarf inside as a much easier option that removes the problem with the first option. Offer a justification to make it internally ok for her to soften her prior judgment ("It's my fault: I wasn't clear last time about how important and valuable it is to me"--though don't go so much into this that you make it about you).

But hopefully someone else answers the door. Also, why do you say you must have looked weird? If there's something about your appearance or dress than can be mitigated to look more trustworthy, do that before you go over. Heck, if it's after work, don't change out of your scrubs/uniform (if they're in ok shape).
posted by neda at 12:21 PM on April 3, 2015

caaaan you climb the wall?

if it was me I'd just climb the wall and grab my knitting and climb back out. Probably no one would see you do it, and if they did they'd probably be like "hey is that that crazy.... what's she grabbing.. oooh I get it."

I mean, trespassing isn't much of a crime. though, if you're unwilling to crime, then yeah I think you're stuck waiting for monday.
posted by euphoria066 at 2:10 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hmm, what if you went all MacGyver and "fished" for it using a string tied to a weight with Velcro/a hook/etc. at the end?
posted by bunji at 3:17 PM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's not like you dropped a sack of gold into this man's yard.
Knitting takes so much time and so much effort and so much thought that it is kind of like gold. I've thought about this question all day and it makes my heart ache a bit. I'm also a knitter and this sounds like a nightmare.

That said, obviously don't call the police. I would just knock again and say, "I understand that you can't get it right now, but if you have time to grab it, please let me know. Here's my cellphone number. Thanks so much for your time." The aide probably thinks you're going to do something creepy while she goes out in the yard to get it. She doesn't want to deal with this because she doesn't get it. Even as a knitter myself if someone came to my door and told me this story I'd be like ok, bye, I'm not getting your thing while you stand at the door waiting, this seems weird and shady. And then after you left I'd go out in the yard and be like "Oh, ok," and I'd bring it in and feel bad and hope that you came back.

I'm so sorry this happened. Wind is fickle.
posted by sockermom at 4:53 PM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Please do not antagonize the aide. If she's already made the calculation that her job security trumps your knitting, respect that for the reasons already outlined by other posters.

Wait for the relative to return. It sucks that this thing you spent so much energy on is at a risk of being destroyed, but how many boundaries are you willing to cross to get it back?
posted by Ashen at 7:32 PM on April 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

You guys, I'm so happy to report that this story has a happy ending that doesn't involve police or bugging the old man or his aide!

While I was looking down from the roof in despair yet again, I noticed that a) there's a small locked gate into the alleyway next to the backyards that I'd missed before and b) that alley abuts the Chinese carry-out next to my apartment, where I'm a semi-regular and the owner knows who I am. I went to the carry-out and told the owner that my knitting had blown into their alley, hoping they'd be able to grab it. Instead, he gave me the combination for the lock on the gate! My knitting had blown completely over to the restaurant side; no need to reach over into anyone's backyard.

The scarf was still partially pinned to the boards and looking great. The end that came unpinned will be fine after stretching out for a bit INSIDE this time. All it needs is a gentle wash in something good-smelling.

Thanks everyone, for all your suggestions, and for seriously making me reconsider how I interact with clients and their families in my own capacity as an aid. Best answers that made me think are marked, even though I didn't end up needing to deal with the family again.

The infamous scarf!
posted by ActionPopulated at 10:16 AM on April 4, 2015 [24 favorites]

That is a hell of a scarf. Well done.
posted by kinetic at 6:54 AM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is that scarf purple or gold?
posted by 4ster at 6:56 PM on April 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

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