James Lindsay and Gary Bromaghim will probably always have to make an effort to get along.
Bromaghim is the kind of guy who builds small fences around his planter boxes and keeps his back deck meticulously swept. He describes neighbor Lindsay's yard, which he can see from his raised deck over a curiously lowered fence — Lindsay claims that Bromaghim has actually shorted it by sawing off the bottoms of boards as they rot and putting them back, which appears to be the case — as a “boar's nest.”
Lindsay freely agrees.
“It's got out of control,” Lindsay says of the quarter acre of mechanical innards (including an Ingersoll-Rand tractor engine missing only the magneto, Lindsay says); fishing gear — lots of fishing gear; a trailer too hazardous to enter; lumber in various states of usefulness; and more — all woven with blackberry vines, privet and possibly the largest bearing avocado tree on the North Coast, at least 30 feet both high and wide. The tree started from a pit, Lindsay says, dropped into the outhouse that was the property's only facilities into the 1970s. There is no household trash lying around, no smell; just the accumulation of several decades of unbounded know-how.
Lindsay's Whipple Street house in Fort Bragg is small, most of the yard tucked back from the street. He's been there almost his whole life. He went to Fort Bragg High School, same class as Mayor Bernie Norvell. But Lindsay didn't graduate.
“I walked out two weeks before graduation,” he says. “I'd had enough.”
It was the late 1980s; Lindsay had the computing bug. He learned basic coding languages, including how to work with “machine language,” the zeroes and ones that are really the only thing computers understand. He got good enough at it, he says, to do jobs for a few budding Silicon Valley companies. He says he and a friend developed a way to fit an entire music video of “Sweet Child Of Mine” on a 5-inch floppy disc. Not long after, he said, a company announced its new compression algorithm, the kind of thing that powers digital media today. Lindsay says it was pretty much the same thing he and his friend had done, except with money involved.
Lindsay says he has the kind of mind that is always taking things apart and putting them back together, and they have to work. If it doesn't work after he puts something back together, he just can't let it go.
It's not uncommon among old Fort Braggers — that ability and desire to pick up something and kind of figure out how it works — and be able to do it a good part of the time. Lindsay traces his mother's family back to people who are mentioned among the first settlers of the area. The 1945 deed he has for the house (lot price $10) is in his step-grandfather's name. There is a barn on the property, about 20 percent still standing, that is made of old growth lumber that looks like it could have been there when the south side of Fort Bragg was mostly row crops and pastures. What's in James Lindsay's yard, if it was put in order and labeled, would make a pretty good museum of life in Fort Bragg over the past few generations.
That's how deeply Lindsay feels his roots in the place, and the fact that neighbor Bromaghim is on the brink of getting him evicted and his property auctioned off troubles him. It troubles him that his daughter might not get the place. If he were a younger man, he says, and his health were better, he could make more progress. As things are, a half hour of work leaves him winded. It's taken him a long time to ask for help.
Lindsay, who is also administrator of the “Fort Bragg-Mendocino Coast Original Swap Shop” Facebook page, explains his predicament partly in terms of that “fix-it” frame of mind — if he can't fix something, he just has a hard time letting it go. Plus there are the people who have left things at his place and haven't got around to picking them up. (Anybody in the Fort Bragg area “storing” items at James Lindsay's — now would be the time to come retrieve them.)
James Lindsay was in court last week. Attorneys for the City of Fort Bragg volunteered that they had not given him enough time to respond to their latest letter. The hearing that could determine Lindsay's fate, and that of his property, was postponed until May 6 in Ten Mile Justice Court.
Lindsay says his previous contact with the city's attorneys came when a police officer forced open his front door and accompanied a woman who identified herself as an attorney as she walked through taking pictures. He said he appreciated that the officer returned later and replaced the lock broken off his gate.
Lindsay says he regrets letting things go so long. Neighbor Bromaghim has been after him on various fronts for years, he says, but according to Lindsay, no other neighbors have complained to him about his yard.
He is profusely grateful to friends and supporters who have gathered to help him get the place cleared up — money, willing hands, and dumpsters have started to flow, though more help is needed.
On the day Lindsay showed a reporter around his place, Gary Bromaghim happened to be out in front of his house. Asked if he'd like to give his side of things, he motioned a reporter into his house.
“Stand there!”, Bromaghim commanded, pointing to a spot on his back deck.
Asked if he would like to say anything, Bromaghim shouted “It's a boar's nest!” Asked for further comment, he got angrier.
Asked if it concerned him that Lindsay might lose his home, Bromaghim replied, at all-caps-worthy volume, “I DON'T GIVE A FUCK ABOUT THOSE PEOPLE!!!”
At that point, without being asked to, though now facing a tsunami of profanity from the irate homeowner, the reporter left the premises.
It seems doubtful that neighbors Lindsay and Bromaghim are going to resolve all their differences. It does seem possible that Lindsay will get to keep his home, and get his yard cleared up, although that is far from certain. Fort Bragg City Manager Tabatha Miller said recently that getting the place cleaned up is the city's only goal; seeing someone pushed out of his home is definitely not the desired result.
Lindsay's longtime friend, Jay McMartin-Rosenquist, has set up a GoFundMe account for people who would like to help Lindsay get things resolved, and perhaps give neighbor Bromaghim some peace.
Friends and community members are lending a hand. But the outcome is still uncertain and Lindsay says it's a hard thing to live with.
“I love this place, he says. “I just don't want to lose it.”