By Amy Wimmer Schwarb
LARGO — Two years ago, Bob and Connie Cain bought a two-bedroom, two-bath house in the suburbs. They added a porch swing and painted it a pleasing shade of green, with cream trim.
They are retired government employees from Ohio who love God and Harleys. The house is a three-minute drive from the beach. The couple and the house made a perfect pair.
The neighborhood seemed nice enough. Two doors down, Don and Claire Yoder had lived in their home for 30 years and seemed to get along with everyone. Across the street, Pat Ross was in her 70s and recuperating from cancer, yet still mowed her own lawn and trimmed her own trees. Next door, a renter named Michael Glick maintained an immaculate lawn; his flower beds brimmed with voluptuous tropical plants.
Shortly after moving in, Bob Cain saw Glick walking down the street. "Hi," he called out, stepping to the end of his driveway. "My name's Bob."
The men shook hands. As Cain recollects, their conversation went like this:
"You know," Glick said, "I ran off the last Christian biker that lived here."
Cain didn't know what to think. Was this man trying to be funny?
Glick's hand was still in his. Bob Cain gave it a hard squeeze, locked his blue eyes onto his neighbor's and replied: "You won't run this one off."
We can choose our friends. We can't choose our parents.
But neighbors are something in between. They arrive in our lives as a package deal with the place we call home. Neighbors are like a lottery ticket.
Sometimes we win and we get neighbors who trim their bougainvillea, lend their plunger, maybe share the bounty from their key lime trees.
But sometimes we get a neighbor like Michael Glick.
Pat Ross, the woman fighting cancer who lived across the street, warned the Cains that Glick was trouble. At first, the couple tried not to take sides.
"I'm sorry," Bob Cain recalls telling her. "We get along with everybody until somebody proves we can't."
For Ross, the lines had been drawn a few years earlier when Glick complained that the security lights at her home were too bright. He didn't just knock and alert her to his problem; he parked his van in front of her home with a plywood sign on top that said: "DIM YOUR LIGHTS." Ross redirected the lights and lowered the wattage. But the dispute had only started.
Ross began keeping a log of her interactions with Glick. In her notes, she accused him of installing a strobe light that shined into her living room window at night. Placing a witch decoration outside his home, accompanied by a sign that said "Pat." Blocking her driveway with his vehicle. Following her down the street in his van, accelerating before swerving away. Standing on his lawn with friends while pointing at her house and laughing.
He also, Ross noted, smashed eggs on a neighbor's driveway. Dumped manure on a neighbor's property. Flipped off some neighbors. Even mooned them. "He has 'flashed' (numerous times) his rear end, pointed to it, wiggled it, grabbed it and scrunched it," Ross wrote in her log.
Glick's nickname for Ross, neighbors came to know, was Retard. When he saw her around town, perhaps at Home Depot or Walmart, he would shout, "Hey, there's Retard! There's the old retard!"
Ross looked up court records and newspaper archives and learned that Glick was born in Chicago. A high school graduate and U.S. Army veteran, he has worked in the construction business since the 1970s and makes his living as a handyman. He moved to Redington Shores in the late 1980s and lived there for more than 15 years. He ran for city office three times, always unsuccessfully.
But more interesting to Ross was the Times' coverage of his squabbles there.
He was accused of parking in front of a neighbor's mailbox, painting sad faces on the side of his house that faced neighbors he disliked and positioning a 4-foot-tall Pink Panther on his roof, the tail tucked between its legs and hands positioned to simulate masturbation. During a feud with an elderly neighbor named Emil, Glick posted a sign on a portable toilet at a neighborhood construction site. It said "Emil's Lunchbox," according to police, and included the man's home telephone number.
He was fined $150 and given probation for making harassing calls and ordered to complete community service after he fired a shotgun at a local coin laundry. Glick insisted it was an accident.
Police were called to Glick's Redington Shores home six dozen times in 12 years. He moved to Largo about seven years ago, and Ross' notes say she called the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office so often that deputies told her she was wasting department resources.
"After more than three years of this, I am in fear for my life from this man," Ross wrote in December 2009 in her request for a permanent injunction. "I cannot, nor should I have to, live like this and be in constant fear for my life."
A judge denied her request, Ross told neighbors, because she couldn't prove Glick was a threat to her.
Meanwhile, the Cains' relationship with Glick, 62, deteriorated. In April 2011, Glick called the Sheriff's Office to report that his van had three flat tires and that he suspected the Cains as the culprits. The next week, they found dead flowers on their porch and a note that said "Happy Easter." The Cains have since reported to the Sheriff's Office that Glick threw firecrackers at their dogs and placed feces on their cars.
Ross was sleeping on her bathroom floor to escape the glare of Glick's security light. Ross turned to a long list of agencies: the Sheriff's Office, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, the Attorney General's Office, Gulf Coast Legal Services, television news stations, a government program designed to help victims of crime, another program for victims of elder abuse. No one could help.
Pat Ross died in December 2011. The day her belongings were sold at an estate sale, neighbors saw Glick crossing the street to her home. "I'm going over to Retard's house and buy some of her stuff," they heard him announce.
Four months after Pat Ross died, a letter Bob and Connie Cain had written to the Pinellas County sheriff made its way into the hands of Deputy Noel Dunham. The deputy got an inkling of how incessant were the complaints when, while driving to the neighborhood, he heard a dispatch call to Chamberlain Avenue: Glick had called to complain about barking dogs.
Dunham met with the Cains. He talked to other neighbors. An older man told Dunham he feared that if he died, his wife might become the focus of Glick's attention.
"I asked Mr. Glick about the charges from the other neighbors," Dunham says. "He said it was all lies, everybody's lying.
"I have a bit of an issue understanding what it is he wants. The Cains are under the impression that if they sold their house and moved, he would just continue the same behavior with the next residents."
Dunham gave neighbors his cellphone number, told them to call him directly if they saw anything suspicious.
Soon after, someone did. A neighbor driving past the Cains' home saw Glick spraying something over his fence into their yard. The man snapped a cellphone photo.
Dunham surveyed the Cains' yard, found a burnt spot of grass about 8 feet wide and 5 feet deep. Combined with the photo, he had probable cause for an arrest.
He cuffed Glick, walked him to the squad car. Five or six neighbors stepped outside and applauded.
"They seemed relieved that everything was going to come to an end," Dunham says.
In December, days before the trial, the State Attorney's Office contacted Dunham. Had he taken a soil sample? Did he find the chemical Glick had allegedly used? The State Attorney's Office dropped the case.
Christie Ellis, the assistant division director for county court at the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, says she sympathizes.
"Don't get discouraged," Ellis says. "Keep making a police report if you believe a crime has occurred. If we can prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, we're going to prosecute it."
The day the charges were dropped, Glick posted a professionally printed sign in his yard: "DISMISSED."
"I have to wonder what is wrong with him," Connie Cain says. "He seems to prey on women and animals that can't protect themselves. I still do pray for the man, but I just want peace."
Dr. J. Harold Berberick, a psychologist who is president of Behavioral Health Strategies in Massachusetts and often testifies as an expert witness, has a theory about Glick's behavior.
"He doesn't have to have a psychiatric problem," Berberick said. "He might just be kind of a mean, ornery guy who doesn't like people and wants to take every opportunity to make life difficult for his neighbors."
Glick says his relationship with the Cains isn't worth a story.
"They come here for five months of the year, and they're idiots," he says. "I don't even know what they look like. I don't even talk to them.
"We've got a quiet little neighborhood," Glick continues. "They let their dogs out in the middle of the night, and they bark.
"I dread them coming, and I'm glad when they go."
And then, Glick hung up.
Glick's landlord, Kim Estrada of Largo, did not return phone calls. She hasn't answered letters from neighbors.
If there's a lesson in all of this, it's probably one many of us learned in middle school. Unless your tormentor draws blood, you're probably on your own. Even if the bully lives next door.
Connie Cain says her neighbor has been quiet lately. The silence makes her nervous. A few weeks ago, she was pulling into the driveway when she saw Glick step out of his garage. As she approached her door, she heard the crack of a BB gun and shrieked as a throng of birds winged into the sky.
She and her husband enjoy their months in Florida. Just the other day, the Yoders — Glick's neighbors to the west — invited them to watch the sunset at Indian Rocks Beach. They had a lovely evening.
The next morning, the Yoders found a dead bird in their backyard. Had Glick shot it? The Cains, to Glick's east, made a more surprising discovery: chunks of angel food cake scattered on their patio.
"Big ones, little ones, all strewn about," Connie Cain says. "Was it him? I don't know. But it couldn't have been a bird. There were too many pieces.
"It's like he's saying, 'I dare you.' "
Amy Wimmer Schwarb is a freelance writer in St. Augustine.