Yes, Hoffman videotapes a lot of things, usually his family. Lately, though, he has caught on tape his neighbors -- Connie Frazier and Jason Harkey -- who live across the alley behind his home in the heart of industrial Granite City, Ill. These are real people, living in a real blue-collar town, where the winds coming off the Mississippi River knock down the garbage cans, blow the smokestack pollution all over town and make walking difficult for the dozens of stray cats. And sometimes, the winds blow the window shades open.
And, as Jason Harkey will be the first to tell you, real people have real strange problems. Take housecleaning, for instance. A self-proclaimed independent fisherman by trade, Harkey puffs a lot of cigarettes, and right now there are more dirty ashtrays than dirty dishes at his home. He prefers to leave the cleaning to his gal, Connie:
"Problem is, she's laid up in the hospital right now, so the place has gone to shit."
But a dirty house is the least of Harkey's worries. He has lived in the rickety little shack at 2711 Denver St. for only a month-and-a-half, and in that time, Connie has been arrested for indecent exposure, the two were arrested for having sex in front of an open window in their own home, Connie was shot in the butt during a drug-deal-turned-armed-robbery and, most recently, their home was burglarized.
"Just the other day, my house got busted into, and those bastards stole my TV and my CDs -- 'course, he couldn't videotape that," Harkey complains.
"He" is Ted Hoffman, neighbor and businessman, who inadvertently has added to Harkey and Frazier's problems. From Hoffman's perspective, he's been living a nightmare -- next door to neighbors from hell.
Hoffman claims his chain-link fence has been vandalized on several occasions. Once, when he was yelling across his backyard to hoodlums urinating on his property, he was told to buzz off and mind his own business. The mayhem even got to his dog. "I've had to chain my dog up because several weeks ago, I woke up on a Saturday morning to my dog stumbling around in the backyard. He had bit the top off an unopened beer and consumed more than three-fourths of it. Well, my dog was drunk."Hoffman was unsuccessful in his attempts to have the offenders arrested, because he lacked physical evidence. So he resorted to taking his VHS camcorder -- the very one used to videotape the birth of one of his daughters and that has accompanied the Hoffmans on many a family outing -- and turned it on Harkey and company. Now Hoffman keeps his camera within easy reach, because his neighbors -- Frazier and Harkey -- seem to have a habit of breaking the law. Harkey doesn't claim to be a saint. By his account, he's been locked up on three separate occasions for burglaries and forgeries. One time he and a lady friend -- not Connie -- got on a kick and wrote $28,000 in fraudulent checks.
"I'm a three-time loser, I hate to say it," Harkey says, "but I'll turn my life around. I went and found God or dog or whatever you're supposed to find." But now that he's trying to behave, says Harkey, the omnipresent eye of his neighbor is on him.
"We (Connie and Jason) was having sex in the bedroom, and I've got like a flimsy little shade in there," he says. "It was nice out and the window was open. I don't know if the shade blew up or how (Hoffman) knew what we was doing; he might've just heard -- because she's a talker, if you know what I mean."
According to Granite City Police Maj. Kit Pomeroy, Hoffman called and police came knocking on Oct. 30 at about 4:50 p.m., after Harkey and Frazier had finished the act. But at that time, the police said they couldn't do anything because the sex was taking place at a private residence.
But Hoffman was insistent. He told police that he, his wife and their two daughters, ages 2 and 4, pulled into their driveway and saw a full-on view of Frazier and Harkey going at it. Hoffman herded his daughters into the house -- just as the 4-year-old started asking questions -- and got on the phone with the police, all the while keeping an eye on the couple from his kitchen window. Harkey saw Hoffman in the window, and according to Hoffman, waved to him while still having sex. The police came back a second time and arrested both Frazier and Harkey on a disorderly-conduct charge. The couple is scheduled to plead their case in court on Dec. 2. Harkey says they plan to represent themselves and to plead not guilty.
Harkey says that although his neighbor is quick with the camera, he will not change his way of life.
"I knew he was a camera-happy peepin' Tom, but I never thought I'd be arrested for havin' sex in my own house!" Harkey says.
But Harkey doesn't really seem to care that Hoffman's taping him. "I mean, if I want to check the mail in my boxers, then hey, they're Red Dogs with a button on the front. He can tell me what he thinks of them."
Connie Frazier was laid up in a hospital bed at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Granite City, recuperating from a gunshot wound to her derriere after an unfortunate encounter with a couple of drug dealers. They wanted all her money and called her a "bitch," at which point she turned to walk away. They shot her you-know-where.
Frazier, speaking from her hospital bed, agrees with her boyfriend about not letting their neighbor change their sex habits.
"Hell, no," she says. "I ain't changing my lifestyle for nobody. I've been this way for 25 years, and ain't no one man gonna change me.... I will get a lawyer -- no, that's bullshit -- I will not pay money because I want to fuck my boyfriend in my own house. I mean, goddamn it, I can't help it that I'm a nympho. I have an exciting, healthy bottom part of my body that likes to get it every now and again."
As for the bottom part of her body, Frazier says her gunshot wound just may be useful. "Now I got just another hole for somebody to stick," she laughs.
Hoffman, in the meantime, says he will continue to videotape his neighbors as long as the Animal House behavior continues. He has installed two 90-watt lights to shine on the area between the two houses in hopes of capturing the neighbors' nocturnal activities -- not because he is a voyeur, he says, but because he wants to nail them.
Harkey is well aware of his neighbor's intentions. And not bothered much, either.
"You don't need to be afraid of the dark around here," says Harkey. "But you've got to smile because you're on camera."