Last winter, author Joe McGinnis, who is writing a critical book about Sarah Palin, was looking for a place in Wasilla to rent this summer, as he continues his research. He was offered the house next door to the Palins’ Lake Lucille cult compound-in-progress. He wasn’t looking for the place. It came looking for him. What would you do?

As Joe recounted this and other details of what has gotten him to be next-door-neighbor to the most bizarre political joke in American history (move over, Aaron Burr), I was laughing so hard in Wasilla’s Mekong Restaurant, that my bean-thread noodles were getting all over the place.

What WOULD you do?

Joe had met earlier in the morning with Wasilla’s current mayor, Vern Rupright. Apparently, they both laughed a lot at the sight of the hasty, 15-foot tall fence addition the Palins impetuously and somewhat clumsily erected Tuesday along the lot line.

The lot line problem is an example of how the Palins sometime create their own complications. The lakeside lots of both the properties McGinniss is leasing, and the Palins’ own, are wide by local standards – almost 200 feet of beach. The house McGinniss occupies is 10 feet from the lot line of the Palins’ property. Joe’s place was on the lake for many years before the Palins built theirs ten feet from the adjoining line, 20 feet from what is now Joe’s office.

Why did the Palins build so close to their neighbors that a headache might crop up at an inconvenient time in the future? Who knows?

Joe’s here to do a job: write a book about the political milieu from which Palin emerged. It might end up being the best book yet about Alaska. His Going to Extremes is the most durable of the spate of books that attempted to describe the gold rush atmosphere in the far north, as the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was being built.

If investigative reporting is snooping, then that’s part of the territory. How would we have gotten some our best books on politicians, were it not for brazen reporting? All the President’s Men, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Screwed, and Dude, Where’s My Country? – all involved a bit of snooping, as have many other great books about politicians’ lives.

We’re all used to the Palin modus operandus of throwing her family members out onto the national stage, one by one, or in various combinations. As long as she and her handlers feel they are in control of the pandering, there is no limit to how sleazy of a venue she will find for them. OK, maybe there is a limit – she likes to get paid when she pimps out the family.

She likes to get paid a lot.

Maybe that was part of why Palin went all Pamela Gellar on facebook about her new neighbor:

Spring has sprung in Alaska, and with this beautiful season comes the news today that the Palins have a new neighbor! Welcome, Joe McGinniss!

Yes, that Joe McGinniss. Here he is – about 15 feet away on the neighbor’s rented deck overlooking my children’s play area and my kitchen window. Maybe we’ll welcome him with a homemade blueberry pie tomorrow so he’ll know how friendly Alaskans are.

We found out the good news today. Upon my family’s return this morning from endorsement rallies and speeches in the Lower 48 states, I finally got the chance to tackle my garden and lawn this evening! So, putting on the shorts and tank top to catch that too-brief northern summer sun and placing a giddy Trig in his toddler backpack for a lawn-mowing adventure, I looked up in surprise to see a “new neighbor” overlooking my property just a stone’s throw away. Needless to say, our outdoor adventure ended quickly after Todd went to introduce himself to the stranger who was peering in…

Joe announced to Todd that he’s moved in right next door to us. He’s rented the place for the next five months or so. He moved up all the way from Massachusetts to live right next to us – while he writes a book about me. Knowing of his many other scathing pieces of “journalism” (including the bizarre anti-Palin administration oil development pieces that resulted in my Department of Natural Resources announcing that his work is the most twisted energy-related yellow journalism they’d ever encountered), we’re sure to have a doozey to look forward to with this treasure he’s penning. Wonder what kind of material he’ll gather while overlooking Piper’s bedroom, my little garden, and the family’s swimming hole?

Welcome, Joe! It’ll be a great summer – come borrow a cup of sugar if ever you need some sweetener. And you know what they say about “fences make for good neighbors”? Well, we’ll get started on that tall fence tomorrow, and I’ll try to keep Trig’s squeals down to a quiet giggle so we don’t disturb your peaceful summer. Enjoy!

Sarah Palin

Palin neglected to write about Todd’s encounter with Joe the Writer, in which Todd berated McGinnis for his long article early last year, which took apart what Sarah Palin still claims to be her major achievement as governor of Alaska – AGIA, her increasingly unlikely scenario for construction of a trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline, a project blogger and former legislator Andrew Halcro calls "the great white whale in the room."

After my Wednesday lunch with Joe, we went down to the Wasilla Lowe’s, and purchased some security equipment for the rental house. I went over and helped him set some of it up. He showed me how Todd had started remodeling the upstairs of the house, when Todd wanted to have it rented out to somebody, probably from Newscorp. Todd never got around to remodeling the part of the home, down in the basement, from which a meth lab had operated next door to the Palins for months, if not longer. Here’s Shannyn Moore’s description of some of the house’s pre-Joe the Writer history, and Palin’s weird reaction:

The home Joe McGinniss is renting used to be an Oxford House from 2005 until 2008. The tenants were men recently released from prison who were recovering addicts. What? No fence to protect sexy Sarah in her tank top? Dear God! Who was lurking in that house watching her children play?

The Palins themselves rented the home McGinnis is staying in for six months in 2009, but weren’t interested in purchasing it. They didn’t want to spend the money. Last October they were “done with the house”. During the election, the Secret Service guarded the Palin home from the backyard now occupied by Mr. McGinnis. Here’s a hint, Sarah – if you want to dictate who lives in the house, you should have probably bought it first.

It’s predictable Palin.

Sarah has a habit of shooting down hill. One of my daughter’s friends has a black eye from shooting down hill while bear hunting. It’s not just a proverbial lesson, it’s a literal one.

Last week, she attended a funeral with her youngest daughter. I called her daughter a “human shield”. Sarah validated my metaphor with her attack on Joe McGinnis. She evoked provocative images of herself, then accuses a respected journalist of “peering” at her young daughter. “I’m hot! He’s a pervert!”

Ask David Letterman how accusations of pedophilia work out. Initially, Dave looked like he’d gone too far with his tasteless joke. But her strike back about having to protect her fourteen year old daughter from David Letterman? No one was buying her manufactured outrage. She quit a three weeks later.

Todd’s unfinished carpentry upstairs looked to me to be better-than-average trailer court kitsch. In other words, like a lot of Wasilla remodel jobs. And like a lot of Wasilla remodels – unfinished.

Even though I’ve lived in Wasilla for over 25 years, I’d never been this close to the Palin cult compound. During the period between Palin’s selection as John McCain’s 2008 running mate and her July 3rd 2009 resignation, I must have been asked a couple dozen times by various people if I had been there, or if I wanted to go over there for some announcement or another. I stayed away. Having seen the place up close now, though, I can only say that the pictures one sees do not do the brazen, in-your-face aura of this set of unfinished, partially finished and weirdly realized buildings anything close to justice. The property reminds me of nothing else around here. It is more reminiscent of the Branch Davidian complex in Waco – before the fire – than anything in Wasilla.

And Joe is set up to work on the book. With the fence looming over the south-facing windows, the Palins can, from the top floor of the main house, look down on Joe, typing away on his MacBook Pro, even if he can’t see them. No doubt they’re already installing, probably with Newscorp help, instruments in the cult compound that can decipher Joe’s keyboard strokes.

I did have the satisfaction, while helping Joe deal with a stream of intruders coming down his driveway, of watching my dog, Strider, go over to the Palin’s yard and leave a present. I gave him an extra treat when we got home.