Every neighborhood seems to have its requisite nutcase. Over the years, I’ve done informal research on this subject by querying friends if they have at least one problem neighbor. I’ve never had anyone say no. In fact, I usually get a 20-minute diatribe on the wingnut who is terrorizing their particular block.
One of our highest priorities has always been getting along with the people who live around us. Fortunately, we’re had nice neighbors over the years with the exception of two that we were really happy to see go. One died (but not soon enough) and the other moved (but not soon enough either). Two bad neighbors over several decades is actually pretty good. But even one difficult neighbor can wreak a lot of havoc. Sometimes it was hard to stick to our inviolable rule: No matter what, do not escalate. But we’ve entertained some very ugly fantasies about their cats.
The houses in my area are in close proximity so it doesn’t take much noise for the entire block to hear it. Still, my husband and I consider most noise to be in the category of the music of life. Dogs, kids, parties, the occasional loud band. We often comment that not hearing these sounds would be the hardest part of ever moving to a retirement home in our old age.
Of course, even the music of life can occasionally get seriously out of tune. Chainsaws on weekends. Or drums, ever. We also remind ourselves that for years, WE were the noisiest family on the block. We had one of the few pools in the neighborhood then and multiple trees with tree forts, a veritable attractive nuisance. Everybody came to play.
But even so, our elderly, spinster, retired teacher, next-door neighbor never complained once in her 25 years there. We could never tell whether this was because she was just an incredibly sweet lady (she was) or because she was deaf. Actually, she WAS fairly deaf but we never wanted to explore whether our kids had contributed to it.
The first of our two terrible neighbors was one we encountered a year after we moved in. All of a sudden we were getting regular notices from the La Jolla Town Council that a neighbor had complained we were “not maintaining our property.” We were puzzled as we took great pride in our place. Turns out that an elderly lady down the block felt our trees were blocking the breeze, which she maintained her doctor had prescribed for her Raynaud’s Syndrome. (My then-husband, a physician, said WTF?) A minor detail was that we had no common property with this woman. But she felt that all trees from a five-house radius were blocking her breeze and if we wished to be good neighbors, my husband and I would cut down all the beautiful, mature but biggest-on-the-block trees on our property. She then added, “I would think people of your persuasion would understand persecution.”
We were trying to figure out which of our multitude of persuasions she could be referring to but it turned out she used the same line on all the other neighbors and their multifarious persuasions as well. In her mind, all persuasions were out to block her breeze and therefore by definition persecutorial, which I realize is not even a word. Anyway, we ultimately all formed a coalition against the nasty old bat, ironically bringing the neighbors together in heretofore unparalleled harmony. Ten years later when she died (see “not soon enough” above) there was a brief moment of silence, followed by a rousing chorus of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.”
As for the second all-time terrible neighbor, she moved in while Olof and I were doing a two-year work assignment in Europe so we were mostly spared. But by the time we returned, the other neighbors were already planning to vote her off the island. Fortunately, sensing that people were sticking extra-sharp pins up the back sides of little effigies of her, she departed and is now allegedly making a new group of neighbors’ lives miserable.
I think it is only fair to point out that it is sometimes unclear who the resident lunatic on the block really is. Most of the jury duty cases I’ve been on involved neighbor disputes that could best be summarized as Lots of Adults Behaving Badly.
After several decades in our current house, we looked around recently and realize we’ve officially won the neighbor lottery. For pretty much the last two years, we have been surrounded not only by good neighbors, but stupendously wonderful neighbors, people you can count on day or night, who are the epitome of kindness and consideration and who, on top of that, are great friends. If we wrote the “perfect neighbor” job description, we couldn’t have done any better.
But just so they’re clear: no one had ever even THINK of moving.
* Look for La Jolla resident Inga’s lighthearted looks at life in The La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org