Category Archives: neighbors

Halloween: now *that’s* scary

Halloween paranoia reaches a new low (high?) in Dear Abby today:

DEAR ABBY: I have always enjoyed Halloween. I like seeing the children in their costumes and, for most of the little ones, it is a fun and magical time.

In our neighborhood, a group of 15 to 20 parents escort their trick-or-treating children from door to door. Sometimes there are 25 to 30 kids. When they approach a house for their treats, the parents remain on the sidewalk, apparently oblivious to what’s going on when the door opens.

We have a small front porch that rises about 8 inches above the sidewalk. The kids push and shove, jockeying for position to get their “loot.” Last year, a 5-year-old fell off our porch. Fortunately, she was not hurt. The parents did not issue any directions to their children to take turns accepting our candy because they were too busy chatting among themselves.

Because of the inherent danger to unsupervised children (and the possibility of a lawsuit if there should be an accident), I will not be turning on my porch light this year — the signal in our area that alerts kids that the home is participating in trick-or-treat.

I hope my letter will remind parents to practice mindfulness and make this Sunday a Happy Halloween! — LIGHTS OUT IN HARRISBURG

Ah, yes, the three P’s of Halloween paranoia: poison, pedophiles, and….porches?

Good Lord.  Now, kids whose parents don’t hold them by the hand and walk them to the door are “unsupervised” and in “danger”?  Their parents not “be[ing] mindful” because they’re standing 10 feet away on the sidewalk, chatting? And a five-year-old fell 8 inches?  Cripes.

Even more disturbing is Abby’s response:

DEAR LIGHTS OUT: So do I, and that’s why I’m printing your letter, which arrived just in time for me to include it in today’s column. Last year your neighbors were lucky the child who fell didn’t break a wrist or an ankle. Parents, when escorting your little ghosts, goblins and vampires, please remain vigilant. Common sense must prevail.

Right. Common sense.  Like, kids can probably walk a few yards on their own two feet–and that hardly counts as unsupervised.  If anything, these kids are probably too supervised: if they were on their own, they’d be wandering in groups of 3 and 5, not escorted in a mob of 50 as the entire neighborhood approaches each house at one time.

And, of course, if the homeowner feels that she or a little hannah montana is in danger of being trampled by a herd of mini justin biebers, she can just shout out, “Hey kids, one at a time!  no candy until you line up to the right, please!”

Lights Out might try a little common sense herself, rather than bitterly shutting off the lights on the entire holiday.

For some refreshing attitudes on Halloween, and, um, life, please check out Free Range Kids.

When opportunity knocks…in her nightie

On Wednesday, both Carolyn Hax and Amy Alkon featured letters from spouses deeply and, it seems, irrationally concerned about their partners’ ability to keep their pants on at home and at work:

Dear Carolyn:

My husband of 10 years, who is retired, calls me at work one morning and tells me he had just gotten out of the shower when our female next-door neighbor rang the doorbell in her nightclothes, stating that she got locked out when she took out the trash. My husband then says he invited her in to use the phone and stay until someone came to let her in (about 30-45 minutes).

I ask him, “Why would you invite a half-dressed woman into our home when I am not present?” He could have helped her by offering his cellphone and a robe while she sat on her porch.

I ask him to present this situation to his male friends. He responds, “Yeah, they will say, ‘You are stupid for even sharing that with your wife.’ ” I was very disappointed with how he handled this situation. He says he would do it again exactly the same way, even if it upsets me, and says I am insecure. Any suggestions?

E.

Your husband is retired and home. You are employed and at work. If your husband wanted to cheat on you, he wouldn’t need to wait for opportunity to come knocking in her nightie.

There are a lot of people out there — okay, me, but I can’t be alone in this — who would be horrified if spouse’s response to a nightied neighbor in need were to strand said neighbor on the front porch. Have you ever been caught in public in your skivvies? Offering shelter is the compassionate thing to do.

And her 45 minutes of shelter didn’t cost you anything — not unless it led to a tryst. And if it led to a tryst, then that says your distress over this incident is misplaced: It’s your marriage that needs your full and sustained attention.

In other words, if you trust your husband not to boink the neighbor only if she doesn’t ask to use your phone, then you can’t call that trust. Believing your husband is just one robe away from cheating is, yes, insecurity.

And as with any serious problem, it’s essential to trace insecurity’s source and root it out. Is your marriage shaky/husband out prowling? Then don’t nibble at the edges of the problem by fussing over neighbors. Admit you don’t trust him, lay out the evidence supporting your skepticism, then see where that conversation takes you.

I suspect instead that your husband hasn’t done anything sketchy, and you merely regard infidelity as a real and constant threat. (Yes, that’s the get-counseling light flashing.) If so, you owe it to both of you to admit how corrosive this outlook can be. It motivates you to doubt him no matter how faithful or devoted — or transparent — he is.

Often, too, such fear acts as a negative filter through which you view everything. Your husband helped someone! Told you about it! And you punished him for it! How many times, in how many ways, has that defensive pessimism played out? How many bad things have you exaggerated, how many good things have you questioned?

Unfounded suspicion is about you, founded suspicion is about him, but the approach is the same with both: Lay out the facts for your husband, and see where the discussion goes.

My reading was slightly different than Carolyn’s–I didn’t get the impression that this woman was necessarily worried that her husband actually would cheat on her.  Instead, it seemed she was fretting about something even less important: how the situation looked.  My guess is that there are certain arbitrary principles of marriage that she feels should not be violated–such as being alone in your home with a semi-dressed woman when your spouse isn’t present.  But I couldn’t guess whether she’s worried about how this reflects on her husband, or on her (and to whom?  the neighbor in distress?  Or yet another neighber, peeping through the curtain?).  Or perhaps she just feels there’s a rule that’s been broken–some things should not be done, and he did one of them.

I get the sense it has to do with respect–that is, if her husband respected her and honored their marriage as his most sacred commitment, he wouldn’t have invited an undressed woman into the house.  She could even have extended it to, if her neighbor respected their marriage, she wouldn’t have come knocking in such a state.  That is, instead of thinking “What should Joe have done this  morning when Sarah was locked out?” I suspect she’s thinking, totally abstractly, “Should a married man home alone invite a scantily clad neighbor into the living room?”  She makes her answer (“No!”)  the obvious right one by ignoring the details of reality.

And speaking of the details of reality, Amy Alkon printed this:

My wife’s a hairstylist, and I recently learned that she continues to cut the hair of a guy she had a fling with seven years ago. We’re newlyweds but dated for three years. She’s always been truthful and forthright, so I was dumbfounded that she kept this from me. She claims they’re “just friends,” insists the past is the past, and won’t discuss anything. I had trust issues with my ex-wife and have abandonment issues (thanks, Mom), but had ZERO insecurities about my wife until this. She honored my request and told the guy he needs to get haircuts elsewhere, but I know her other male clients occasionally discuss their sexual escapades. Inappropriate! I think marriage comes with boundaries. I’ve been working hard to rid my mind of visions of her with others before me, but find myself prying into her past for details, which only increases my anxiety. — Love Stinks

Yes, your wife had sex with other men before you — because she was probably raised in some suburb in America, not locked away by her sultan father until you could buy her from him for a Lamborghini and a really nice herd of goats.

Instead of spending your evenings giving your wife something to smile about the next morning at work, you’re giving this seven-year-old fling of hers more late-night reruns than “Godfather II.” Sure, she still sees the guy, but consider the environment. Yes, it’s what I always advise a man who wants to stage a seduction: Put on a big pastel smock, sit between two little old ladies getting smelly perms, and give the woman a bird’s eye view of his bald spot. Before you know it, he’ll be telling her how he likes it, and she’ll be begging, “Lemme take off my top!” — in that secret language all the hussy hairdressers use: “Want me to take a little more off the top?”

You’re right that marriage comes with boundaries — and it’s time you started respecting your wife’s. You’re her husband, not her owner, so you don’t get to give her a list of acceptable topics of conversation: 1. “Nice weather we’re having.” 2. “Still nice weather we’re having.” Since you’re also not her boss, she doesn’t have to ask you if she’s allowed to do her job: “My 2:30 appointment fooled around with me once seven years ago, but he really needs a trim.”

What stinks isn’t love, but being a guy who’s never bothered to put his mommy issues and ex-wife trust issues on a leash and walk them to a therapist’s office.

More arbitrary rules!  More declared boundaries!  More therapy needed!

Carolyn Hax and Amy Alkon are different in all kinds of important ways–perhaps the most relevant example here being that Carolyn bristles at the assumption of any male/female stereotypes (“it’s not guys who do that, it’s people who do that!”), while Amy thrives on them: an inclination toward evolutionary psychology (man must hunt!) is the underpinning of most of her relationship advice.

But interestingly, I think they’d agree that marriage is not a box set of rules, regulations and guaranteed-to-apply statutes.  Instead, each one is a different relationship between different people, rolling along in different circumstances–and random pronouncements like “no pajama’d ladies within 3 yards unless I am present!” and “no exes possibly oversharing like some of your other male clients do!” are more likely to destroy them than prove their strength.

See more like this: One Singular Temptation

When bad neighbors mean no fences

Prudence (whose Thursday column must have come out early because of the holiday–more reasons to be thankful!) responds to a query that, sadly, comes up in the columns more often than any of us would like: a reader who is almost certainly a witness to domestic abuse wants to know if/how to intervene, without further endangering the victim, or themselves.

Prudie’s response is right, I think, giving the writer, who is clearly disturbed by what’s going on, an extra kick in the pants to make the necessary phone call. But there’s one thing in her response that stands out as odd to me. See if you can find it:

Dear Prudence,
I am concerned about an ongoing situation involving my next-door neighbors. My wife and I moved into our apartment about six months ago. Not long after moving in, we were alarmed to hear our next-door neighbors, a married couple with whom we share a wall, shouting very loudly at each other during a heated fight. Since then, the arguments have continued with great frequency, and the language from him is so loud and abusive that we are now starting to feel as if we should call the police, especially because they have a baby, and we sometimes hear crashing sounds. But if we call the police, they will know that it was either we who called or their other next-door neighbors (there are only a few apartments in the building), and I don’t want that lunatic coming after us. When is it time to call in help?

—Next-Door Nightmare

Dear Next-Door,
Now is the time to call. Once, years ago, I lived below a similarly abusive husband, who regularly screamed vile things. One day, I heard the wife come home, cry out, and fall to the floor, which was followed by her hysterical sobs. I feared she had been attacked by an intruder, so I called the police. They came and left, and when I called the station to find out what happened, I was told: “It was nothing. Just a domestic.” The couple went on to have a baby and move away, and I’ve sometimes wondered about that miserable little family. Fortunately, today there’s a different attitude about “Just a domestic.” Your call doesn’t mean he’ll stop, or that she’ll leave him, but it does put them in the system and him on notice. You can call anonymously. And if you later feel in any way threatened by him, immediately make a follow-up call to the police.

—Prudie

Do you see it? “I feared she had been attacked by an intruder, so I called the police.” Really, Prudence? After hearing this going on above you for weeks, months, whatever, when the screaming escalated to violence, your first thought was, “Must be a robber”? I don’t buy it. Which makes me wonder why she felt compelled to say that. It sounds like she’s trying to justify her decision to call the police (if she’d known there was no intruder, she wouldn’t have called?), which is odd, since the point of her response is to convince the ambivalent writer to make the call, not let it go. Weird.

Buyer’s remorse can’t compare to renter’s shame….

Another person looking for something to be upset about: 

Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I are renting a nice home in an upscale neighborhood outside Washington, D. C. Since moving in, at least a dozen neighbors have approached us with the off-putting welcome of “So, you are renting this house?”

We both find the question to be rather forward and rude.

Without knowing our reason for renting, it puts us on the defensive for not being “able” to buy a home, when, in fact, we are more than able to; we just choose not to in this current market.

Could you help us with an appropriate comeback that lets them know that yes, we are renters, but that in no way makes us second-class citizens and we don’t appreciate having to defend our status?

Gentle Reader: Don’t you want to get the curtains up before you start sparring with the neighbors?

Miss Manners is not at all sure that you have any cause. She has no tolerance for pure nosiness, real estate or otherwise, but surely you understand that neighbors have a legitimate interest in what is going on in the neighborhood. Maybe they hate your landlords and hope they are gone for good. Maybe they like you and are hoping you are there to stay. Maybe they also rent.

Besides, don’t you know that nowadays, seeming rich is considered more offensive than seeming poor?

Everything about this is really weird.  If this woman was trying to make her neighbors look intrusive and boorish, she didn’t inject nearly enough drama into her rendering of their question.  Although the details of their finances are of course private, and should be, whether a house in a neighborhood is owned by you or someone else is not.  And an “upscale” neighborhood seems especially likely to be conscious of these details.  Aren’t property holdings public information?  Maybe not (I invite any of my readers with knowledge about information policy to weigh in). 

Even without digging into local records, the neighbors have probably seen the “for rent” in front of the house, or knew the previous renters…..there are so many clues that make “Are you renting this house?” a perfectly reasonable question to ask.  

Not to mention that, according to this writer, the question is not “Why are you renting?” but simply “Are you renting?”  They are.  Why does that require offering any explanation at all?

I think it’s fair to say that when someone  reacts to an innocuous question this way, it’s usually because THEY have a problem with the situation being asked about–not that the inquirer does.   Perhaps her husband made the call that “this market” was not the time to buy a house and she disagrees, or perhaps she’s bitter about paying out years of rent in a particularly pricey neighborhood if they want to be prepared to buy a few years down the road.  Or maybe it’s just a neighborhood attitude thing–perhaps she expected the residents of this neighborhood to be snooty and look down on her, so that’s what she’s seeing.  Or maybe she’s new to big cities where many “first class” citizens rent their entire lives. 

There could be countless reasons….but whatever the issue is, it seems to lie with the renter, not her new neighbors. 

Maybe she should fill her house with really expensive furniture and throw a fancy party, so they’ll all understand that, whatever her situation, it’s NOT because of the money. At least not her own. 

~Margo, Uselessly

Margo’s downward spiral continues: she’s given up snarkiness and ill-advised advice (like reducing yourself to the level of the jerk who sex-texts his ex–say that five times fast– or alerting your cousin to the fact that you dislike his fiancee through a petition) and now doesn’t even bother trying to answer a perfectly legitimate question:

Dear Margo: I’ve read numerous advice columns over the years dealing with people overhearing neighbors who are noisy lovers. Well, I’m one of those noisy lovers and I don’t know what to do. I live in a duplex with what I thought were relatively thick walls, but apparently they’re not as thick as I thought! (Got a nice note from my neighbor, but I was still mortified.) I have a boyfriend with whom I have a phenomenal sex life, and unfortunately, we both are quite vocal during our lovemaking. I really don’t know what to do about keeping the noise level down. Moving is not an option. Suggestions? — Princess

Dear Prin: Soundproof tiles on the common walls? Short of wearing muzzles, that’s about all I can think of — and I’m not even sure there is such a thing for humans. Just thinking about this problem and mentioning muzzles, however, makes it a certainty that the next time I see a muzzled dog I will laugh. Good luck. — Margo, remedially

OK, ok, so the writer bragging about her “phenomenal” sex life and calling herself “Princess” don’t exactly make me want to rush to her aid, either. But one advantage of the advice column is that all readers have the opportunity to benefit from the columnist’s answer. For that reason (and to guard against giving dangerously inaccurate advice) when advice columnists don’t have an answer, it is their responsibility (and to their benefit) to seek expert insight. The best columnists have a number of “guest experts” in their back pocket–often doctors, psychologists, and authors–to whom they turn when a tough question comes up.

In this case, a phone call to a landlord or property manager, or even an informal discussion with pretty much anyone who has ever lived in close quarters with others, would have been helpful.

At first glance it just seems like Margo was lazy, but her conclusion about muzzles and dogs implies either a total contempt for the issue at hand, or a total discomfort with it (possibly both)–she’s snickering like a junior high boy. “I’m not even sure there is such a thing for humans”? You don’t have to be into adventurous sex to know that of course there is. And even if you’re not of the mindset to recommend the use of toys and tools that limit noise (who knows–for this couple that might be a perfect solution), it’s unnecessary and inappropriate to compare everyone with intimate relationships and thin walls to dogs in need of muzzles, and to write off their concern for neighborly relations as a joke.

I myself have not checked in with an “expert” either, but just off the top of my head, I think any of the following, while not perfect solutions, would be more productive than Margo’s non-answer:

-responding to the neighbor with a polite-but-funny note and a pair of earplugs
-playing music or turning on the TV while they’re getting it on to mitigate the noise
-um, trying to be quieter, at least some of the time? They might find it adds to the thrill…
-experimenting with different areas of the duplex that might be better buffered or farther way from common walls
-hanging curtains or draperies in the bedroom to absorb some of the sound
-educating themselves about local or neighborhood noise ordinances–if the neighbor gets really pissed off, who is he likely to report to, and could actual consequences result (like the humiliation of being exposed–as it were–to the whole neighborhood at a condo association meeting)? Surely it’s not the same as throwing a wild party that can be heard around the block, but if their neighbor has the power to bring the complaint to a higher authority, they should consider who and what that might be, and how they’d respond in that case.

Also, as a final note, Margo’s sign-off makes no sense. “Margo, remedially.” Remedially? What? I would have written, “Margo, abdicatingly,” “Margo, blushingly,” or as my title suggsts, “Margo, uselessly.” But that’s just me.

Why Must You Be Such a Secret Young Man?

From Abby, 2/11/2009:

DEAR ABBY: I have tried to have cordial relations with my neighbors, but do not have particularly close friendships with any of them.

A little over a year ago, a young man started coming to my home on a regular basis whenever my wife was out of town. After a while, he began spending the night with me when she was away.

Evidently, some of my neighbors noticed these visits and started gossiping about it, spreading the rumor that I am gay and that this young guy is my lover. More recently, however, he has spent the night when my wife is present, so now my neighbors think something kinky is going on.

At times I am puzzled by this. At other times I am angry at their arrogance and gall. The explanation is simple: The young man is my son from a previous relationship. Because we were prevented from having contact when he was a child, we are now trying to establish a relationship — and we are making progress. My wife and other children have been wonderfully supportive in all this.

I really don’t want to tell my neighbors what’s going on because it will inevitably lead to a disclosure of some things that are really none of their business. But I am troubled by the rumor that I have a young male lover. What do you think I should do? — I’M HIS DAD IN VIRGINIA

I love the way this guy structures his narrative so that Abby, and presumably us as well, will be tricked into making the same incorrect assumption that his neighbors did. Rather than explaining his problem and asking for help, he throws in the son as a surprise twist at the end. Ha!

I wonder how he knows what they think, or where he heard the rumor…and how he reacted to that information. A simple “What? No, Josh is family!” to whomever he heard it from might have ended things without requiring full disclosure.

Also, I mean, of course this guy has a right to meet up with his son on any terms he deems appropriate, and his neighbors shouldn’t be spying out the windows…BUT…doesn’t seem a little odd to develop your relationship with your adult son in your home in the middle of the night while your wife’s away? Why not meet for coffee or lunch? Or come over for dinner and, um….not stay the night? Yes, his neighbors are in the wrong for making presumptions, and more so for spreading rumors. But they probably wouldn’t all be coming to the same conclusion if this guys’ comings and goings didn’t come off as clandestine. Do they assume all guests to the home are secret lovers? There’s probably something generally secretive–perhaps demonstrably so–about this. This guy seems to like toying with his neighbors as much as he likes toying with Abby and her readership.