Yesterday afternoon, my daughter, 21, (N.B. That’s not her name. It’s her age) and I were doing something in my front yard (never you mind what; that’s not important. Let it go.) when my neighbor across the street, whom I’ve never met (I moved in March 1st) drove up in his car, rolled down his window, and in a fairly confrontational way said, “Are you gonna clean up the leaves on your lawn?”
Leaves of Jackass
Now, some context: I dislocated my shoulder pretty severely a few months ago pulling orphans out of a burning children’s hospital, or something, it’s a blur, and not important to this story. Point is, I can’t do yard work for a while. My house has a lot of trees and I hired someone to take care of the yard. He raked all the leaves about three weeks ago and I was holding out on having him come back until last week, when all the leaves were down, to have him do it again. I’m assuming he’ll be by soon.
Also: in fairness to this guy, there are leaves in my front yard. It needs raking. But let’s be clear – it is hardly leaf-laden. It’s not like neighborhood children could become lost in them with no hope of escape. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being zero leaves and 10 being the yard of a lifelong leaf-hoarder, my yard is at most a weak four. More likely a strong three.
But I admit I was really taken aback by what Emily Dickinson would have described as “a total dick move” on my neighbor’s part, and so rather than overlook it, I pushed back, but in unusual way. I’m not sure why, but rather than responding angrily, I went the other way and took his implied grievance with absurd seriousness. The following isn’t a verbatim account of the exchange, but it’s reasonably close:
Trigger Warning: The Following Depicts Scenes of Violent Snarkiness:
Me: I’m toying with the idea. Do you have thoughts on the topic? I like to think of my house as, well, my house, but we are, after all, part of a larger community.”
Me: Actually, I’ve got a really bad shoulder, so I can’t do any yard work, but I have a guy coming. I was surprised he wasn’t here today, actually.
Him: I’ve got a bad shoulder, too. Should he do my lawn, too? Look at my lawn, it’s all neat.
Me: You don’t have to tell me – I stare at it every day with admiration and awe. It’s given me moments of inspiration I can’t express. Even more so now I know you did that with a bad shoulder. That’s cool.
Him: It’s a lot of leaves you got in front. Too many.
Me: I drew much the same conclusion as you, hence my hiring of a professional leaf extractor (N.B. At this point, my daughter felt the need to turn her face away to hide her horror/profound enjoyment of this conversation)
Me: I’m sorry my front lawn has had such a negative impact on your life. That can be hard.
Him: They keep blowing on my lawn. (N.B. Now I realize he actually has a legitimate reason to ask me about my leaves, so I respond sincerely)
Me: Oh, actually that’s a totally valid point. I thought you were confronting me in an oddly aggressive manner because of aesthetics.
Him: Yeah, well that too. I don’t like to look at it. I keep my lawn perfect. (N.B. Seeing as he wasn’t going to apply the brakes on his jerkishness, I pressed on in kind)
Me: I think you’re actually underselling your achievements. (N.B. I can’t believe I actually said this next part, but I’m reasonably sure I did, or something like it at any rate) I know you don’t like looking at all these leaves, but sometimes the things we don’t want to face are the things we need to look at most. I’m Jack, by the way, what’s your name?
Him (Now visibly confused): Victor
Me: It’s amazing to meet you. Is it weird I asked your name? I know when neighbors who’ve never met first meet, it’s traditional to start bitching about each other’s lawns rather than exchanging names, but I’m a little unorthodox. Anyway, I’d love to chat more, Victor, but not quite enough to keep doing it, so. Anyway, I texted the guy last week, like I said; I was actually expecting him today, so hopefully he’ll be here this week. But we both know that’s not going to help you today.
At that point, I think, he left. I asked my daughter, “He got that I was being sarcastic, right?” She thought for a second.
“I think so? He had to have at some point. But I’d say the predominant look on his face was one of bafflement.”
In a Life Crowded with Not Finest Moments, This Was Another One
The point is, yesterday at about 3:45 local time, the better angels of my nature apparently took a smoke break and left me to my snarkiest impulses. Now, could I have handled that better? 100% Am I broken up about it? Not really. He was an Olympic-level jerkface (apologies for the salty language), a veritable Ebenezer Scrooge, if Scrooge were really into landscaping, and by any basic measure, not a friendly man.
But here’s what I do feel REALLY bad about. I enjoyed being a smug, snarky jerk to him. I flat out reveled in my smugness, felt a dopamine rush seeing his frazzled face, which said essentially, “This conversation has not gone as I’d envisioned,” etc., etc.
I’d like to think I’m better than that. I’d like to believe I’ve put away childish things, if you want to get all “Paul ‘s Letter to the Corinthians” about it. The man actually had what I view to be a legitimate gripe, although, there’s maybe 25 leaves on his front lawn in total. True, due to his Tony Soprano-like social skills, I had no way of gleaning that for a minute or so. But still.
I know ideally we should all be as kind as we can muster to others because of their unseen battles, etc. And I also know that try as I might to act that way (which I sometimes do), I’m not going to get there all the time. That’s fine. I’ve got my own battles.
Let’s Drill Down a Bit Into the Exact Quantity and Quality of My Jerkocity
Am I concerned that I have live across from this person for years to come? Not so much. We hadn’t interacted before then, and I doubt we’re gonna hang out much now.
But that teenage-like pleasure in toying with this cranky, uncharitable man? That’s a feeling I thought I’d long since outgrown. Apparently not. This wasn’t me losing my temper for a second and saying something I later regretted. I was calm and suddenly decided to workshop this new overly sensitive, saccharine neighbor character. Which, knowing me, I will likely feel compelled to continue (although hopefully not as obnoxiously) for as long as we both live here.
This man, irascible, cantankerous guy though he may be, may have heard the worst news of his life this week. Or been dealt tragic blows by the world so hard and often that perhaps felt as if keeping his lawn pristine was the only thing in his life he had control over.
Wait, now I do feel a little bad.
Evolution? Meh. Intelligent Design? Clearly Not
But let’s get back to me for God’s sake. He can blog about himself if he wants to; this is my time. If I can take any lesson from this, it’s that I’m not as evolved as I’d thought, and I think it’s important to keep in mind I knew I was at least two layover flights from evolved before this incident.
I let my daughter know that I wasn’t proud of myself, or rather that I wasn’t proud that I was proud. But she’s old enough to draw her own conclusions.
Hopefully she’s also old enough to be better than I was yesterday.