Good People, Behaving Badly
It’s tough, the worst of all situations. We can all be pleased when somebody who needs to step up to the plate, behaves better than we expect. But when people we know and love seem petty or mean spirited, well, that’s a tough one. Often circumstances dictate–illness, a death in the family, tragedies of luck or finance. These things can test us. I’ve seen some of it lately and I shake my head. There’s little I can do. But it reminds me of something I did a decade ago when I lived in a big city. I wrote it up several years later, mostly because I didn’t want to forget. So, I’ll offer it up to you now and then I can stop shaking my head, and remember….remember to shake my head and then forgive.
The Car Alarm
Some years ago I had a neighbor with a defective (or just overly sensitive) car alarm. I was repeatedly made aware of it, and had complained several times to him about how annoying it was. The alarm would chirp, then announce, “You are standing too close to the vehicle, step away from the vehicle.” Then it would go into a twenty minute cycle of alarm noises–an assorted selection of them. It would chirp randomly without provocation and would, several times a day, go through its entire litany, of course, at ear-splitting volume. For some reason, my neighbor couldn’t hear it when he was inside his house. I don’t know why, I certainly could in mine. (Or perhaps it gave him a false sense of security, periodically, throughout the day.)
Then I came down with a really monstrous case of the flu. I was home all day, trying desperately to sleep-off the symptoms. Of course, with annoying regularity that alarm would go off, eliminating any chance of relief and annoying me to the ends of my limits. It reached the point where I would wake up in sweats, even if the alarm had only chirped. Finally, in desperation (and floridly drenched in a feverish sweat) I threw on my robe and went next door to make the neighbor as fully aware as I was, how disruptive his alarm had become. My neighbor did not answer the bell so I started beating on the door with my fists. I knew he was home because I could hear the damn music. Hell, I could feel the vibrations through my feet on the front porch. Then I picked up a stick and beat on the door–still no response. I walked around to the living room side of his house and beat on the window with my stick. I even screamed at the window. But, still no response. I returned to the front porch and rifled through his mailbox for something to write on. With a pencil from my robe pocket, I sat on his steps and began writing a livid note on the back of a piece of mail. At this point, when my attention was fully on the missive I was composing, the music stopped and the neighbor stepped out onto the porch, standing above me. There I was, in total disarray, sweaty and flushed, seated on his front steps in my bathrobe, writing on his mail.
He had not come to the door in response to my efforts to get his attention–he was going out somewhere and he was in a hurry. Surprised to see me sitting on his porch, he asked if there was a problem? What was I doing with his mail? Well, I let him have it about the alarm. He made a few apologetic noises, but acted completely unaware of the affront of his car alarm and was taken aback by the intensity of my reproach. In an effort to explain, I approached his car. My hope was to trigger the damn thing so that he could fully experience the impact of the alarm’s blast. I touched the car, but it did not make a peep. Then I pushed hard against the fender–still nothing. This alarm, that had kept me up in my sickbed for the previous four hours, simply refused to perform on my command. By now my neighbor was looking at me oddly. With keys in hand, he approached the driver’s side of his vehicle, ready to go about his day, indifferent to my plight.
It was clear to me that the only way to make him really understand was to trigger that stupid alarm. I tightened the belt of my robe and, in bare feet, stepped up onto the bumper of his car. Still, nothing. So, I began jumping up and down on the bumper of his precious, goddamn car (do I even have to say it?) to no avail. I stepped up onto the trunk of the car and jumped up and down, but … (It never occurred to me that he’d probably disarmed the alarm when he came out of his house.)
Though the alarm stayed silent, my neighbor didn’t–“What the hell are you doing? Get the fuck off my car!” he shook his keys at me. I’m sure I made quite a sight. Only in that moment did I stop to examine how I must look, under the circumstances. Sheepishly, I stepped down from the vehicle, blurting, ” You’ve got to do something about that damn alarm.” He shook his head, climbed into the car, muttering, and drove away. I looked up to see that my scene had attracted the attention of the other neighbors. They peered down the block in my direction. One waved. It was now very quiet on the street. I sheepishly returned to my house and climbed back into bed. Well, at least it was quiet.
The neighbor must have had the alarm fixed shortly after that. In any event the problem stopped. No one ever said anything to me about my little street performance. All I can say is that it really did seem like a good idea at the time. Now, I try to be more understanding when I hear stories about bizarre behavior.