Alan Chartock: Never a snap dealing with the neighbors
GREAT BARRINGTON -- We are very lucky. We have good neighbors. The problem with living in neighborhoods is that sooner or later the law of averages catches up to you and you are confronted with problem neighbors, and that can be hellish.
I know two wonderful and kind people who lived in one of the nearby Great Barrington communities who ran afoul of a neighbor who had 200 acres right next to my friends. Their neighbor was a pretty good guy, but he had his eccentricities. When my friends cut down a very small little tree on the common line between the two properties you would have thought that they had committed a provocation that might have started an international incident.
It is important to know that they thought this little tree was theirs and that they are really good folks who would never intentionally hurt anyone. Well, the outraged large landholders conducted themselves as if there was a major military operation going on. Their house was several acres away from the good people who they thought had wrongly cut down the tree. So they ordered up two truckloads of stinking chicken manure, which they put on the common line, grossing out the poor people and their young children who had to live with the stuff for a couple of years.
The chicken manure war just wasn’t right, but we see similar wars going on all around us. There are tales of people putting up flood lights that pierce right into your house and drive the occupants crazy. Like all wars, these things can escalate.
In some cases the whole thing is started by driveway problems. Sometimes it involves a musical instrument or a very loud radio. Sometimes it involves boundary lines. In the case of my friends in the great chicken manure caper, they did nothing, which was a lot better than what I might have done in the same situation. While the stink from the chicken manure was awful, silence was probably the best course of action.
So what are the best ways to keep the peace with your neighbors?
The first thing is to remember that your neighbors are usually good people with their own priorities. For example, I get up to go to work around 3:30 in the morning so I go to bed at 8. I can’t help it if people are making noise that would usually be seen as well within the bounds of reasonable behavior.
So, if you are friends with the folks, you call them up and speak to them as if they were the friends that they are. Most (but not all) people are accommodating. Of course, one should be sure to approach in the nicest of ways and one should be sure that you would accommodate your neighbors if they called you.
One time my very wonderful neighbors may have been upset by the noise my new gas-driven shredding machine was making. Their very young (at the time) son came out on our lawn and said, "Loud." I got the message and got rid of the machine. For their part, the wonderful lady of the house, Susie Baum, has shared her extensive gardening prowess with me.
Politics is also a potential hazard. If someone has an anti-abortion message on the back of their car and you are passionately pro-choice you recognize that it is their right to express their views. Roselle has an Obama sticker on the back of her car and that’s her right. So what you have to do, once again, is to find something else to talk about. Now, if they talk to you, then all you have to do is to say that you don’t think it’s wise to talk about it.
I once knew a guy who didn’t like one of his neighbors. They guy had a pond and the aggressor did something that I just didn’t like and told him so. He dropped two huge snapping turtles into his perceived enemy’s pond. He knew that the nice old man who lived there would roll up his pants and walk in the pond. Not a good thing. Do peace, not war.
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