Mr. Rogers was once my hero. He may not have been the coolest children’s programming host, and I admit I eventually moved on to the Electric Company and 3-2-1 Contact, but for a time, Mr. Rogers had a quiet wisdom I found appealing.
I was reminded of him recently, when I came to question what exactly makes a good neighbor. I’m sure Mr. Rogers would have a gentle reply about kindness and sharing and overcoming differences. And he’d even be right, if this was the Land of Make Believe, and I wasn’t the neighbor.
It’s not that I go out of my way to be a rotten neighbor; I just don’t make much of an effort to be one at all. I resent the implication that living in proximity to another person somehow endears us to each other. The only thing anyone living near me is entitled to is my consideration.
And that, too, has its limits I’m finding, especially when it comes to the communal environment of an apartment complex. My guy and I will be moving to a townhouse at the start of the New Year, but have been sharing quarters in his apartment complex for the past few months. It’s a two-story dwelling consisting of four apartments, two dogs, the wafting stink of boiled sauerkraut, and one stumpy blonde ripe with misguided hatred.
Frankly, with my general avoidance tactics, I wouldn’t be aware of her specific existence at all if she hadn’t felt inclined to reach out to my guy and I. Her neighborly gesture came in the form of a letter one afternoon, taped to our mailbox.
“Dear neighbors,” she began. “I don’t know if you are aware how thin the walls are in this building…” Actually, we are; her futile efforts on a treadmill in the apartment above us provide a steady stream of pounding entertainment.
“I’m writing this letter to inform you that most days we are being disturbed by rather loud noises coming from your apartment that are quite uncomfortable. The nature and degree of the sounds is affecting our life. We haven’t been able to sleep, and you should know that we’ve had to move our children from their room so that they don’t hear what you’re doing.” Huh – neither of us have seen or heard any children in this building, but no matter. Perhaps she means her dogs.
“We all need to maintain a peaceful living community and hope you’ll stop the noise. Sincerely, your neighbors.”
It took all our self control to not merge into an alcohol-soaked sex tornado and hurl raunchy obscenities at the ceiling that night. Stumpy’s sad little letter summed up exactly why I dislike having neighbors at all: they’re nosy, inclined to assume you have an obligation to them though unlikely to reciprocate, and always there.
After taping her note to the fridge and calling all our friends to brag, we did make an effort to tone down our “disturbing” noises. Not that it stopped Stumpy from pounding on her floor at the slightest hint of a moan and avoiding eye contact in the hallway, of course. If that’s her idea of a peaceful living community, I can only assume she has never watched Mr. Rogers.
Our tight-lipped coexistence lasted until Christmas Eve day. Several weeks of accumulation had left our open field-cum-backyard with more than a foot of pristine white snow. Though snow ranks right up there with razor blades and syringes on my pain meter, I couldn’t resist suggesting my guy and I head out for a snowball fight.
Of course he was game, and we spent the morning hurling balls of snow at each other like kids. (Side note: never, ever taunt a boyfriend by yelling, “You throw like a girl! Is that all you’ve got?” It’s ungood. Trust me.) We even built a giant snowman, complete with eyes, arms and a smile. I half expected him to exclaim “Happy birthday!” when my back was turned.
We returned to the apartment satisfied and giddy. After drying off and brewing some whiskey-laced cider, my guy opened the patio blinds so we could have a view of Frosty as we wrapped Christmas presents.
But when I looked out into our vast backyard, I could only gasp. Standing where our happy snowman had been was only his bottom lump of snow; his torso and arms lay in a smashed heap behind him. Frosty was dead.
We rushed to his lifeless torso as if it actually mattered. We’d packed Frosty well, so there was no chance the wind had pushed him over. Upon investigation, it was clear his torso had been deliberately knocked over.
“Who would do that?” I asked. There were no kids or teenagers in the area that we knew of, and since the snow had fallen, the field was rarely traversed by anything other than prairie critters. I doubt our suburban raccoons had the upper body strength to dismantle a snowman.
Then we saw it: a single path of footprints leading to Frosty and returning to where they originated… Stumpy’s building entrance.
“No one kills a snowman in MY neighborhood and gets away with it!” I yelled.
I stomped back into the apartment and paced. I could just picture Stumpy pressing her greasy forehead against her window, seething in sexual frustration and jealousy as she watched my guy and I play in the snow. What kind of pathetic nutcase puts a hit on a snowman on Christmas?
It was such an aggressive move that my first inclination was one of equal aggression. Instead of sugar plums, that Christmas Eve, National Lampoon-like scenarios danced through my head: Could I anonymously hire a man whore to knock on her door? Would my cat cough up a few furballs on demand? What were the legal repercussions for nailing woodland creatures to her door?
But just as I was about to grab my hammer, I reconsidered. It was Christmas, after all, and even with all the venom coursing through me, I refused to ruin anyone’s holiday. That bitch was lucky it wasn’t Halloween.
Instead, I turned to my first source for life lessons and asked the all-important question: “What would Mr. Rogers do?”
He’d likely say that it was okay for us to feel sad, or mad, or perhaps vicious hatred, and encourage us to talk out our differences… and suddenly, I was reminded why I stopped watching that show in the first place.
I wasn’t interested in talking anything out, and I had a sneaking suspicion Stumpy wasn’t the most reasonable woman on the planet. So as quiet as I could, I left Stumpy a festive holiday card taped to her front door. Inside I wrote: “We’re moving out in one week. Merry Christmas you stumpy shrew.”
Mr. Rogers may not have approved, but the letter made me happy. Won’t you be my neighbor, indeed.