Feb 27, 2013

The Arf of war

Dear AAP-
My neighbor complains to the cops when I practice my drums in the garage but his dogs bark non-stop all day and night. It is bullshit. Hes like this crazy old guy who thinks everyone is going to hell and everyone should do what he says. He lives alone because my mom told me his family moved out when I was a little kid and I can see why. He is an asshole. He even says stupid stuff to me when I'm just walking up my driveway like I have to listen to every word he says. I told him to fuck off and he even said he would call the cops about that. I'm in highschool. Everyone else complains about their parents but mine are ok, they understand I'm not going to play football or something and they're ok with that, but this guy thinks he has to tell me that I'm some weirdo or a criminal or something, like he is the neighborhood cop or something and hes not. like hes not a guy whos family moved out who has ugly dogs that bark all the time I bet the dogs don't even like him because he never lets them in the house anyway.  I don't know what he does but he isn't any richer than us if he was he would live in a better neighborhood anyway or something. What do you do with something like this? - Sick of It.

Dear SoI -

First of all: Don't blame the dogs. 

I'm sure they are well aware that their master is a douchebag who, I'm guessing, makes their lives miserable too. From what you've told me, they don't sound vicious, they just bark a lot. Why not figure out a way to befriend them a little bit? Toss 'em some dog snacks or something. It might not stop the barking, but then again, it might. 

As far as the neighbor himself goes. It is a safe guess that he is a sad, lonely, depressed, disillusioned and broken man. Unfortunately for both him and you, the only way he knows how to express his pain and loneliness is to scream and yell and lash out at everyone and everything around him. That doesn't make it right, it is just the likely cause. I know you probably didn't expect me to say something like that, but I'm telling you I'm probably right. 

I know it is tough to really see this, but remember he wasn't always a grumpy old douchebag. At some point long ago he was your age. Try to imagine that. He had plans and ideas about what his life might become and I'm sure they didn't include: "I wanna grow up to be the angry divorced guy who lives alone and yells at the neighbor kid." ...that's just what happened. Sure, it is probably his fault it happened, but I promise you that wasn't his plan.  I'm talking about having a little empathy here, even if that doesn't sound very "fuck him" punk rock.

So what can you do about it?

1) Make sure all of his complaints are unreasonable. When are you practicing your drumming? If it is at 11pm on a Tuesday or 7am on a Sunday, I think even I would complain a little about that. Are you being a reasonable neighbor? -- OK, I'm sure you are, but I had to mention it anyway. 

2) Carefully track what he is actually saying and doing. Yelling and complaining and even calling the cops is one thing, but threatening you is something else. It didn't sound like he has done that, but you want to pay attention, and keep some kind of written record of your interactions with him, especially if he is in the habit of calling the cops, because he's going to  have his version of "the truth" when they arrive, so be sure you have yours. Also, since you do have a good relationship with your parents, do let them know of every interaction you have with the guy. You didn't mention whether or not he's drunk or sober when he is acting this way, so I'm guessing he's an ass even when sober... but if he is a drinker be careful because that always escalates and leads to bigger problems and more dangerous confrontations.

3a) When he does confront you. Don't take the bait. By now it is probably obvious that yelling back at him isn't going to shut him up or change his tune. All you can really do is pretend he doesn't exist. Do not react. Do not respond. Don't run away either, just pretend he is a barking dog on a leash. 

3b) If it is in your nature, try a 180 degree different response. Smile at him. Everyone from Buddha to Jesus to Gandhi will tell you that responding to anger with anger is a waste of human energy and potential. Remember what I said about him once being young too? A big part of him is probably jealous of you, of your youth, of the potential you still have that he no longer does, of the chance you have to not make the mistakes he most likely did. If you imagine that every time he yells at you he is really yelling at himself, how does that change your feelings about him? ... makes you feel sorry for him doesn't it? 

I'm not telling you he is going to change if you're nice to him. This is the real world, not some dumbass feel-good Hollywood movie. I'm not telling you he is right in acting the way he does. I'm just trying to give you some insight into why. I'm saying don't add fuel to his fire of delusion, so that when the cops do come (again) it'll be clear to everyone who the real problem is. 

And keep in mind that, in a few years, you'll be finished with high school and you'll move on to bigger and better things somewhere else... while he'll still be stuck in a purgatory of his own making, and his poor dogs will be stuck there with him.