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An Aggregation Of Nincompoops

January 29, 2010 - John Whittaker
Am I really that hard to get along with?
Seriously, I don't think I expect that much from people - but I do think I ask too much from the aggregation of nincompoops that populate our city, county and country these days.
If my new car is parked in my driveway, and I ask pretty nicely that your kids be careful while they're punting their football in the street not to hit it, I expect my car won't get hit and break a piece of the plastic on the front end that, if I want to have it fixed, will cost me hundreds of dollars.
If you have a billing issue with a utility, don't be a stark raving idiot, treatening a guy who's just trying to do his job, to the point your neighbor's utility gets turned off because the lineman is left with no other option (yes, I know the guy who was in the paper Friday morning). Regardless of procedural stuff that happened with the utility, the base fact is the neighbor who wouldn't let a worker have access to the water meters is at fault. Other events don't happen unless the initial access is denied. And, don't, either deliberately or not, while trying to get around a utility shutoff, play with a neighbor's meters so they have to call the utility again (yep, the guy had to have the BPU back at his house two days later because his shutoff valve, which only the neighbor has access to, was shut off. Way to blame the BPU, by the way, for the second incident when the BPU was in no way at fault. Someone tried to get around a shutoff, tried to undo the BPU's work, and somehow, the upstairs tenant's water valve was turned off, which the BPU in no way did, since the water worked for five hours after the BPU lineman left and then was miraculously off by the time the guy got home from work. The bad neighbor doesn't know how it happened, doesn't know who was in the basement, whcih is funny because there's only one way in, and it's through the bad neighbor's apartment. The neighbor in question is a real winner. And, by the way, kudos to the BPU for having a guy out to the house that second night within about 10 minutes. When you say you fixed a procedural glitch, you really fixed a procedural glitch. You guys are aces in my book, and I'm more than happy to say that after the guy who works here told me the followup story - but I digress).
When it's 11 p.m. and you know your neighbors have to work, it might be a good idea to tell your kids not to be breaking guitars against the wall like Axl Rose or having friends over making ungodly noise all night or letting your kids skateboard on the front porch like they're Tony Hawk.
When you have friends over, it might be smart to tell them parking so they block your neighbor's parking place is a prick thing to do. When the neighbor pulls up during his lunch break, tries to park, backs out and waits on the road for you to move, it might be a neighborly thing to do stop your conversation so the offending vehicle can be parked normally so your neighbor can park their car and eat their lunch.
When you're in the middle of a blizzard, and you see your neighbor out shoveling the driveway and sidewalk three times a day, and you have a shovel, maybe send your kids out to help shovel so your visiting friend has a place to park, rather than parking in your neighbor's spot that he's shoveled religiously, so he has to miss part of the Patriots playoff game while waiting for someone to move out of his shoveled parking spot.
And, maybe, when you walk down the walkway he's kept shoveled during the duration of said blizzard, say thanks for keeping the walk clear, so your kids' feet aren't getting soaked on their way to school and so you can get your mail without the mailman having to wade through two feet of snow.
* * * * * *
OK. Maybe I am hard to get along with.
My first two years in college, I had five roommates.
I swear it wasn't my fault, though.
The first room was a quad where one guy didn't show up. Two of the guys got along well, were kind of partiers (which I wasn't at the time) and had parties going on at all hours of the night during the week while I had 8 a.m. classes. Could I have handled it better? Probably. But, at the very least, it was a mutual separation.
Luckily, a room in the next hall over opened up because, unfortunately, a friend of mine had mono and had to drop out of school. I moved into his room, where I became good friends with Dave, who almost a decade later served as the best man at my wedding, and Gerry, who lived across the hall and was a good friend throughout college.
The roommate, though, was a British guy named Ben who kept the weirdest hours I've ever seen. He slept during the day, when he wasn't in class, and was out all night, coming in and out of the room at 2, 3 or 4 in the morning like it was noontime. And, being from Britain, he loved the room âRocky beating the crap out of cows in a packing house roomã cold. Seriously, Meadville winters are kind of like Jamestown winters. Imaging spending that winter with windows wide open. A nice guy, but Ben was kind of an odd duck.
Sophomore year, I roomed with a guy from one of my freshman classes. He was kind of a loner, but at the very least he was quiet, wanted to study and was a decent guy. Unfortunately, he dropped out of school to move back to San Francisco because he was homesick (no fault of the Whitless Wonder).
Sean's replacement was a pot-smoking meathead who had a collection of bongs that rivals my childhood baseball card collection. Seriously, this guy had more bongs than Cheech and Chong combined. He might have gotten agriculture subsidies for his pot stash. He'd have his pot-smoking buddies over until 3 or 4 a.m., the pot smoke so thick you could cut it with a knife. You'd have gotten high off what I was sneezing out of my nose in the morning. I was second-hand smoking a pound of pot a day. For three months, I had a case of the munchies that wouldn't quit - I swear I was addicted to Doritos and French toast. The final straw for me was when I went home for Christmas break and got high on the car ride home from my laundry.
Roommate Number 5 was a guy named Bob who I knew was a tool. There is no nicer way to say it - this guy probably still hasn't had a girlfriend. He wasn't a guy I was ever going to hang out with, but the room was down the hall from Dave and Gerry, and my friend Adam, who I roomed with the next year, lived a couple of doors down.
So, yeah, five roomates in four semesters. I went through roommates like Elizabeth Taylor went through husbands, or, like Van Halen went through lead singers.
Were all those my fault?
* * * * * *
Loyal readers might remember a column I wrote in August 2008 where I wondered why we can't all get along.
At the time, I was living in a nice apartment, with a pretty good landlord, for about four years. And, being the observer I am, found some of my neighbors driving me nuts - like the guy with the racing Mitzubishi who had to rev the thing like a chainsaw at 10 p.m. four nights a week, the Bob Vila neighbors who built a small fortress in their yard and had me convinced one summer that there was construction going on in Yankee Stadium, people who had bonfires in the middle of a neighborhood, and people who love to roam the streets drunk out of their minds screaming at the top of their lungs at 3 a.m.
After the News Wife and I tied the knot last year, we moved into a basic, small starter apartment. For the two of us, before we start having kids, it works. If people would respect my stuff, keep the noise to a dull roar and be basically respectful, I'd be fine. I swear I can get along with people pretty well until they start disrespecting the things I've worked pretty hard to acquire over the years or do things that directly make my life more difficult.
If I don't bother you, why are you bothering me?
In my last post, I wrote about finding the guy who keeps leaving the dog crap in my front yard and taking my morning constitutional on his front lawn.
It's not that far-fetched.
I had a neighbor, a really nice older Italian gentleman, who spends hours every day puttering in his garden and making sure his property looks like a million bucks. He's 80 or so, and would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it and asked nicely. Of course, he had a neighbor who has a cat - and can't keep the cat indoors. Every couple of days, the cat would crap in the middle of the Italian gentleman's garden or in front of his front door. He'd pick up the offending dookie, muttering to himself about the prick next door. Finally, after two or three months of this, he picked up the cat poop in a paper towel and threw it over the fence back into his neighbor's yard. The Italian gentleman had the cops called on him -- and the cat continues to crap in his yard to this day.
It's amazing that we don't have more gun violence in this country. I'm amazed I haven't had a police report cross my desk about some factory worker who works second shift, coming home at 1 a.m. from work who has to get his kids up in the morning to go to school, beating the pulp out of the three people who woke him up at 4 a.m. because they were drunk and screaming outside his window. When he asks them nicely to quiet down so the kids don't wake up and so he can get some sleep, the drunk people get belligerent with the factory worker, a fight ensues, and the drunkards press charges against the Average Joe.
Would a judge in the world convict the factory worker? I sure wouldn't. All the guy wants is to be able to get his six hours of sleep before he has to wake up and start another 18 hour day when he's inconvenienced by another person's inconsiderateness.
I'm seriously shocked I haven't gotten that police report yet. Of course, most people don't ask such morons nicely to quiet down - they just call the cops and let them deal with it.
Do we really need to resort to vigilantism to restore order and civility to our neighborhoods? Do we really need to have Miss Marlene teaching manners in our schools so people know how to act? Should we be calling an understaffed (especially in the late hours) police department every time someone acts like a flaming idiot? Are we asking too much?
Those aren't questions I can answer. I'd like to think I'm a bright guy, but that problem is above my pay grade.
* * * * * *
I do, however, have an idea.
My dad always jokes that, when he's made his million and is ready to retire, he just wants to buy a mountain and become a hermit. No neighbors. No Bob the Builders next door. No people's pets pooping in your yard. No drunk idiots screaming outside your window at 3 a.m. God forbid, nobody messing with your water meter because they're dumb and think they know more than a guy who's been a line worker for 20 years.
I think the mountain might be a bit cost-prohibitive, but I've got another idea.
If parts of our city are really too far gone to fix (and I think they are) then we'll create our own city. There'll be a huge wall and ironclad leases - one violation and you're out.
The rules for our new city are simple. Treat other people like you want to be treated. Be unobtrusive. Do somebody a favor not because you want something in return, but simply because they need a hand. Keep your house up. Mow the lawn. Shovel your sidewalk. If somebody's sick or working a double shift, shovel their sidewalk for them, just to be nice. Respect other people's rights. Realize that what you do affects other people and think about that.
On second thought, maybe we don't need a new city.
We just need to go back to the 1950s. Life might not have been perfect, but I think there are some values our parents or grandparents lived by back then that would make life a heck of a lot better for all of us now.
Doc Brown has my DeLorean ready. The flux capicator is fluxing, the plutonium is loaded and I'm at 88 miles an hour. I'm ready to leave the aggregation of nincompoops our society seems to have become behind.
Who's with me?


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