The Legalistic Neighbor

by admin on January 2, 2014

I live in a large mid-western city on a quiet residential block. Everyone knows everyone else and for the most part are very friendly and helpful, with the exception of the man who lives by himself directly across the street from us. He grew up in the house and was already living elsewhere when we moved in many years ago. We were friendly with his parents. After they died he moved back into his childhood home. Our efforts to have a cordial relationship (waving hello, saying good morning, etc.) have been ignored. He has fought with some of the other neighbors over various issues but we have managed to stay out of his cross hairs. Until yesterday.

My mother has been living in a private-pay assisted living residence for 3 years. She has severe dementia. She is also out of funds, and we cannot afford to keep her there. We have yet to find a suitable place for her that will take public aid, so we have decided to try to take care of her in our home. We arranged to have a company that specializes in transporting people with non-life-threatening medical issues bring her to our house yesterday. I rode along with her. The transport van was clearly marked as a medical vehicle.
It had been snowing heavily and was still snowing. The van had a wheelchair ramp on only one side. Our street is one way, and the driver told me he thought it would be much easier if he approached our house from the wrong way so that the ramp would be on our side of the street. He pulled up one house past ours because cars were parked in front of our house. The neighbor across the street was clearing snow off his car and as the van passed he yelled at the driver “This is a one-way street!” The driver opened his window and very nicely said “We have a wheelchair transport here, sir.” Neighbor yelled something else I couldn’t understand. Then, as driver unhooked Mom’s wheelchair and lowered her and the wheelchair, neighbor stood in the street and glared at us for several minutes, muttering under his breath. Moving mom into the house took about 10 minutes. We were NOT blocking neighbor’s car–he could easily have pulled out–and no other cars approached in this time (or if they did they backed out down the street and took a different route).

I was quite upset by the whole experience. Mom was confused and frightened by the ride, neighbor was clearly miffed when any normal person (especially the rest of my neighbors) would have shown a little patience and heart.

I am tempted to write my neighbor a note, saying we are sorry to have inconvenienced him. Or, perhaps, to say he’s an ass. Or should I ignore the whole thing? By the way, he is very educated and has a good job. Obviously he is a functional member of society. 0102-14

Ignore his histrionics on this issue.   Replying to him in any manner is just going to feed his need to feel justified in his legalism.   However, I would continue to smile and wave at him for two simple reasons. One, you will feel better as a human by offering kindness to the undeserving and it will get you in a good mood, and two, it annoys him.

{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

siamesecat 2965 January 2, 2014 at 11:56 am

Don’t engage the crazy. I’d just ignore him. You did what you needed to do, for only a short period of time, and inconvenienced no one. I’d let it go, and chalk it up to the annoying neighbor you know he is.

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hakayama January 2, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Hmmm, Admin.: Full agreement on “no note” as people of that ilk just cannot be reached. But, why SMILE? Smiling customarily denotes pleasure among humans. Among lower primates a smile is seen as an attempt at ingratiation (at least that’s what I recall reading eons ago ;-)).
It seems that neither the OP nor her DH seem particularly interested in establishing a friendship or a subservient role with respect to the fastidious ogre. Therefore, in this situation I feel there is absolutely no need nor reason to be cordial (as mentioned by the LW), when mere cool civility will suffice.

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admin January 2, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Because the act of smiling will change YOUR point of view. I smile at a lot of people who probably don’t care but I intend to live my life being happy and refuse to let sourpusses determine how I interact with the world.

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ferretrick January 2, 2014 at 12:14 pm

I’m sure you are very, very stressed out, understandably, and so you are giving more importance to this minor encounter with Jerk Neighbor (who admittedly is a jerk) than it really merits. But admin is right-ignoring it is the way to go; anything else is just going to feed his drama. Taking care of someone with dementia is extraordinarily challenging and I admire you for doing it; best wishes to you and your mother.

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Ashley January 2, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I think we’ve all dealt with neighbors like this at one time or another. For example, my family used to do the Fourth of July fireworks for our street. Nothing serious, just a little to do after we all got home from the official city fireworks. The whole street usually came out to watch. My dad was super big on safety and we all made sure the situation was as safe as possible, yada yada yada. Anyway, one year we get home and we’re setting up for our display and from our house we can see the children of some notoriously difficult neighbors playing down the street. These are the types of neighbors who will call the cops for anything, even if nothing remotely illegal/bad was going on. They would do it just to inconvinence others. So we set up our display and start shooting things off. Neighbor kids are still outside playing in front of their house, their parents are inside, and EVERYONE ELSE on the street is gathered watching our display. I went into our house to get something we had forgotten, and noticed the answering machine was blinking so I pressed play and grabbed a pen and paper. Here is the neighbor down the street yelling at us because “You’re shooting off all those fireworks and our kids are trying to sleep, if you are still at it in five minutes we’re calling the police”.
A) Their kids had been outside the whole time. They were NOT trying to sleep, we could quite clearly see them playing on the front lawn and at no point had any parents come outside to try and get them inside
B) We lived outside city limits. My parents house is in an area where it is perfectly legal to shoot off whatever fireworks you want with the proper permits, which my dad had, plus safety gloves, goggles, and hoses and buckets of water. So nothing illegal was happening.
But the cops came anyway…and surprise surprise they found nothing wrong with what we were doing, and actually now that I think about it, that was the last time those neighbors called the cops.

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Kahomono January 2, 2014 at 12:29 pm

I have a rule of thumb for situations like this: Don’t touch the Furby.

You’re doing great. Keep doing what you’re doing. Wave to him every chance you get but no other engagement with this putz is desirable.

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cdubz January 2, 2014 at 12:37 pm

It’s always been said the best revenge is living a good life. Continue smiling and greeting him, show him that his pettiness doesn’t bother you in the slightest. It will drive him crazy.

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MyWorldand January 2, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Because the guy is right across the street from you, NOT because you did anything wrong, I would drop him a note apologizing for the inconvenience caused by the driver going the wrong way on your one way street. Explain about your mother and that you hope he understands and forgives you.
If that does not get you at least a wave, the next time you go by, I would start documenting any further odd behavior or aggression towards you in case you need it down the road.

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Ripple January 2, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Definitely ignore him. You know he’s an ass, you don’t need to tell him that. And apologizing will just make him feel superior, which isn’t justified. I totally agree with Admin’s advice – keep on doing what you’ve been doing, and otherwise ignore his histrionics. Not worth the hassle.

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Angel January 2, 2014 at 1:17 pm

I agree with the admin here. Continue to be friendly but I wouldn’t engage him about the wheelchair transport vehicle. Clearly he realized he was being a jerk. But he doesn’t have any plans to change any time soon so I wouldn’t worry about it.

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NostalgicGal January 2, 2014 at 1:17 pm

IG-nore the IG-nor-amus.

It was a special occasion for a special reason and only thing neighbor can hope for is *HE* never has to need an exception (that didn’t inconvenience anyone).

He’d have a major coronary here, as on side streets and even in front of City Hall (half a block off Main) a lot of people ‘park the wrong way’ as a regular occurrence. You’re not supposed to but it’s widespread (unwritten and unspoken seems to be ‘get it near the curb-no walking’ and ‘don’t pull out in oncoming traffic’)

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lakey January 2, 2014 at 1:40 pm

” Obviously he is a functional member of society. ”

Can you imagine what he must be like to work with? I don’t know if I’d consider him functional. There are people who spend way too much time and energy looking for things to get angry over. You can’t please someone like this, I wouldn’t waste time on a letter.

Good luck with your mom. I take care of my 96 year old father who also has sever dementia. Make sure you get some support. If there aren’t other relatives who can help out, there are elder care businesses who can help with any number of services.

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The Elf January 2, 2014 at 1:48 pm

There’s always one in every neighborhood, isn’t there? Ignore, ignore, ignore and above all, don’t take it personally. Things like this reflect far more on him than on you.

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Lisa January 2, 2014 at 1:53 pm

I would be tempted to not even look in his direction but if you are so inclined, I do agree that the pleasantries annoy him, so they may be worth continuing ;)

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Jay January 2, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Just ignore it. There’s no repercussion on your end (he didn’t call the police on you), so who cares if he’s mean?

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Nina J. Hodgson January 2, 2014 at 2:04 pm

I had a similar experience when the wheelchair van was blocking my very narrow, crooked street while unloading my 86 year-old mother in a wheelchair. A car behind laid on the horn incessantly. Just smile and contemplate what kind of karma is earned by that kind of behavior.

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DGS January 2, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Whatever you do, do not engage in any way, other than being friendly and civil (waving, smiling). And I am so sorry that you are dealing with your mother’s dementia – one of the most painful, difficult experiences for anyone is taking care of a loved one who is going through this horrible disease.

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ALM January 2, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Sorry to hear about the OP’s stressful situation.

Don’t antagonize the neighbor or egg him on. Bear in mind his bad behavior may simply be the first signs of his own impending dementia and it’s not about you.

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Cat January 2, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Advice: don’t get into anything with someone like this. It can escalate far past your ability to deal with it. If he is the kind of person who sees this as a “I win, you lose” situation, he can decide to create a situation in which he wins and you lose. You don’t want that in your life.
If he mentions it, play the victim, “Oh, I know it’s a one-way street, and I told the driver that. He said he had to come in that way because of Mom’s wheelchair and the lift being on one side of his truck. I am so sorry. You know how it is when your parents get older and need help.”

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acr January 2, 2014 at 2:48 pm

OP, I wonder if perhaps you are reading a lot of malice into his behavior? I can see that given his prior history and also the difficult situation you were in with you mom, you were not in a mental place to give him the benefit of the doubt.

His transgressions were a) telling the driver that the street was one way and b) glaring.

A) He was factually correct. He had no way of knowing about the context. All he knew was that a driver was driving the wrong way down his street, which could cause an accident, etc.

B) He may simply have been looking in your general direction and feeling grumpy.

I think if you take any action (like leaving a note) it’s bound to turn a minor incident into a feud. Don’t poke the bear.

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Renee January 2, 2014 at 3:09 pm

My neighbor! My block!
I am one of the nice neighbors.
I will make a point of parking in front of his house for the next while, just to irritate him. Ok, maybe I’m not one of the nice neighbors after all.

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Kay L January 2, 2014 at 3:09 pm

And three, his opinion doesn’t matter. If it did, then he would have called the police–but he likely knows better.

Some people are just designed that way, and some are brought up that way. It’s not an easy dynamic to break out of. The best you can do is not get sucked into it.

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PWH January 2, 2014 at 3:20 pm

As admin recommended, I would just ignore him. If he approaches you to vent in the future, you can politely say something to the effect of “Sorry to have inconvenienced you, but I was trying to get my sick mother home as safely as possible”. Some people are just un-neighborly and just generally unpleasant. This person sounds like one of them. A normal person would have made certain concessions in this situation. I would be tempted to smile and wave a single digit in his direction in the future, but like admin said I’m sure that would just be another reason for him to continue his sour behavior.

We have a neighbor who has been pretty unpleasant in the several years we’ve lived in our house. She’s single, no children and lives directly next door (we live in a townhouse). She’s called us on several occasions to complain about noise. I would understand if we were being extremely noisy or if it was late at night, but it’s typically just after the supper hour and we are usually just watching TV (not obscenely loud – I can’t hear the TV upstairs when it’s on). On the other hand, we’ve heard her vacuuming at 10:00 at night before! We also never gave her our phone number or our last name. Meanwhile our neighbor on the other side, who we are great friends with, says she’s never heard any noise from us. Unpleasant neighbor also does some other un-neighborly things, but I will leave those out. I just shrug my shoulders and continue to say good morning/good evening, whatever, if I see her around. It really does make me feel like a better person : )

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just4kicks January 2, 2014 at 3:26 pm

My folks have lived next door to a CRAZY single woman for nearly 20 years. She has called the police too many times to count on my dad cutting their lawn, my kids playing too loudly in my folks pool, etc. She has had several neglected dogs, invited the teenage neighborhood boys in and gave them pornographic magazines, etc. She drives my father insane!!!! I have to quote one of the posters above….”do not engage the crazy!”

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mark January 2, 2014 at 3:51 pm

It probably would have been best for you had he called the police. Because they likely would have told him to mind his own business. I think it unlikely that the police would write a ticket to the transport service.

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Lisa January 2, 2014 at 4:22 pm

I like siamesecat 2965’s answer, “don’t engage the crazy”~
I have to remember that one.

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kingsrings January 2, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Ashley – that reminds me of the neighborhood I grew up in! We had an annual 4th of July block party that everyone was invited to complete with fireworks display, and there would always be one or two neighbors who would complain that we were blocking the street (we weren’t, there was more than one way around) or making too much noise. It’s a holiday, the 4th of July! Of course there’s going to be noise and fireworks. We were always very safe in our fireworks display. Some people just like to be difficult party-poopers.

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Kate January 2, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Definitely do not engage! He sounds quite unreasonable and it’s not worth getting into it with him. I can understand his annoyance if you were frequently flouting the one-way street rule, but surely he should be able to make an exception for an unusual circumstance like this, where your mother’s wellbeing is an issue.

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Aria January 2, 2014 at 6:44 pm

I completely agree with the admin here. Don’t engage the crazy. Pretend it never happened and hope he goes away. :)

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RC January 2, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Well said about the smile, admin.

OP, I am sorry to hear of your mother’s illness, and wish you all the best. Ignore the mean spirited neighbour, he doesn’t know your situation and you may be reading too much into his negative behaviour because of your own stress – which is entirely understandable. You are doing a wonderful thing caring for your mother at home – focus on that, not him, and know that everyone here is sending you warm fuzzy wishes.

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Cathy January 2, 2014 at 8:17 pm

It only takes one a-hole to mess up a neighborhood.

Don’t engage him (whatever you feed will grow) at all. People like that are best ignored. Anyone who can’t handle a short interruption of their normal day obviously has some pretty big issues. And anyone who can’t understand that there are times when people have to park the “wrong” way or whatever, so that someone who is disabled can be accommodated, is a jerk.

And kudos to you for taking care of your mom. My mom passed two months ago, from the effects of dementia on her mind and by extension, her body. It’s a very tough situation and I wish you the best.

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Georgie January 2, 2014 at 8:27 pm

I’m guessing that this guy thinks he ‘owns’ the street by virtue of his parents’ and his combined years on it. Any apology from you will just feed into this belief.

If anything, he should be apologising to you. He may have been legally correct in that it is a one way street and the driver was going the wrong way up it but surely he could see what the situation was and recognise how stressful it must have been for you. He may not know your mother has dementia but she is in a wheelchair so some compassion would not go amiss.

Best wishes on taking care of your mother.

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Marozia January 2, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Do not respond to this person. You’ll only make it worse.

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Stacey Frith-Smith January 3, 2014 at 2:00 am

The only reason that this stands out so much is the context, is that right? The neighbor was unkind and unreasonable and the moment for you was a particularly vulnerable one. Whether it was intentional or not is irrelevant. Don’t try to achieve “psychic parity” because nothing that you say or do will undo the memory of what a trial that day must have been. Perhaps instead you could be very, very kind to yourself and your family. Drink a nice glass of wine. Listen to some great music. Get a massage or take a long walk. Meditate or pray. Read a book. Whatever works for you. What is the expression? Don’t let someone live rent-free in your head.

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ketchup January 3, 2014 at 3:57 am

If you give a note now, you open the conversation again, and then you risk further escalation. However, if you leave it as is, you have a good chance it will just blow over.

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Ruby January 3, 2014 at 6:21 am

I would ignore him. You could be neighbors for a very, very long time. I’d rather have a cold relationship than a really bad one.

I don’t see the point in smiling and/or waving. Just ignore him and allow him to ignore you. If I had a neighbor who liked to keep to himself, I wouldn’t care a bit. He would have the right not to wave or be friendly. I have family and friends and don’t need a relationship with the neighbors.

Also, smiling at people with whom you have a mitual dislike seems silly to me.

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Angeldrac January 3, 2014 at 6:49 am

I have to agree with acr.
I realise this must have been an incredibly stressful situation for you, OP, but the forum seems to be crucifying the neighbour for pointing out the one way street situation (a very real safety concern, let’s be honest) and “glaring” (a somewhat subjective accusation).
Can we all be a bit reasonable and cut him some slack?
You don’t have to forge a friendship with this guy, you don’t have to continue the wave-and-smile. Just be cordial as needed. This is probably not ever a situation that the neighbour even realised was “a situation”.

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crebj January 3, 2014 at 6:51 am

I bet he’s too embarrassed/self-important/whatever to admit he was out of line. Preserve your sanity and good manners.

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Julia January 3, 2014 at 8:16 am

This sounds exactly like our next door neighbor. He’s a bitter man who can’t mind his own business and is always looking for a reason to call the cops or the village office (for supposed code violations). A few months after moving in we met one of the neighbors on the other side. She seemed to be a soft spoken, kind older woman (she is!), but when she asked what we thought of him, we tried to be diplomatic, but she responded “I think he’s an ass****”!
He also reportedly attends every village meeting, so he spreads his goodwill beyond our street.

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Library Diva January 3, 2014 at 10:19 am

I also agree with acr and Angeldrac. It’s possible this guy was just having a bad day. If it had been snowing heavily and was still snowing, and if this guy has a driveway but no snowblower, I can in fact almost GUARANTEE he was having a bad day. OP, I know that he made a bad situation worse for you, but I think it would be best to just let it go and move on, and don’t worry too much about this guy. Some people prefer, for whatever reason, to not be too close to their neighbors. Sometimes they have a bad experience, and it sours them on the neighborhood. He may be carrying baggage related to his past there. He may even have some condition or part of his personality that makes interactions with others difficult, and what you’re perceiving as unfriendliness is really extreme shyness, anxiety disorder, bad hearing, difficulty reading social cues, or some combination of these things.

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Elizabeth January 3, 2014 at 10:33 am

Ignore him. Don’t take the bait.

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mark January 3, 2014 at 11:36 am

To those who are talking about this neighbor being right, he really isn’t, this is a medical transport vehicle, an ambulance if you will. If you have a valid reason for doing it, and off loading a medical patient definitely qualifies, then you aren’t breaking the law. At least I doubt you would find a cop that would write a ticket for this or a judge that wouldn’t dismiss the ticket if written.

There was a reason the driver of this medical transport vehicle did what he did, and did it without thinking twice. Because he was well aware of the fact that he was right. These guys do this all day and they aren’t going to get in trouble for this. They regularly block traffic, parked cars, sidewalks, and driveways. I use to regularly do the last two when picking up and dropping off my disabled brother. No one ever gave me grief, actually they were supportive. I always kept the disruption to a minimum, but I did it because it was the safest way to help my brother. (interestly enough the street was a one-way street, but it was no advantage to me to go the wrong way on the street, so I never did.)

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Daphne January 3, 2014 at 4:34 pm

I have found that with neighbors like this, unless you have very thick skin or enjoy acrimony, is just don’t engage with them at all. Sometimes nasty/disturbed people interpret smiling, waving, pleasantries as a sign of weakness (or even a threat) and it spurs them on to be even nastier–even to make you their target. My advice is to completely ignore him. Don’t look at him, don’t wave at him, don’t respond to him. Pretty soon ignoring him will become second nature to you and you won’t even notice him anymore. Just keep telling yourself that YOU get to choose the dynamic that is comfortable for your family in your own yard — and follow through accordingly.

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Gee January 4, 2014 at 12:59 pm

I agree with admin. Continue to be courteous and friendly. Not only will I not stoop to their level, but I know it drives them bonkers that they can’t get a rise out of me.

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Angeldrac January 4, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Mark – it was a non-urgent ambulance.
The neighbour did not know any of the particulars that were transpiring, all he saw was a patient transport vehicle driving the wrong way down a one way street. Seriously, was it not a reasonable, even responsible thing to do to point this out?
I agree with you, that the driver had perfectly good reasons for doing what he did BUT, I say again, the neighbour could not read his mind. He was simply pointing out that they were goin the wrong way down a one way street.
I cannot believe that people are being so condemning of the neighbour for this!

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SleepIsabella January 5, 2014 at 5:15 am

“it annoys him”
If the neighbor wishes to be left alone, it’s best to just stop trying to be nice and to leave them be. It’s clear they do not want to engage in friendly neighbor “hiya” stuff. What they did is rude, but to try to engage them in the “hiya” stuff just to annoy is just as rude and can down the line cause unnecessary friction.

I always intentionally try to avoid conversing with neighbors as much as possible. In the past it has done nothing but create friction when my family did in the past while growing up, so we try to keep to ourselves to avoid drama now.

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gellchom January 5, 2014 at 3:19 pm

I agree with LibraryDiva, acr, and the others who say we are jumping awfully hard on this guy. He does sound unpleasant and insensitive, but what he did wasn’t abusive or “crazy.” I certainly understand that it felt worse to the OP because she was under a lot of stress that he didn’t understand.

But she doesn’t understand what he may be going through, either. That doesn’t make it okay for him to be rude, but it’s something to consider before calling him names and branding him as unstable and the like. I think maybe people feel like it is supportive to OPs to bash hard on the person who offended them, but I think it leads to counterproductive advice as we spiral off into “toxic! crazy!” land and turn things into fights or contests when they really don’t have to be.

MyWorldand makes a very good point: the fact that this guy lives across the street, not just who is right or wrong, is an important factor. I still don’t think I’d drop a note — maybe if the ambulance had had to block his driveway or something, but really there’s nothing to apologize for here. If he brings it up or you happen to be talking to him (neither of which sounds likely), just handle it pleasantly and very briefly then.

You don’t have to make friends with him or even engage with him, but in my opinion, if you’re smart, you’ll act pleasant and neighborly the same as with any neighbor you don’t know well. No point in creating enemies on your very nice block (which sounds so much like mine I’d wonder if it was the same one if you hadn’t said it was a one-way street).

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The Elf January 6, 2014 at 2:09 pm

I think an important point is that this neighbor has a reputation in the neighborhood for complaints. So chalking it up to a bad day or not understanding the situation or whatever is not likely to be accurate. That works for those one-time occassions, not for a pattern of behavior.

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Ted January 8, 2014 at 3:05 pm

with the exception of the man who lives by himself
_________________________________

And people like this are alone for a reason. Sorry for your terrible experience, OP

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