Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In the Neighborhood Again

I've written about my neighborhood before. My neighborhood is so central to me, shaping my perceptions and my feelings and my sense of community. It's where I live, work (home office), and walk everyday, and I'm deeply connected to most of my neighbors. As an example of how important my neighborhood is to me, I'll tell you that I have made it one of the settings for my new novel. I would not have expected that these two parallel rows of houses facing each other along a straight length of asphalt (or whatever they make streets out of) could become so intertwined with my identity, but there you have it.
     My town is decidedly liberal in outlook. A joke my daughter heard in high school was that if someone wanted to vote Republican in this town, he had to go down a dark alley in a trench coat to do it. I suppose I feel a certain comfort in living among people who mainly share my worldview, though David Brooks in the NY Times today questions the benefit of living among too much agreement. Still, I've always lived in places like this, and I suspect I always will.
     I have one neighbor who decidedly does not share this liberal worldview. He's lived in this neighborhood longer than I have, and I have to give him credit for being able to tolerate the liberal onslaught all these years and for having the courage to post the biggest McCain-Palin signs he could find (and Bush et al. before that) and come to the block parties and say whatever he wants. He even got together with my husband once, over drinks (this was after the Obama election), to tell him how worried he was about the country and hear what my husband had to say that might reassure him. He was honestly trying to understand.
      I ran into this neighbor the other day when I was out walking, and he must have felt like talking because we lingered for about 15-20 minutes, chewing over the end of summer (he loves to swim at the neighborhood pool, but it closed early this year because of budget cuts), the departure of one household of long-time neighbors and how much we're going to missing them, where he'd like to move if he could (he's tired of living here, he said), the conflicts he had with his father-in-law, what a loudmouth he is (he said this, several times; I didn't).
     One thing about this neighbor. Hanging from his front porch is that ugly poster of Obama made up to look like the Joker from Batman. I hate that image. It's nightmarish. My neighbor has an absolute right to hang whatever he wants from his house (I guess), but this seems to cross a line. After we parted ways that day, I thought that I might have found a way to say something to him about it. E.g., "I would never tell you that you can't have that image on your home, but why do you? No one on this block--regardless of their views about Bush or anyone else--ever displayed anything so provocative and disturbing." I regret that I didn't. If he had the courage to listen to my husband, perhaps I could have listened to him.
     But perhaps this is "simply" what a "loudmouth" feels he needs to do to make his views known. Not everyone is the type to skulk down an alley in a trench coat?

11 comments: said...

The First Amendment gives your neighbor the right to hang whatever he wishes on his property. The First Amendment also allows the building of a Muslim learning center/mosque in the shadow of what was the Twin Towers.

It's more a question of taste, isn't it?

Susan Messer said...

Oh, I don't question my neighbor's right to display the Obama image and express whatever he means to express with it. Nor would any of my neighbors, I'm sure (but you knew that, I think). Still, I think it's about more than taste. And I think it would have been best if I had told him my thoughts. We're part of a community together, what we do affects one another, and open conversation seems like a good thing. Though people don't always do open conversation very well. And sometimes they simply disagree in ways that can't be resolved. The Muslim center in NY . . . now that's definitely more than a matter of taste. Passions are in evidence on both sides. Whatever happens is going to be uncomfortable for a lot of people.

Anonymous said...

Of course i know you know about the rights of Americans even if we disagree.

As for telling him, I can judge only by where I live where fences make good neighbors (Forgive me, Robert Frost for taking your words out of context).

Mr. Neighbor must know his caricature is offensive to the liberals on your street. Maybe you are giving him too much credit or maybe he feels so strongly about expressing his negative feelings about our president that he is knowingly insensitive to those surrounding him.

As a society we communicate via electronic devices. Like we are now. A shame in a way, but less invasive while giving a feeling of false safety. Maybe an anonymous note?

As for the Mosque, our Constitution is imperfect. How could these young writers realize a future they could not see? Changing it could lead to more chaos. If we were sitting in the same room, we could express our personal feelings, but as law-abiding citizens, it is important to remember that the same Constitution gives us freedom too. This is NOT to say I agree, but I don't have the right not to agree.

I also think about Cat Stevens asking "where will the children play?"

Nothing will stop the building of the mosque. As for your neighbor, maybe you should walk the other way.



About Me said...

I think, as the previous commenter said, some people just like to be sort of in your face. There may be others in the neighborhood who may feel as he does, but are not as inclined to be that obnoxious.

Susan Messer said...

Oh, yes, this neighbor definitely is the "in your face" type (a loud mouth by his own description). But I think this quality in him comes out even more because of the town where he's chosen in live. He wants us to know who he is and where he stands. He's a minority in a sense, but doesn't feel at all intimidated by being in the minority. it's a different kind of minority than racial, religious, or ethnic of course. said...

Don't know what happened. I am "anonymous." Must have selected the wrong choice.

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss feelings we all have.

The most frightening issue about the Mosque in NYC is what havoc its presence will create.

Susan Messer said...

You are most welcome. And I agree about the NY thing. I'm very worried about the response. People are acting out already--doing violent, destructive things.

Jim Poznak said...

Susan, your posting is a further illustration of the discomforts of diversity. Once again, you display your courage and honesty.

Susan Messer said...

There are more discomforts of diversity, Horatio, than are dreamt of in all our philosophies. To parse them out will take an eternity.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I have a lot of feelings about this issue, having grown up in one of the ultimate bastions of liberalism and now living and working where liberalism, conservatism, and everything else butts heads. And because of where I work, I would be breaking the law if I publicly supported any candidate in an election...hence "Anonymous."

Where I live, you can't "walk the other way" and hope to avoid points of view that make your stomach ache. And it is only getting harder. Last year I found out my insurance agent is/was one of the leaders of the Tea Party in this area. That was a wake up call.

My dentist--I've tried and I can't find one here that doesn't drive me crazy--taunts me with irrational right-wing ideas after he puts his hands in my mouth. Last time when he said, "I can't believe Obama is going to make BP pay for the oil spill." I nearly chewed off his fingers trying to spew out the words, "ho-alz gonna pah?" I surprised him.

But it's not only in this city. On Facebook I've been avoiding the home page of one of my Nebraska cousins, effectively "walking the other way." But I was so riled up about lies recently that I deliberately went to his page looking for a place to engage on this issue. My stomach was in knots, but I responded to a recent post and elicited a brief but satisfying exchange. Satisfying because I felt I was able to rationally express my objection and expose the lack of rationality in his post without (I hope) driving the wedge in further. Then he decided to change the topic to the health of my aunt, his mother. To keep the peace, I guess we all have to find something we can agree on, however irrelevant to the issue at hand.

Could you say to your neighbor, "It's your right to hate Obama, but that particular poster is an eyesore. Just thought you might want to know. By the way, what's the name of those flowers in your flower bed? They are so pretty."

This is the challenge for me--being able to call out the lies, and stay limber enough to find the common ground.

Susan Messer said...

Oh dear Anon. I was laughing my head off at some of your comments (the dentist story, and your advice on talking to my neighbor). Still sitting here chuckling. Humor is a good thing, a good defuser. Thanks for the help with that. I was horrified this morning to hear on the news that the Tea Party candidate won in Delaware. Good grief. But now I'm just thinking about biting someone's fingers off.

I'm totally with you about the exchange with your cousin and what made it satisfactory. Congratulations on being able to rationally articulate a position. Not easy at all when the juices and the acids get roiling. Chomp.