Bad Neighbors, Nasty Notes and the Death of Idyllic Suburban Life
I included every phone number of ours that I could think of, printed out nine copies, signed them, slid on my coat, and hand-delivered the notes, mailbox by mailbox. Then I went home. And waited.
The phone finally rang. It was one of our next-door neighbors: “Hi Vicki. I got your note. Well, you know it wasn’t me, because you know I have no problem at all telling people what I think. I don’t want to know who it was. It’s just terrible. I don’t want to know who it was. Do you know? Because I don’t want to know who it was.”
Next came a text from across the street: “I see your friend got my note. Just kidding! I am flabbergasted that someone would be so obnoxious as to leave such a note on anyone’s car. This isn’t exactly South Philly.”
I ran into another neighbor walking her dog: “Not me. Do you know who?”
Then an email from the mom next door: “Well you know it wasn’t us … you know I would say something to you (you know me, big mouth, LOL)!”
Absolved. Absolved. Absolved.
As I was getting into my van later, I heard our neighbor from the corner house yell my name: “Vicki! We got your note! Was that a joke?”
“What do you mean?” I yelled back.
“We actually went to that website. We thought we’d find a funny Christmas photo of your family or something.”
This, however, led to the second thing I was wrong about: that my plan was foolproof.
I know now that it was not.
From that point on, I didn’t hear from anyone else. That meant four potential miscreants were still at large on Melrose Avenue. The cars of guests visiting our homes would never be truly safe again. It was a sad day.
What was even sadder was the realization that, maybe, there was no such place as Mayberry anymore. Gone were the days when neighbors would gather together in someone’s front yard at twilight, the dads lounging on lawn chairs, smoking cigars, while the moms sipped whiskey sours and whispered about the dads, while no one watched the kids ride up and down the street on each other’s handlebars without helmets on. Maybe the new neighborhood was exactly this: not just nasty notes on cars, but phone calls, and texts, and yelling across the street, and nothing more. Maybe the new code of neighborliness was this: We aren’t moving. You aren’t moving. Deal with it. And shut your hole.
A few weeks later, when I went to fetch my kids who were playing in the yard of one of the No Comment Neighbors, I couldn’t help myself—I brought up my note to the mom: “Did you get that letter I left in your mailbox a while ago?”
“I did. I didn’t really pay any attention to it at first, but then I thought, ‘That’s a pretty big deal.’”
I wasn’t sure what she was referring to—someone putting a nasty note on a car, or me putting notes in everyone’s mailboxes.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well,” she said, looking at her socks, at the kitchen table, at the door … anywhere but at me. “You’re certainly, um … braver … than I am.”
As I walked toward our yellow bungalow, the street deserted except for me and my two little girls holding onto my hands, I suddenly stopped short.
“Oh crap,” I said out loud.
“What’s wrong, Mommy?” one of my girls asked, but I knew neither of them could understand my humiliation over the image that had just flashed through my head: I saw the mother I’d just been talking to, on her cell, calling God knows who, sniping: “You are not going to believe this! One of our neighbors put a nasty note in the mailbox of every single person on our street!”
And, so, the third and last thing I was wrong about was this: I am a good neighbor.
Well, now I know.