Like a Kenyan running the New York Marathon, my 3-year-old son is making a break for it down our street. Being 7-months pregnant, I can’t exactly keep up. We’ve just come home from the market. My hands are filled with bags of groceries, paper towels and overpriced organic meat. I drop it all hoping to catch up to my son before he catches up to the front end of a car. Or worse yet, a creepy stranger with a van.
My kid’s not normally a runner. Active? Yes. Defiant and dangerous? No. But apparently today is his day to push the envelope and make me regret leaving the house.
“STOOOOOP!” I scream hoping this will be the day I pop his “First-Time Listener” cherry. Instead, the kid turns around mid-run, looks at me, smiles and keeps running. This is a toddler’s version of flipping someone off.
My Neighbor whose name I don’t know because he’s never told me so I’ll just call him “My Neighbor”, his 2 year-old son and My Neighbor’s own Mom (or some other old lady) are sitting on their stoop, watching me chase my son down as if spectators at a Gladiator match. I swear they’re rooting for my son.
When I pass, they look away. Instead of offering to help, My Neighbor mutters under his breath just slightly quieter than shouting, “Glad that one’s not mine,” before returning to not making eye contact with me.
He never speaks to me, or to my son, again. Almost.
It’s months later. I’m no longer pregnant. The baby is a few months old. My babysitter is taking the little one out in the stroller. With my car in the driveway, she’s got no easy way to get the stroller to the sidewalk so she moves the stroller halfway on to My Neighbor’s lawn, which borders my driveway. Immediately, he comes running out of the house and says, “Hey don’t put that stroller on my lawn. It could ruin it and my grass is beautiful.” Without another word, he turns around and goes back into his house. Not wanting to disrupt a blade of grass, my nanny carries the stroller down our front stairs.
We run into My Neighbor occasionally at the park, swim class or a local restaurant. Each time he avoids making eye contact with us, which makes my son want to talk to him even more. Already a painfully social child, if a corpse didn’t talk to my kid he’d take it personally and keep saying, “Can I tell you somethingCan I tell you somethingCan I tell you something?” until the corpse came back to life just to hear what my kid needed to say.
So despite My Neighbor making it perfectly clear that he doesn’t like me, or more accurately my kid, my kid wants to talk to him. And why wouldn’t he? To a six-year-old, if you see someone every day because they say…live 20 feet from you, you should say “hello”. And talk to them. And know their name. But every time my social child tries to say hello to My Neighbor and his son or pop over to their lawn to join in a game, My Neighbor avoids my kid or walks away and goes inside his house.
So after a few years of this, I politely encourage my son not to say hello to My Neighbor or his son. I wouldn’t mind if the guy were a dick to me, but it’s heartbreaking to watch a guy, a father no less, judge my kid. “Let’s just leave My Neighbor and his son alone today. We’re just going to go in the house without saying hello,” I say. When my kid asks why, I simply respond, “I don’t think he’s that interested in playing with us.” And I leave it at that.
Which is exactly what my kid tells My Neighbor the next time we run in to him. Almost.
“Hey Mommy, it’s My Neighbor!” he says at swim class one day. I look over to see My Neighbor and his kid, six feet from us. My Neighbor looks at my kid, then at me, then turns away. “I see.” I say and leave it at that.
But my kid doesn’t.
“Hey, you live next door to us,” my son says now standing next to My Neighbor who doesn’t say a word in return. “You’re a bad neighbor. My Mommy says you’re a bad neighbor and that I shouldn’t talk to you.” Horrified, I jump up and run over. I never said he was a bad neighbor. Thought it? Yes. Said it? No.
“Kiddo,” I say. “That’s not nice. We don’t speak to grown-ups that way,” I say before asking my son to apologize. Truth be told, I’m somewhat conflicted. My kid isn’t technically doing anything wrong. He’s just telling the truth. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to speak to someone. And calling someone names or criticizing them, is the wrong way to talk to someone. Even if we think they deserve it.
Begrudginly, my kid apologizes. My Neighbor seems upset and tries to explain to my son that he’s not a bad neighbor. He gets red in the face and seems genuinely upset. This doesn’t bother me. But the fact that his young son has to hear this conversation, does. No child should ever have to hear bad things about their parent, especially a small child.
Before I can apologize, My Neighbor takes his son and moves as far away as he can.
I feel badly about the conversation. Since I’ve never actually called My Neighbor a bad neighbor, I’ve obviously given my son that impression in other ways. Clearly my thought bubble doesn’t have a poker face.
Angelenos are very invested in why the part of the city they live in is better than where anyone else in the city lives. Westsiders are the biggest culprits, always managing to insult the part of town you live in while pretending to compliment it. “Oh I just love Hollywood,” a Westsider might say to a friend who lives in Hollywood. “We’d consider living there if it weren’t for all the crime.”
Since the Westside of LA is also the wealthiest part of town, it’s clear that at any given time a Westsider is actually doing a mental T.R.W. on you, sizing you and your finances up while seeming to simply ask, “So where do you live?” And Valley people always have a Charlie Brown-esque “We don’t really live in the city” chip on their shoulder that makes them defend it even when not being attacked.
To offset the “We live in the Valley” chip on their shoulder, any Valley resident can tell you how much more land they got where they live than you got where you live, for the exact same money. “We could never have what we have over near you,” they can be heard saying. The subtext being, “You don’t have what they have over near you.”
In New York, space is measured by the square foot. In LA, it’s measured by the square fuck you.
So Justin and I live in the Eastside of town, Hancock Park to be exact, where the rich people try to pretend like they have nothing and the poor people always try to take it. Kids are lulled to sleep by the sound of helicopters overhead, the result of the latest home break-in. All the kids are in private school, the local schools being just a category below shitty. And the parents pride themselves on being neighborly and community oriented, despite not knowing the name of one single neighbor.
But Justin and I actually had high hopes of knowing our neighbors. We moved here intentionally, hoping there would be block parties and kids running across each other’s lawns and hopping over fences to get a missing ball or toy. So the next time I see My Neighbor, I figure it’s up to me to be the better neighbor.
He’s getting out of his car just as I’m getting out of mine. I walk across his lawn and reintroduce myself. “I’m Meredith,” I tell him though I swear I did when we first moved in. “I’m really sorry about what my son said at swimming the other day. It wasn’t nice and it wasn’t polite. So I’m sorry.” My Neighbor pauses for a second, smiles, then says, “Would you mind getting off my grass? It could ruin it and my grass is beautiful.”
He closes his car door. Without another word, he heads toward his house.
I stop him. I’d hate for him to leave with the wrong impression.
“I just want you to know,” I continue. “I never said you were a bad neighbor.” My Neighbor keeps walking. I continue, loud enough for him to hear. ” I said you were a rude neighbor, but not a bad neighbor. I wanted to clear that up.”
I walk away, making sure to avoid his perfectly pristine grass.
Days later, I hear a ruckus on my front lawn and come running outside. My Neighbor is huffing and puffing, trying to catch his son whom he’s chased up the block. His kid has escaped to my lawn and his Dad has cornered him there. Thinking it’s a game, the kid is running his Dad ragged, all over my lawn. Now it’s My Neighbor’s turn to chase his kid whose running faster than a Kenyan.
The kid’s standing on my stoop leaving his Dad standing on my lawn. I consider telling My Neighbor to get off my lawn, just like he did to me. Instead, I smile at the kid and politely say, “Sammy, go with your Dad.” The kid surrenders and goes with his Dad.
Sure, I could tell the Dad to get off my grass, but I don’t. It’s not that I’m a bigger person. It’s just that we’ve just re-seeded our lawn which means it’s covered in manure. Cow manure to be exact. My Neighbor is currently standing in shit. I’d tell him but since he won’t talk to me, I can’t.