Welcome, everyone. Thank you for being here so early this morning. Help yourself to some coffee and bagels, because you’ll need to stay focused. We have a lot to cover today.
I know these community service requirements are no fun, but remember: We’re all in this together. You’re here not because we don’t want you in our community — you’re here because we do . We want you as neighbors, as friends, as part of our school communities. But since you seem to be having some trouble understanding how suburban neighborhoods work, you’ve been asked to attend this class.
As the instructor, I’m supposed to make this session as brief as possible, so we’re going to start with a pre-test to see what you already know. Then we can focus on the trouble spots. If some of these situations sound familiar, that’s because they really happened; we’re not making them up.
Question 1: When a neighbor’s barking dog annoys you, you should: A) Scream at your neighbor over the fence, using foul language in front of children and threatening to call the police. B) Threaten to poison the neighbor’s dog, then drag the drama out for three years of emotional confrontations before selling your home to move to another suburban neighborhood, hoping it is dog-free. C) Calmly and rationally approach the neighbor to work on a solution.
Question 2: When your neighbor replaces his wood-shake roof with an asphalt-shingle roof, you should: A) Condescendingly ask your neighbor whether money is a problem, and if so, how much would it take to get him to switch that roof over to something that “looks like Leawood.” B) Mention to the offending neighbor, who happens to drive a pickup, that back in the good ol’ days, neither pickups nor asphalt roofs were allowed in this area. C) Concern yourself with your own home rather than someone else’s.
Question 3: When you buy a house across the street from a school and then suddenly realize that schools involve noise- and traffic-generating things like ballgames, book fairs, band concerts and (who knew?) crowds of kids, you should: A) Yell at principals, athletic directors and band directors, telling them that you work hard during the day and have a right to peace and quiet in the evening and on weekends. B) Inform the school that you are an attorney and that if things do not improve, you will not hesitate to take legal action against the disruption that the school’s activities have wrought in your life. C) Accept the fact that you bought a house across the street from a school.
Question 4: This one gets trickier. Let’s say you are the one causing the noise problem, by perhaps pulling into a driveway to pick up a friend and deciding to honk your car horn repeatedly rather than going to the enormous trouble of walking to the door or calling or texting the person from the driveway. When the friend’s neighbor asks you to please keep the noise down, do you: A) Swear at the neighbor and honk even more the next day? B) Throw a rock through one of the neighbor’s garage windows? C) Apologize and find some other way to draw the attention of your friend, who is, after all, no more than 30 feet away from your car?
Now, that test wasn’t so bad, was it? Some of you may be surprised to learn that the correct answer to all four questions is “C.” Your neighbors aren’t quite sure why you would be surprised to learn this, because the vast majority of them understand that living in close proximity to others requires things like compromise. They realize there are tradeoffs for having access to all the amenities of suburban living. They know that typical subdivisions have things like kids, dogs and schools. They expect to see toys scattered on lawns occasionally and to hear teenagers dribbling basketballs on driveways. They don’t pull into driveways and honk, and they don’t let the newly minted drivers in their households do it, either. They don’t threaten lawsuits and dog poisonings and police intervention. And they have far more important things to do than worry about what you put on your roof.
In short, they get along well with pretty much everyone in the neighborhood — except you. And in that case, it’s certainly not for lack of effort on their part.
We all fail at the good-neighbor thing occasionally. I myself have been known to drive up the street with my stereo blasting and to inadvertently set off the alarm on my car as it sits in the garage, which means it honks like mad as I fumble with my keys trying to turn it off. Yard maintenance isn’t my strong suit, either.
But I try. That’s what sets me (as well as most of your neighbors) apart from you, and why I am the instructor today and you are not.
I know this information is a lot for some of you to absorb, but don’t worry. Becoming a good neighbor isn’t something that happens overnight. You have plenty of time to think about what you’ve learned here today and to apply it in your everyday lives.
That’s all we’re going to cover in class. I called that quiz a “pre-test,” but we’re not going to have a written test. We’ll have a real-life one, instead. The people who share your street and your block will be grading it, so please take it seriously.
On behalf of all of them, I thank you.
Sarah Smith Nessel, a 913 freelance columnist, writes The Bubble each week.