Guest column: Love thy neighbor, but screw with the lights out

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By Holly Simpson LeDonne

My sister has horrible next-door neighbors. She’s too nice to say this though, so I do it for her, loudly and frequently. Not that I’ve ever met the people who own the house next door to her, of course; I’ve only been acquainted with the incessant sirens of their twin Dachshunds, and admittedly, we have only exchanged a few howls for some “screw yous,” along with some sneers and snarling through the fence.

The unfortunate thing for my sister, I suppose, is that she owns her home and plans to stay in it, at least beyond the life expectancy of the howling wonder twins. Me? I’ve been a renter in one form or another (read: freeloader) since the first Clinton administration, and it has never occurred to me to take a lighter approach to what is just life going about its business. On my side of the fence, when life gives you lemons and crappy neighbors, move the stand a few streets over.

I moved out of my first place, a courtyard-style building in Chicago filled mostly with studio apartments, shortly after I mistook the neighbors in the apartment directly across the walkway from mine for pigeons. I had my windows open that warm evening, but the lights were out and I was trying to sleep through the din of the flying rats I figured had perched themselves on my windowsill. Peeking through the blinds, I spotted the actual source of the racket: curtains fully open, lights blazing and a couple flailing mercilessly across the bed in the middle of the one-room apartment, which at this point had become a drive-in movie for my half of the building.

Looking back now on the apartment in which I ended up next, I might have done better to stay and embrace my inner voyeur. I was quickly confronted by Gene, my new next-door neighbor, and his 14-year-old dog, Baby, who hobbled past us, settled gratefully onto my couch and begged with her eyes to be put out of her misery.

“She’s part-wolf,” Gene whispered, leaning on my doorjamb, shaking the contents of a dime bag. “I lied on her licensing paperwork. She’s not legal. If they knew what she really was …” Gene raised his eyebrows at me and sucked in his cheeks as if we shared the terrible dread against the fate that awaited the half-wolf, half-nursing home patient should her identity be revealed. “See what I’m doing with my hand here?” He held it, fingers splayed upward, aiming his palm toward the pile of patchy fur on the couch. “All I have to do is snap my hand down real fast … and she’ll jump right up to defend me. To the death.” He paused and blew a kiss in the dog’s direction. “Good girl, Baby.” The dog’s frayed ear twitched in response.

To say I was lucky it was just a one-year lease is pushing it though, when I consider an encounter I had with a farmer last fall who had sold to housing developers all but five of the 100 acres he and his family had toiled over for most of the previous century. His weathered hands shook as he handed me change for the $8, 40-pound pumpkin I bought from him. His head did too as he made small talk about the crashing economy. He was 7 years old the last time this happened, he said, in ’29. His parents were offered a settlement from the bank for all of their savings: 50 cents on the dollar. He sighed, looking up at the traffic rushing past on what probably used to be a silent dirt road. “But we got by. Our neighbors helped us. People…” he trailed off for a moment, but came back with resolve. “People now don’t love their neighbor as much as they love themselves.”

He’s probably right. Harboring yappy dogs. Screwing in front of a lit window. Alerting people to the fact that you have the means to kill them.

But then I think to myself – especially when looking at a couple of items I have that came into my possession under a “finder’s keepers” policy adopted with regard to communal storage space I once shared – how many times have my neighbors moved the lemonade stand?

Perhaps it’s time to give the Dachshunds another chance.

Joe’s note: I have turned the column over to guest columnists for the rest of the month of April. Holly Simpson LeDonne is a writer who lives with her husband in a duplex above a really nice woman who somehow hasn’t moved her lemonade stand yet.

Joe Donatelli
Joe Donatelli is a writer in Los Angeles

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