I'm that annoying neighbor—the bad guy—the one who's always complaining about my rights … . or at least that's the story my neighbors tell.
While enjoying the sanctuary of my backyard one cool February afternoon, my bliss was interrupted by the stench of my neighbor's cigarette. I walked over to the fence and waved at him. “Sorry to be a pain, Jim, but I'm downwind and your smoke is…”
He looked at me with a smirk. “I'm home in my own backyard, minding my own business, having a smoke. Why can't I…?”
“Because I'm home in my backyard and I have no choice but to mind your business, too. If you can find a way to keep the smoke confined to your yard, I won't lecture you about the negative health effects or the unpleasant smell. If you want to quietly, odorlessly practice juggling swords or shoot IV drugs, you have my blessing. If you want to fill the air with smoke that annoys and poisons everyone around you…”
Jim smiled, took a big drag on his cigarette, looked skyward, and released a stinky, toxic cloud. He looked me in the eyes. “I have rights, you know….”
My response was interrupted by the obnoxious drone of a leaf blower. On the other side of my property, a haze of leaves, twigs, dirt, and lawn cuttings flew through the holes in the chain-link fence into my yard.
“Bill!” I turned around and after finally getting his attention, I challenged him. “Can't you rake that stuff up and bag it? Why does my yard have to look like crap so yours can look good? ” I pointed at all the jetsam he'd blasted into my yard.
“Dave, it's a leaf blower. It blows leaves. The whole point of it is…
“There is no point to it,” I objected. “Maybe if there was no such thing as wind, you could blow stuff off your property and it would stay there, but all you're getting is temporary satisfaction at other people's expense.” I held up a finger as if to test the wind. “An hour from now, all that crap's going to be everywhere again.”
“The fact that Home Depot will sell you a pointless, ridiculous machine doesn't make it okay to blow your dirt into your neighbor's yard or onto a shared, public street. It's noisy. It burns fossil fuel. And because it doesn't actually remove any unwanted debris, the results are temporary. It makes your problem into someone else's problem. A leaf-blower accomplishes nothing and it annoys everybody; it's useless. The notion that it offers any value at all is a story. What'll they come up with next? Bottled water?
Bill challenged me. “You don't complain when I mow my lawn.”
“I mow my lawn, too. It makes noise for a short while but then you don't have to mow it again for a week or two. And instead of blowing my lawn cuttings into your yard, I bag them up and…”
“This is my yard…,” fumed Bill, “and I know my rights!”
Why waste my breath? I dismissed my neighbors with a wave of resignation and headed out to the grocery store.
Face masks don't do much to protect you from the coronavirus but they do help prevent others from contracting it from you. Having been in quarantine for two months, I was pretty sure I didn't have the virus, but how could anyone know that? As I got out of my car, I put on my mask as a courtesy to others … but I didn't make it very far. Maskless people chatted in front of the store. A lady emerged from the store with her mask down around her neck. A young man wearing a green apron followed behind her, pushing her shopping cart. He wore no mask at all.
Why can't they just wear their masks? It's such a simple gesture of respect. I wasn't about to place my faith in the safety measures these strangers may or may not have adopted. I thought about saying something, but I'm sure that would have provoked some lecture about minding my own business and respecting the rights of others. I returned to my car and drove home.
On the way, I watched the driver of the car in front of me fling a plastic bottle into the bushes alongside the road.
I considered honking, but why say anything? It's a free country. I'm tired of being that annoying neighbor—the bad guy—the one who's always complaining about my rights.