Saturday, February 17, 2007

neighbors

Once a week, I take Lola to a fabulous nonprofit urban circus school, where she takes gymnastics for four and five year-olds. She has the most delightful teacher in the world: a handsome, pocket-sized Latino man with a whimsical personality. (Here Lola follows in Iris Uber Alles's footsteps: Iris U.A. had a giant crush on this gymnastics teacher at age five, and now Lola worships him, but in a more sensible, age-appropriate way).

Meanwhile, in the bleachers, I get to hang out with two very personable and bright mommies, and our hour-long conversation is a bright point in my week. Usually, that is. Now here comes the mean part: there are a lot of other people present, some parents, some grandparents, some nannies, and they either have their own conversational groups or have their own thing going (newspaper, newborn infant, knitting). There is also one other mother who sometimes joins our triad and clearly would like to each week, and perhaps she should... BUT... she is quite problematic.

The first time I talked to her at length, she told me that although she and her husband have a household income of about $300,000, she would not consider sending her child to a private school because it is much more important to her to remodel her house. She can't afford private school tuition on top of what she is spending on her remodeling. This caused me to not want to be friendly with her, first because it's crass to tell people you have $300,000 a year (we-- and the other two families in this story --- get by on a hell of a lot less than that). Second, those priorities appear so blatantly, crassly wrong to me. My house needs this, that, and the other thing done to it, but our children come before remodeling. (Indeed, one of the other mothers in the conversation lives in a modest apartment, so bragging about the remodeling was a bit tactless). As we discussed later, it would have been one thing if she'd said, "I'm committed to public schools and looking forward to becoming involved in the school community." It was another to say that remodelling was a higher financial priority and to brag about how fabulous her home would become.

On another occasion, this other mother told us all about her hideously painful childhood. I have a lot of compassion for anyone who endured such a traumatic upbringing, and I'm willing to cut her some slack as her poor social skills are undoubtedly tied to that hellish upbringing, BUT.... I still have to put that but in there. This week at class, I made what I meant to be a brief reference to Dr. Laura (I had somewhere I was going with it, and that destination was not homophobic), but the tactless outsider mother overheard this and jumped into the conversation with both feet. She started ranting on and on about how she listens to Dr. Laura every day and how she agrees with her so totally and how children should be raised by one woman, one man, blahblahblah... One of my two gymnastics mommy companions is a lesbian, and she got up and excused herself at this point, making a bitter quip about how Dr. Laura would never approve of her. I felt like a jerk, like I had been a party to offensive homophobia. (Indeed, it is my guilty pleasure to listen to Dr. Laura, but I turn the radio off if it veers into homophobia or right wing politics. I just like to hear her lay into poor parents and fools, and it makes me feel better about my own uneventful life to hear about others' strum und drang). The butting-in mommy continued to lecture the remaining friend and me about how every single day she calls her husband on the phone to tell him what the menu is and how every day when he comes home, there is a delicious, warm meal waiting for him and we should do the same. "Fuck that," was my viewpoint. "I make a fabulous meal several times a week, and that's enough. He can live off ramen noodles now and then."

I felt terrible all afternoon until I called the gay mommy that night to apologize and explain that the fourth mommy had not let me get the conversation back on track. (Indeed, everytime I tried to end the conversation, this other mother would lean forward and poke me painfully in the upper arm). This brought everyone to admit that yes, this other mother is driving us crazy and we feel sorry for her given her rough childhood, but she's hard to take.

However, we are just her neighbors in the bleachers once a week. Her real neighbors have more of her. One week, she did not join our conversation, but instead sat nearby making a series of long phone calls. The purpose of her calls was to nark on her neighbors, who are receiving a senior citizen discount on their power bills which they are not entitled to, because they have an adult child living with them who is NOT a senior citizen. This was disturbing to us: who is so petty to interfere with her neighbors like that?

I am so blessed right now with delightful neighbors. One one side, we have my favoritest neighbors, a pair of gay architects who have been a couple for over 25 years. They have dry senses of humor, a pair of aged French boxers, and a fond tolerance for Iris and Lola. On the other side, we have a single female lawyer, who is rarely seen given her immense workload, but who is fun to talk to when she is about. Across the street is another gay couple, very pleasant and quiet, given to petting my cat Rachel when she is taking the air on the sidewalk. Down the street a few houses is a family with three glamorous teenaged daughters, two of whom are twins who sometimes babysit our daughters, who worship the ground those four twin feet tread.

It hasn't always been that pleasant. On our last street, we had the Parking Nazis. It was a gay couple, very seventies looking with thick mustaches and gym-rat builds, who were very emotionally invested in the nuances of parking on our street. They had the city put up red zones at the corners of their driveway, and they regularly called the city not just to ticket anyone slightly intruding on their red zone, but also if a car were parked over 72 hours on the street. They made up some kind of faux-official sheet about parking laws they used to leave on people's windshields which was officious and offensive. Once they had our erstwhile housemate, Tom, ticketed. He was in no way blocking their driveway, but arguably his car was a millimeter or so into their red zone. Poor unemployed Tom was livid AND out $45. A few weeks later, Anton noticed that the Parking Nazis themselves were in front of their very own red zone, and he got them ticketed for interfering with their own garage as payback for our housemate. The sight of them staring puzzledly at their parking ticket brought us to near-hysterics, and we giggled all afternoon over that sweet, sweet triumph.

On my current street, a neighbor who is not my next door neighbor had me ticketed one day for that same offense, slightly intruding into the red zone but not in any way blocking the driveway. To add insult, this neighbor also complained that I hadn't moved my car in 72 hours, which was an egregious lie. I was only parked there for three hours in between taking Iris Uber Alles to preschool and leaving to pick her up. I've hated that neighbor ever since, although Anton likes her because she once lent him a special ladder that can be used on stairs. The whole neighborhood was abuzz last year because a friend of this neighbor was living on our block in his truck, and some neighbors asked me (I am known for being home the most, sigh, since I have no paying job) to call them during the day if this truck-dwelling man were seen to make any suspicious moves.

Down the end of the block, there's a house which makes me (and other neighbors) very nervous. Clearly someone who lives there has that mental illness which makes you pile your clutter up to the ceiling, and I suspect eventually the house will burn down (thankfully there are many buffer homes between that one and mine). It was a spellbinding visual nuisance, with rusted, empty cages, an ancient car which is never driven, and miscellaneous furniture piled up high all over the driveway and minuscule front garden, but last year a high, solid, unpainted fence was put around it to block out the view. Associated with that house is a man who looks like a meth addict, but not the usual Castro crystal queen, all glamor and house music. Instead, he looks more like a rural truckstop-frequenting speed addict. This man works on cars in the street, which is problematic given that our street is nominally two way but is in reality only wide enough for one car to squeeze through between the cars parked on both sides. (To survive in my 'hood, you must drive very slowly and be alert for oncoming idiots). Whenever this man is out working on a car, I have to go extra slow, and then he always glares at me, as though somehow it is annoying to him that I don't just blow through and run over whatever stupid tools he has left in the street. Perhaps he wants me to put him out of his misery.

But at least we don't have the gymnastics mommy on our block, nosing into whether anyone is getting an undeserved senior citizen discount.

11 comments:

hughman said...

my little clique at the dog park calls these kind of women the "cat ass crazies". they're overly loud, make everything their business and eavesdrop on conversations and then try to interject. one of my friends is a chef and if one of the cat-ass crazies hears that, they proceed to talk about everything they've ever cooked (in detail) and every restaurant they've ever been to.

so while i'm (for the most part) a congenial conversationalist, when one of these women show up i just shut. the. fuck. up. these people have zero ability to gauge the social environment. anything and any opening you give them, they will misinterpret as interest in their own private idaho.

there was a woman at the DP who was like gymnastics mommy until finally one day i snapped (because her dog would constantly irritate polly and the woman wouldn't do anything about it). she wrote me a TYPED LETTER that she posted on the bulletin board at the DP telling me how horrible i was. hee hee! it was great conversational fodder for me and my DP posse for MONTHS! plus she never came back. c'est la guerre.

but the gymnastics teacher sounds adorable.

also, talking about your income numbers is soooo nouveau riche.

susie said...

doh. I didn't know about the typed letter! Why didnt you ever show me the typed letter????
LOL!

I work with people like this.
I actually worked with someone like this who married into my group of friends. Ugh.
Now the guys I USED to hang out with have to deal with her and I don't ever have to see her again. Yippeee.

the Drunken Housewife said...

I know, Susie, he is holding out on us!! I am now obsessed with reading that letter.

have you guys read "found"? That letter would be perfect for "Found."

I have to admit that I can't resist joining other people's conversations at times, BUT I can read the social temperature and if it's best for me to bow out & let the other people talk, I'll do that. I'll just leave it at my contribution. (Typical setting in which this occurs: I'm at some child activity and I overhear clueless mothers talking about something I know very well, and I can't help but share a fact or two. Or I'm in a bookstore and I hear some poor person asking for help finding a book, and I know more than the bookstore clerk does (these two scenarios happen A LOT because I seem to know much more than many people I am within earshot of, but yet I am at the same time allowing most of my brain to atrophy).

Silliyak said...

Bless you my child, I have been having blog block trying to think of something to write about. NEIGHBORS! Just a tease, when our new neighbors (from SF) moved in next door, they were worried about making a good impression. I let them know that NOT having the SWAT team break down the door would put them ABOVE the bar.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Ha, Silliyak, that reminds me of how I made a bad impression on my old neighbors which I never got past. I'll try to remember to write about that.

Spill the Beans said...

I am incredibly fortunate in that I have great neighbors, for the most part. On one side is a single mom with two kids, whose boys mow my yard and are basically inobtrusive and hopelessly nerdy. On the other side is a single man who is never home.

In fact, now that I think about it, I may be the bad neighbor because I'm the one who has loud parties...of course, I'm also the neighbor that invites most of my neighbors to my loud parties, so that seems to take the edge off.

My area of the community is full, for the most part, of superficial junior leaguers who remind me of the PTA on Weeds.

Freewheel said...

How did you come to hit it off with the cool mommies?

Drunken Housewife said...

Ummm, Freewheel, I'm not sure if you meant that offensively or not, but it came across "How did YOU, gauche old you, hit it off with the cool mommies?" I have my moments; indeed, there's a full-page picture of me being cool in a coffeetable book about cool people! (That is actually true).

In this case, Cool Mommy #1 changed classes in order to be with me & Lola (because we are so cool, so there!; we know each other from preschool), and Mommy #2, being an old friend of Mommy #1, came with.

However, in general I tend to make mommy friends (and daddy friends) when I am out and about doing small child activities. I am a reasonably fair conversationalist and am not shy, so if there are other parents about who have sense of humor and are not too precious, we tend to hit it off.

hughman said...

i, in fact, would think you raise the bar for "cool mommies". if i were (in some strange dreamlike world) a "cool mommy" i would approach you with the humblest trepidation over if i was worthy. i would bare my tatoos and lay all my "recent reading" pile at your feet and tremble. meanwhile i would push my stunned child toward iris and order him or her to be "cool".

then again, that's just me,

Freewheel said...

Sorry, DH, no offense intended. When I'm watching kiddie events, I often strike up conversations with the wrong person. Like a religious nut or someone who wants to sell me herbalife or real estate. At first I think they have a fine sense of humor, but then I realize they're not kidding.

texzmissy said...

We may find out today if my youngest gets pointe shoes in ballet or not--If she has to wait another year, it means she will be in class with Braggy Mother's daughter. And I may choke Braggy Mother one day. Her daughter can do 6 fouettes! She practices at home! She was just not emotionally ready to move into my daughter's class! (Baloney on that, the directors will put a child in the level they can perform, period, no "emotional" stuff about it) and her sons both behave better than other people's. Including the one who threw a jacket at me and hit me in the chest--hard--while his mother's back was turned. I threw it back at him--hard.

I only feel a little guilty about that.

Talking about Dr.Laura in such a way in front of the lesbian mother was just horrid. But so is bragging about your house and your priorities.

Welcome to the world of Other Parents. My only consolation is that one of the ballet moms tells me it's much worse with baseball parents.