Angels and Assholes #2, 2016


The short version: You may have all heard by now about the 101 year old fella shoveling his neighbor’s sidewalk? I imagine his age is what makes it so heartwarming and, thus, newsworthy. But also he was being kind and helpful. A neighbor may be, and maybe should be, an integral part of our lives due to, if nothing else, proximity. Kind of absurd not to get along with your neighbor since you can help each other, and frequently rely on each other. The world would be at peace, as the 101 year old guy said to his neighbor, if we all respected and helped our neighbor, no?

The expanded version: We all encounter a-holes on the road. The literal and figurative distance – each being in our own car – seems to make it easier for them (never us) to be a-holes? But what about neighbors? People you’re likely to run into face to face, nose to nose, and live in close proximity to. If helping other people is a likely action to make us happy and feel good about ourselves, why the hell shouldn’t we, if not love, at least get along with our neighbors?

What’s a good neighbor? One who is willing to help when needed, friendly, compassionate…regardless of color, creed, gender, age. We cannot necessarily pick our neighbors, but I’d bet you help them they’ll help you. Cool. I hope when I’m 101 I can shovel my neighbor’s walk. I hope, if I’m 101, I can see my neighbor’s sidewalk.

But let’s face it: there will be neighbors with a-holism, for whatever reasons. Then what do you do? I have two neighbors who are having a border dispute. The lady at the end of the point (I live on Lake Vermilion) for some reason wants to park on my next door neighbor’s backyard lawn. I guess she thinks it’s her property so she has a right to park on it! After a couple expensive surveys and now court appearances, since she has cut off a section of his dock that she felt, although over water, was encroaching on her property line. Apparently somehow nothing has yet been resolved. There are tales of corner stakes being moved in the middle of the night and other devious escapades. One day a corner post, all official- lookin, showed up in the middle of my driveway, which is nowhere near the disputed line. I called up both surveying companies and said I wanted nothing to do with this, don’t get me involved, and get their damn stake out of the middle of my driveway. It disappeared and I’ve never heard another thing about the errant post. My only encounter before that time with the lady was to ask if she minded if my friend used the old boat harbor of the resort cabins I own (five kids, five cabins…works out good) behind her place to harbor his seaplane when he flies in. She had said fine and offered her dock if I needed it, which I didn’t. But I thought that neighborly of her and left it at that. She had asked me if I got along with my neighbor and I had responded: “Sure. Why not?”

So, I attempted to try and stay neutral. The next door neighbor asked me if I would testify in court against her. All I knew about the dispute was here say so, even though I felt a little guilty, I asked him not to get me involved in his dispute. I felt guilty because he is a good neighbor to me and we help each other out all the time. Just last week when I snow-blowed my driveway the plow had blocked his mailbox so, naturally, I went down the road and blew it clear. A couple days ago he beat me to it after another snowfall and had mine cleared out. He’s 78, so like the neighbor of the 101 year old, I wish he wouldn’t…but he’s a good neighbor. I watch his place when he’s gone and he watches mine. That’s what neighbors are for.

Now to get back to the lady and me trying to stay neutral: last autumn a hoard of leaves drifted up mostly onto my beach, but also the neighbor’s. When I asked my neighbor what the hell had happened, with a gleam in his eye he told me the ‘border’ lady had blown all her leaves into the lake. The way the shore curves, they would drift, I imagine she hoped just next door. So, I called a friend at the DNR and asked what he thought of that practice. He was a little shocked that she’d do that, even without spite as a motive, and said to call him if she did it again. So, I kayaked by the point. She was relaxing in a chair on the beach. I pulled up close and asked how she was doing. Made some small talk and told her that had been a pretty clever way to get me to rake up her leaves. She sat there with her mouth open for a while and then acted all innocent and sorry. If I hadn’t been 20 feet from her, gently, so as not to make her defensive, letting her know how un-neighborly her actions had been, she never would have thought twice about it. On her side of the story, I have a much larger property and am surrounded by forest I can drag my leaves into. She doesn’t have any woods. But neither does my next door neighbor and none of his leaves ends up on my beach. We’ll see what happens this next fall. If she does it, again, I’ll call the DNR. I’ll still be neutral because she’ll assume my neighbor called them.

Unfortunately, this kind of neighbor border dispute is, in microcosm, what happens on a global scale. It seems Canada is a darn good neighbor. Canadians, in general, just don’t seem like a-holes. We might even be worse neighbors, but in general we seem to respect each other. Things seem to be going pretty well with our other neighbor, Mexico, as well. Even if many of them prefer to work and live here and in spite of some angry rhetoric from some presidential candidates. I certainly hope that gets resolved and we remain neighborly.

One of the worst side effects of ISSIS (ISSIL) is that the refugee conundrum they are creating is causing division among neighbors worldwide. Countries in usually neighborly Europe closing their borders for example. I certainly hope that is resolved in a neighborly way. I was hoping there could be a silver lining of sorts in that ISSIS seems to want to alienate not only their own countrymen and neighbors but the world. Get the entire world neighborhood involved and we should be able, by sheer numbers, to take back the territory ISSL has forcibly appropriated. Without land, there can be no Islamic ‘State.’ It was initially encouraging that the two big guns in the neighborhood, Saudi Arabia and Iran, would be joining forces in an alliance. Then, of course, Saudi executes an Iranian ‘cleric.’ Absurd if they had actually intended an alliance. Is it possible in the Middle East for neighbors to be neighborly? Too bad for everyone if not.

Conclusion: If we were all kind to and helped our neighbor, the world would certainly be a better place. Start with your neighbors. Why not?