The Listening Room: "War" by Edwin Starr

War and peace with the neighbors.
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Noisy Neighbors and Dead SquirrelsI am not, by nature, a violent man. I avoid confrontation - even petty ones - pretty much anytime I can. I've lived in a variety of places - houses, apartments, tiny hovels - over the years and have had my fair share of obnoxious neighbors. Whenever they get too loud I simply suck it up, and curse quietly to myself. I never say anything. I never call the cops. I just hope they'll move out, or maybe die quietly in their sleep (if they ever go to sleep.)

Until now.

A few months back we had some new neighbors move in next door. It is a pretty big family, and boisterous. They like to grill out on weekends with friends and they can get pretty rowdy, but they usuallly wrap it up before it gets too late. But they have a couple of teenage boys who like to play basketball at all hours of the night. They'll be out there until well past midnight sometimes - carrying on and keeping me up.

For weeks and weeks we've just quietly put up with it. I'll hear them out there and shake my head at how the youth of America has declined so far and then roll back over and try to sleep. If I turn a fan on, or shut the windows and work the AC I can make their noise just a small distraction.

I want to go out there and yell. I want to lecture them on society and general courtesy. I want to smash their heads in with a baseball bat. But I don't. At least not until the other night. About a week ago they were out there again. I didn't actually notice until they woke my daughter up. I went to comfort her and I could hear them loud and clear from her nursery.

One o'clock in the morning there they were bang, bang, banging and hollerin' at each other.

Still, I said nothing. The girl fell back asleep and I went back to bed. Ten minutes later I heard the boys make a loud noise and the girl woke  right back up. Once again I rocked her to sleep but this time I was determined to do something. As soon as I got her down and put my shirt on and walked outside. There's a privacy fence between us so I got close to it and said in my most stern voice, "hey fellas, it's one in the morning, do you think you could wrap it up?"

There was absolute silence for a couple of beats and then one of them spoke up with a timid, "yeah." I thanked them and then walked back to the house. I stood by the door wanting to see what they would do next, expecting they would laugh nervously and then go in. Instead they were perfectly quiet until one of them threw the ball really hard at the goal making a giant CLANG but then they went inside.

Satisfied, I went to bed. Not five minutes later they were back out there making even more noise than before. I could tell they were intentionally being louder just to get at me. So I called the cops. I've never done that before, but I didn't no what else to do except go out there and start the beatings. I waited until the cops showed up and then once again went to bed. No kidding before I even hit the sheets I could hear them back out there slapping the ball around.

Now I'm seeing red. I am madder than I have ever been. I check the street to see that the cop is gone and see them out there playing ball and being super loud. I call the cops back and they tell me there is nothing they can do. They say they can't force them back into their house but can only ask them to be quiet. The cop on the phone says he can send someone back around but if they don't want to go in they don't have to. I growl at him no thanks and stand there in my kitchen ready to grab that bat.

Except I don't. As mentioned I'm not a violent person, not really. I realize I've shot my wad too, the cops have been called and the boys are still at it. There's nothing I can do so I go back to bed and stew. The boys stay at it until about two and then finally go to bed.

Just my luck. I finally confront someone about their noise, I even take it to the cops, and it all blows back in my face.

The next morning I Facebooked this ordeal and get lots of solutions ranging from shooting at them with sling-shots to throwing poop at their house, but ultimately I follow my wife's advice and do nothing to start an all out war. Well, except for throwing a dead squirrel on their lawn. My cat or something had killed it in the night and though I wanted to toss it right at their house I instead slipped it over onto a corner of their lot behind a shed hoping it would just stink for awhile. But that's it, I promise; I did nothing else to provoke them.

That afternoon I'm mowing the lawn and the dad and mom are out in their yard doing something. At some point the mom makes a face at me and I use all the self-control inside me to not run her over. A moment later the dad motions at me and I turn the mower off and he immediately starts yelling at me. His complaint is that I blew some grass over on his drive-way. I mutter a weak "sorry" but inside all I can think about is his two noisy boys and so when he takes a break from his berating me I say I'll not blow grass if he'll tell his boys to not play ball all night.

He then grumbles that I called the cops on them and I explained that I only did so because it was one in the morning and I had already asked them nicely. He spits and says if I get grass on his drive again he's gonna call the cops on me and at that point we had said all we were going to. I finished mowing and wondered what was gonna happen next. I noticed that night though that the boys didn't come out. I was surpised as I really had expected them to come out and be as loud as can be. After a good night's sleep I actually felt kind of bad. I don't want to be the guy who gets involved with these sorts of wars with his neighbors. I wished I had been sincerely apologetic about the grass so that maybe my pleas for quiet would have actually been heard. I firmly believe things can be sorted with calm conversation. Yet there I was yelling at this man and throwing dead squirrels.

The next day I was walking to my wife's office for lunch and I saw him out in his yard. For a moment I thought about going over to him and apologizing but instead I tucked my head down and cursed under my breath. Then he hollered at me to come over. Great, I thought, what is it going to be now?

"Man, I just wanted to apologize," he said. Then he shook my hand and said he was having a bad day yesterday and felt really bad about yelling at me. I apologized too for the grass and he said he didn't really care about that, he was just using that as an excuse to get mad. We shook hands again and left as friends.

It's been quiet every night since.

I'm not good with morals. I don't know what this story is supposed to mean. For once in my life I stood up for myself and it blew back in my face. Then I was a coward and didn't attempt to be the good guy only to have my enemy turn around and make peace. Am I supposed to learn some great lesson from that?  Are you? I don't know, but that squirrel sure is starting to stink.