Are you kidding? Have you met my neighbour? Now there’s a guy who lives down the street, his wife is always shouting at him… when he leaves the house in the morning to go to work she follows his hunched shoulders to the car and shouts instructions for goods and errands before he returns home. When he arrives home late in the evening (it’s usually just about the same time as I walk my dog), before he climbs, exhaustedly, out of his car she’s out of the door and demanding to know this and that, and don’t even start me on the ruckus that emerges from the cracks in the windows over the weekend. Him I can love, and I presume the love I feel – some kind of nearly overwhelming pity and compassion – is the familial sympathy we’re instructed to feel for our brothers and sisters, but my neighbour…!
On the other hand my actual neighbour doesn’t go to work, but lives off the taxes I pay to the state. He sits up all night playing video games on a huge TV with rock music blaring through his open windows while he screams and shouts injustice at his plasma (you know his television is bigger than mine).
Last year I put my house on the market. I wasn’t really trying to sell, but I wanted to test the water, just to see what kind of offers I might receive – the viewers would take one look at his unkempt garden, the old caddy he has half dismantled in his courtyard, the refuse lying here and there almost as if it’d been strategically stationed to create the worst possible image, the flaky paint, the temporary door, which has been in use for more than a year, and the three broken windows (if I was lucky for some reason he’d have the music turned down), and exchanging glances would politely come up with a pathetic excuse to be somewhere else.
Yea, I’ve heard the speculation: he was abused as a child, he came back from the war with post-traumatic stress, his wife left him for a younger (cleaner), man, and all the other wild rumours, but in the end, whether I believe one or more of these tall tales or not, when I take one look at his obese, dirty, slovenly self, slouching its way down his yard in search of the paper, as often as not a finger delving the depths of his nose and his pants calling particular attention to the impressive cleavage created by his buttocks, I just want him to drop dead (while his eating, drinking, smoking and possible drug abuse suggest I might get my wish sooner rather than later, I fear the very same luck that drove him to move into the house next door will also see him outliving me by about ten days – just long enough to discourage anyone from coming to my wake)!
Then there’s little Richard, the son of another fellow living nearly opposite our house. I know full well I shall pay for my sins, and I sincerely believe I’m not such a dreadful person, but if he were to accidently find himself entangled beneath the wheels of a school bus I can’t say I would lose a great deal of sleep over the ‘tragedy’
I watch shows of kids in other countries suffering the most dreadful of hardships, and do what I can; we have a collection every few months of clothing and anything we think might be of use to those kids. I donate a small percentage of my monthly wages to a charity supporting them in ways which attempt to not only see to their immediate needs, but also try to set down a secure foundation for their future, but I know every time I have bad thoughts about Richard I’m not doing myself any favours with regard to the giant ledger in the sky.
He throws stones through our windows (when I say ‘our’ I’m referring to everyone in the neighbourhood not directly related to his family), the sneaks about at night cutting the heads off all the flowers, he drags keys along pristine paintwork, he empties trash onto doorsteps, he finds ways to smear dog excrement (we hope it’s only ‘dog’), onto window panes and door handles, and the list goes on… If there’s a way to destroy, pervert, corrupt, etc… he will find it, and with professional ease implement it.
Give me strangers any day of the week! The bum downtown, begging for something to eat, or so he says, really might be a vet, but I know full-well Jimmy was never in a war. I want to tell the poor souls compassionately donating their hard-earned cash to what they believed to be a wounded man trying to survive after the country he’d served so loyally had deserted him they were giving to a lazy, drunken old schoolmate of mine, and the closest he’d ever been to a war was a momentary waver before he reliably swam his way back down to the bottom of the bottle; what kind of mistake they’re making, but I simply don’t have the courage – unfortunately, I know the truth.
How delicious are strangers! We can just gobble up every morsel of hard-luck and with hearts full of the deepest empathy love them from our toes to the longest strand of hair; blindly turning from the perspective those living far closer to home provide.
Despise thy neighbour, for he is the Rosetta Stone into the language of truth; he opens our eyes to the limitless possibility to deceive and mislead, he mocks our generosity, derides our sympathy, and ridicules any love we might show our brothers and sisters. Make all men strangers, hide all truth form our eyes, let empathy end with the mirror, and the world will be remade into the new Eden…