Back in my Buffalo days, sitting on our generous front porch (rather, our landlord’s, but still), we had a view of the whole neighborhood on Ardmore Place. Everything. And every house had a front porch, which was ideal for getting to know people when you’re new to the neighborhood. We had neighbors from every walk of life. Black, brown, white, gay, straight, what I now understand as gender-fluid and queer (that took some learning, and thanks, Luka). No one minded that we were one of “those white families,” in part because I went to each house and introduced myself and talked about my family. My kid’s school had students from more than 20 countries; dialects spoken, 50 or so.
Most folks would call our street a “melting pot,” but hell no, no one was melting into anyone else. This was something better: community within our unique ways of being, of worshiping, of loving, of speaking. People mostly had some grasp of English, but the grandmothers and elders were exempt. This could cause a problem for some of the students, because they might have to take their abuelita to the clinic and serve as her translator, get her scripts filled, etc.
My best friend in our neighborhood was Muna Abdallah, whose kids were Luka’s age. Her son Ramee dragged me down to their house on my first day after the move, “Come have coffee with my mom. She makes the best!” From that first cup of what would best be described as high-octane deep-rich-fullness that poured like molasses and had little crunchy bits in the bottom of the cup, we were fast friends. More on how that grew later on. Let’s just say we moved to Buffalo to live in a heavily Arabic community in August 2001. So yeah, a lot more to say about Muna and co.
There was a house on the corner adjacent to Muna’s house that was a rental. It tended to change hands frequently, in part because it was an absentee landlord who probably tossed people the minute they were late with the rent. They were part of the story of The Noisy Neighbor and the Quiet Neighbor.
The new tenants blasted their music. I mean, blasted, like concert-grade-speakers-in-the-back-yard loud. It didn’t help that their yard was directly across the street from a brick high school, so the sound bounced all over the neighborhood. A couple of neighbors complained to me, because they knew how much we all loved that front porch, sitting, whiling away the early evening hours. And perhaps because I was The White Lady, they kind of figured that I would understand their complaints. (Don’t get me wrong, I was livid that one occupant could wreak havoc on the whole street, but it is more complicated than “Amy wants to work her crossword in peace.”)
I asked them plainly if they had spoken to said neighbor. They blanched. And they expected me to do it, because I was a community organizer by profession and, after all, The White Lady. They figured I had magical powers. (Now, I know that is partly true, but it wasn’t magic. It was my complexion, my melanin-challenged face, that was the source of my power.) I had not introduced myself to the new neighbors when they moved in, either. Looking back, that would have been a good start, but during the move, they swore at their kids a lot, and it turned me off from the get-go.
The next day was Saturday, and they were full-tilt by 11 am, so loud that, when I tried to talk to my sister on the phone, there was way to hear her. So I walked down the block to see if I could manage a compromise.
The family had two tables outside. And I have to tell you, this old musician found they had a professional-grade sound setup. But it was so loud I was wincing. So I waved and smiled and motioned that I wanted to say hello and could they please turn it down a second so we could speak? They turned it down to a dull roar, didn’t smile, knew I was probably there to ask them to turn it down more. And without a word, the man leaned over and (quite theatrically) turned the knob up to even louder than it was before.
So here is one thing I got out of it. The noisy neighbor disturbs the quiet neighbor with their noise. But the quiet neighbor’s quiet never disturbs the noisy neighbor because THE NOISY NEIGHBOR CAN’T HEEEEEARRRR the quiet’s neighbor’s quietude.
Many thanks to Roger O. Green for his post about neighbors and their complaints/theatrics. In fact, scroll through his blog. You can tell by the variety of topics and links that he is a former librarian! And his taste in music is impeccable. https://www.rogerogreen.com/2021/09/21/seeclickfix-the-neighborhood/