Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Surprise, we have bigots for neighbors

We have a couple of agave plants decorating the sidewalk on both sides of our driveway. They're sharp spiky plants, but that's not so unusual; there are a number of neighbors around the block who have a cactus or two.

We also have a couple of very prickly neighbors. They're an old retired couple living two doors down from us. We've been living at our current residence for nearly six years, and those folks haven't spoken a word to us in about five. Ginny says she smiles and waves at them and they scowl back at her.

When we first moved in, they were friendly and invited us to church, which we politely declined. We used to host a regular gaming night with our mostly atheist friends. They started asking "Why are there so many cars here on Mondays, and what are all those bumper stickers about?" So my wife told them. And that's about the time they stopped talking to us. I never felt like it was outright hostility, but she did. In any case, we haven't had much contact.

We have a couple of our own bumper stickers. She has a Darwin fish and a "Freedom from religion" sticker. Mine is more humorous; it says "Knowledge is Power. Power corrupts. Study hard, be evil."

This weekend one agave was cut. I don't mean carefully trimmed, I mean completely hacked up all across the front. Ginny has some pictures on her blog. We found pieces of spiny leaves in another neighbor's trash can on trash day, but we knew that they had been away on vacation so it wasn't them. Ginny was sure it had been this unpleasant couple. She was angry about it. Since I tend to have a bit of a more diplomatic approach to people than she does, she asked me to go over there and talk to them. I wasn't looking forward to it, but I wanted to hear their side of the story without prejudging them, hoping it was perhaps a big misunderstanding.

So I rang the bell and greeted them in as friendly a manner as possible, all smiles. I reintroduced myself to the woman and asked if she perhaps knew anything about the chopped plant. Despite giving me a fairly frosty reception, she invited me in and called her husband down. I had a seat on their couch, they took positions opposite me, and the husband had his arms folded the whole time and a very sullen scowl on his face.

Yes, he cut down the agave. I received a lecture on how dangerous it is to the neighborhood kids, and all sorts of gruesome scenarios about eyes being poked out. But what struck Ginny and me as weird later was when we realized that they hadn't cut any of the spines facing the sidewalk -- only the side on the street. (Again, see the picture.)

They then went on to lecture me about the general awful nature of our yard. Now, our yard may not be the most beautiful and well-kept in the neighborhood, but it is mowed regularly and there are quite a few houses that look worse than ours. I'm not a gardener myself, and I'm really busy with school, but I think Ginny does a reasonable job with it.

I took all this politely and said I understood their concerns, and is there anything else? Then we got into the bumper stickers. The wife said several times that they "make her sick" and she is very angry that we disrespect her religion. That she could never be friends with someone who doesn't "share her values." That she is firmly set in her beliefs and would never change them.

I said I don't want or expect her to change her beliefs, I have never asked her to. I don't proselytize to people who haven't approached me about the subject. And while I sympathized with her feelings, the very fact that she is willing to announce that the bumper stickers sicken her is unfortunately one of the chief reasons why we feel the need to express ourselves in this way. That Christians -- not you, I stated -- feel that it's acceptable to go door-to-door inviting people to their religion, and that we are expected to keep quiet about our opinions because they are supposedly offensive. We are sad that you view our bumper stickers that way, but we see it as a small but legitimate exercise of our free speech.

I then went on to state that while I understand the safety concerns regarding the spikes, it would have been polite if he had come over and brought them up with my wife. Then perhaps they could discuss the appearance and come up with an effective way of trimming it, or let her handle it. His wife restated the fact that they could never be friends with us. I said "I would never refuse to be friends with somebody just because of their beliefs. Only their attitude would make it difficult." Then I said I am not asking to be their friend; I'm only asking them to be friendly as neighbors and be a little more willing to open up lines of communication with us before taking it upon themselves to redecorate our property. I nicely asked him to come over some morning and discuss his concerns with my wife so that she can understand them as well. He agreed, but I'm pretty sure he didn't liked it.

As I mentioned before, I'm the more diplomatic one in the family. Just for good measure, this morning Ginny called the local police to talk about the incident, describing it as trespassing and vandalism. Before I left for work we were visited by a very cheerful and friendly cop, who got to hear all about the history and laughed at the notion that our yard would be an eyesore to anyone.

We didn't want to file charges. He offered to go over there and talk with them, even give a warning that they could be arrested if they were on our property again. We declined that too. I said I'm still hoping that the husband will come over and work things out amicably.

But I did happen to glance over at the neighbor's house while the cop car was in our driveway, and I saw the window blinds being pulled up. It was bright outside and I didn't get to see the expression on her face as she watched us talk to the policeman, clearly discussing our plant. But I have a pretty good imagination and I have to admit, it was kind of satisfying.


  1. I am envious of your ability to keep a cool head in situations like this. I just know if I were in your position I'd probably get angry and the conversation would rapidly become unproductive.

  2. kudos on keeping your cool--- i'm pretty sure if we were in that situation the temptation would be to tell the couple "hey (#*)*%& ...this is our private property and whether you view us as friends/or sharing your 'values' has nothing to do with you having the right to vandalize our property- which you DON"T have!

    -- also kudos on having the cajones to speak/display your beliefs....i admit I'm more than guilty of avoiding certain topics (politics/religion) or fudging my actual positions when around certain family/occassional acquaintances just to avoid confrontations/conversations i have no real desire to engage in

  3. I'm glad you and Ginny at least spoke with the police. I would have gone a step further and actually filed charges. If they do something to your property again (and I hope they don't), please press charges!

  4. I see you get these kind of jobs as well.

    Good on you Kazim.

    Wonder if any of your positve behaviour will result in a change to theirs?

  5. Anonymous11:01 PM

    The thing that _really_ p***es me off about religion is the rampant hypocrisy. I'll leave it to the readers to decide for themselves who in this story acted more "christianly".

    For the record, and some may find this surprising, I'm an athiest but my fiancee is a christian and interestingly we actually have _very_ similar views on the church and religion in general!!!

    Perhaps the more "christianly" thing to do would be to go over and rip out all the plants from their garden. You know - "eye for an eye" and all that...

  6. Serves you right. They sound like good upstanding Ramsesists to me.

  7. I am so with "Nugget" i really would not have been able to maintain a cool and level head at all. I quite probably would have turned stupidly childish and "re-decorated" their living room! haha

  8. Your restraint is admirable. I don't know if I could've been so diplomatic about the entire situation.
    The destruction of your plant could have been interpreted as a hate crime.
    I hope your neighbors leave you in peace.

  9. Hi everyone, I have updated my blog [html][/html] if anyone cares to read about the outcome...

    P.S. We have some great blog readers! You folks are hilarious. :)

  10. whoops...I didn't add the link right...

  11. Sean O'Doherty11:49 AM

    You did the right thing in calling the police, make sure an incident report was written up. This should put a stop to any future 'unauthorized yard modifications'.

    Well done...

  12. Anonymous12:16 PM

    First of all: check with a lawyer - you may have a cause for civil action against them.

    Secondly: get yourself one of the new security/surveillance systems: video cameras (a la web cams) that feed a DVR. Set it up to cover your yard, etc. Try very hard to place the cameras as inconspicuously as possible - both as to location and doing the work.

    Lastly: replace the plant yourself. Preferably with something gaudier and "more expensive". Maybe a real cactus.

    Then sit back and wait. If and when they damage the new plant you'll catch them at it and reccord them. THAT IS ALL THE EVIDENCE YOU NEED TO HAMMER THEM IN COURT: BOTH CRIMINAL (VANDALISM) AND CIVIL.

    That is the only way that they, and others like them, will learn.

  13. Ron from the Great White North1:19 PM

    It was a good idea to start the process and fill out a police report! I just had to help move my in-laws this past weekend because of harassement from a family of inbred neighbours from hell. The police told them that they should have started reporting the more minor incidents that occured months ago before their aggression escalated to dangerous levels.

    Up here in Canada, atheism likely isn't as big a deal as it is down in the Bible Belt, but I've got the same cold shoulder from religious neighbours who discovered I am guilty of the unforgiveable sin of non-belief. Fortunately, we haven't experienced anything that could be classified as harassement.

    BTW Ginny is HOT! How did you get so lucky?

  14. Anonymous9:07 PM

    I am glad you do not share your neighbors' "values." Their values teach them to vandalize others' property.


  15. I can't say I'm surprised that something like this happened. After all, Christians have never been known for their tolerance. Still, it makes me absolutely sick that someone would feel justified in damaging someone else's property because they don't approve of your bumper stickers.

    I think you handled it extremely well, and I admire your ability to keep your cool. I like to think that I would have handled it equally well, but I'm not sure I could have done so.

  16. Great story and sorry for the partial loss of your agave plant. I would have inquired if the neighbor was subtly trying to offer his help at landscaping your yard. After all lending a hand is the Christian thing to do. If he says, yes, hold him to it, if he says no, tell him that's too bad, you would have loved some bonding time together.

    These stories are terribly common. Have you ever read the following two sites: Why I Hate My Neighbor and Annoying Neighbors?

  17. John D.12:34 AM

    I'm an atheist myself, and last night I really enjoyed this piece, and again I remembered it tonight.

    But then I got stoned and thought about something, see it from your neighbor's perspective just a little, by seeing how you'd feel if some wacky new agers or a really odd religion moved in next door. Get as far out there as you'd have to get before you got weirded out, even if at worst you'd just ignore them.

    Point is, everyone has their limits, and one of their limits is our beliefs; but no matter what, your hypothetic wacky neighbors as well as yourselves all still have the right to get upset at being judged for your beliefs.

    mmm stoned sentiments are always fun.

  18. john d.12:36 AM

    Read the update though, almost made me teary eyed. Excellent outcome

  19. I'd like to thank your neighbors personally for solidfying the belief in the stereotypes of the "typical" Christian. If I was your neighbor I would have been more ticked for not being invited to your poker game........

  20. Kazim. Let me just say that I'll praying for you. I know that your mind is clouded and you don't want to see the Truth now, but I know that you'll come around. By your words, you show your ignorance, because you conclude that God doesn't exist because there is no evidence he exists. I, myself believe in God, the tooth fairy, Godzilla, unicorns, and mermaids. They must be hiding somewhere...

    Hehe...just kidding. Good going. I just read your post about arguing with the Jehovas Witnesses, and now I sorta want to get into a conversation with them. I'll remember some of your great points, too. Sadly, some people just don't get it. And even more sadly, some people ravage plants that are not located on their own property, not because of any hazard to others (if you were a God-fearing Christian, they wouldn't have done that) but because you think differently. Shame on them.

  21. just tell them that their god made you an atheist and who are they to question his infinite wisdom

  22. It's nice that there was -- so far, at least -- a positive outcome.

    Nonetheless, I think you should pressed legal charges. Atheists have to stand up for themselves more and make a lot more noise. Being polite and keeping a low profile hasn't done us much good heretofore in the U.S.

  23. Anonymous10:03 AM

    I am a Christian and I am sorry to say that this, so-called "Christian" couple handled the situation very poorly. It is this kind of radical behavior that has our nation at war right now. Hopefully, someday soon you will meet Christians that "get it" and will be shown the truth about Christianity. In the meantime, I will pray that you and your neighbors reach a truly peaceful solution.

  24. Im surprised that mom didnt go all hulk smash on them.......

  25. Sorry to hear about the agave :( I have an agave that is doing great right now. It regularly puts off sprouts if you would like some more :) I imagine yours will be back to normal relatively quickly as they replenish leaves quite quickly. Sorry about your neighbors, you guys can come be mine any time... but I live in GA and you would probably get more of the same...

  26. Anonymous11:28 PM

    I'm a christian in the most literal sense of the word, and
    I respect the way you handled the situation. It's people like them that give people of faith a terrible reputation. Maybe you'll end up teaching them more about the God they claim to worship than they seem to be learning at their church/other place of worship.

  27. Awesome story! I love how christians claim to have the moral highground and that we atheists are the ones who have no morals (if you don't believe in god then where do you get your morals from?) yet as perfectly demonstrated in your story christians think that just because they disagree or don't like someone elses bumper sticker they think it gives them the right to vandalize other peoples property. Typical christian hypocrisy