Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Self-Righteous Racism (and Minnesota Nice)

Here is a tale of much fucked-upness.

So, I get home from work today, and my Downstairs Neighbor (DN) is waiting for me. She asks if I've heard from LandLord (LL). I have not. She gives me a *look* and says, "well, she's called me three times to tell me my car is parked in front of the neighbor's house. It isn't. I told her the first time it was your car."

Let me back up. Between us, DN and Mr. Plain(s)feminist and I have four cars. Now that Mr. P is living here, both of our cars, and one of DN's cars, are on the street in front of our house, because LL has not yet fixed our garage doors, which stopped opening last month. So, for the past week or so, Mr. P or I have been parking in front of the house next door. I've felt badly about it, but it couldn't be helped; there is no other place to park. I mean, no matter where I park, it will be in front of someone else's house, and I figured that it was temporary, and that the garage would be fixed soon, so it wasn't too big of a deal.

NextDoor Neighbor (NXDN) has "issues" with her parking space, and is very uncomfortable with anyone parking in front of her house. She hates to use her garage, you see, and was clearly beside herself that anyone would park in front of her house. Anyway, I had no idea that she was so upset until today, when I heard that she had been calling LL to complain. Rather than come next door and knock on the door and ask us if we could please park down the street a little further, she called LL. (When I spoke with NXDN today, she suggested that perhaps I wasn't used to living in the city and didn't understand city etiquette, which entailed not parking in front of someone else's house. I pointed out that I'd lived in several cities, and that where I was from, when a neighbor had a problem with another neighbor, they would go next door to discuss it with them.)

Let's examine this, shall we? What kind of privilege does one need to have to not think that maybe calling someone's landlord to complain about them might have consequences for the tenant? And further, what would make someone call the landlord rather than just calling the next door neighbor?

When NXDN called LL, she mentioned the green car, which was mine. DN has a green truck. LL called DN to complain about her green truck. DN told LL it was my green *car* and not her green *truck*, and that LL should call me. LL didn't. Then she called DN twice more over the next several days to tell her to move her car (which was not parked in front of NXDN's house). Meanwhile, when DN calls LL, LL doesn't return her calls. When I call, though, LL returns my calls immediately. And while LL doesn't get most things fixed promptly, she does seem to make an effort to fix the things *I* call about. (DN's garage door didn't get fixed until *I* called about it.)

While I was talking with DN, then NXDN, then DN again, I later learned, LL was on the phone, now finally having decided to yell at Mr. P, who reminded her that if she'd fix the garage door, we wouldn't have this problem (which shut her up).

So the consequence of NXDN calling LL, in this instance, is that DN, one of the best neighbors I've ever had, and a friend, was blamed for my error and is now beside herself, sick of the shit and ready to find another place to live.

You know, I get the territorial behavior over the parking space. I get that NXDN wants things to be the way they always have been, and that she is threatened by people who obviously don't seem to know the rules of her neighborhood and who are messing up her evenings by forcing her to park in the garage, which she's afraid to do at night. I get it because I am exactly the same: I want my parking space, and I don't like parking in the garage, and I feel annoyed when people do little things that make me change my routine. I want my things where I want them, and I want other people to respect my space. And I know that this is petty.

And I also get that she, too, knew that this was petty, and that this is why she called LL instead of tracking me down. It was easier and less direct to call LL than to confront me. It's like when the people down the hall are having a large party and someone calls the police instead of telling them to turn down the music. No one wants to be the "turn down the music" neighbor.

And I get, as well, that in her comfortable life, NXDN didn't think about what it might mean to call the white landlord of a Black tenant to complain about something. She saw "her" space with my car in it, she noticed that DN occasionally parked far enough back that, when I parked behind her, I was in front of NXDN's house. She felt angry in the way that only privileged people can get angry (and I know this, because I've been there, too); angry about something to which she felt entitled but which was not actually hers - there's no law that governs the street - that was suddenly taken away from her.

So NXDN has her parking space back, and DN is in the process of deciding how long to stay here.

Meanwhile, DN offered me her parking space for tonight, so that I could move my car from in front of NXDN's house. (What was that about etiquette?)


Dianne said...

One of my pet peeves about society today is too many people with a sense of entitlement. This sounds like a bit of that, with petty habits thrown in. I really can't add any insight to what you've said - you said it all.

I wish everyone who has ever complained about parking could live for just one week in the crowded streets of Brooklyn - my home town. You were lucky if you got to park blocks from your house and you always wondered if the car would still be there in the AM.

Now that I'm in the burbs I adore my driveway and I do try to stay away from the front of other homes. Luckily we all speak to each other.

As for racism - that sure does play a part - I remember in Brooklyn that if someone parked too close to your car or blocked a driveway by an inch it was always a bigger problem if the offending parker was anything but white.

Just one more small way that racism leaks into our everyday lives.

Green said...

Do you read Mama Nabi? She has written about how "Minnesota Nice" doesn't seem to apply to anyone who's not white.

In this age of political correctness and suing people over every little thing, it's a real shame there's no way to really protect people from being discriminated against.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Yeah, Dianne, I think people who get pissy about stuff like this haven't really experienced parking problems...and need to!

Thanks for the suggestion, Green! Check it out, folks!

andi said...

Interesting. I *must* inform my neighbors that they can't park in front of my house anymore, or I'll call their landlord.
I would be beside myself with laughter if your LL had not proved himself to be such a racist twit before.
You're more understanding than I would be,,,really. I would change my parking because it affected someone I like but I am not sure I'd be so understanding about it. That NDN is going to be a thorn in yourside as long as you are there. :(

Plain(s)feminist said...

Oh my goodness, I only realized after Andi's comment that I was using a term - "NDN" - to mean "Next Door Neighbor" when it is in common online use as an abbreviation of "Indian." I corrected it in my post.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Andi -
Yeah, I just hate to have feuds.

She brought over candy for us this morning...

TidalGrrrl said...

I wonder what part of Minnesota you're talking about. When I lived in Uptown Minneapolis I had to park at least 2 blocks away from my apartment at 32nd and Girard. EVERY DAY. I can't imagine this crap about not parking on the street. Like you said, the street is a taxpayer street, not someone's personal place. I can understand about the next door neighbor *wanting* to park directly in front of her house, but seriously WTF? You nailed with the entitlement statement. I can, and have said this to people before - it's a public STREET. Now go home and stop talking to me. As for calling the LL, that's harrassment.

K said...

I've never lived anywhere (Minneapolis or small town SD included) where people were able to consider the street in front of their house 'their' parking spot. Is it nice to park in front of your house? Of course. But that doesn't belong to you and ANYONE can park there. What a weird neighbor and even weirder landlord for taking it in any way seriously.

pseudostoops said...

I'm still chuckling over the part where city etiquette demands that you do not park in front of someone else's house. Because really? I have lived many years in cities and have been breaking this rule all over the darn place. Silly me.

Plain(s)feminist said...

A few of you have noted with incredulity the idea that the street in front of one's house is reserved for one's own car. I know. I still can't get over that. I've almost been wanting to hang out near her house to see what else crazy things might happen.

And I was thinking today, as I drove home from the gym, that this ain't the city, not really. I mean, it's certainly not *urban.* It's big enough that I just discovered a whole new neighborhood yesterday that I didn't know existed (and there are many more), but it's pretty dinky compared to many. When I think of *city*, I think of major parking problems.