November 25th, 2002 | Published in etc
Well, Alison and I trooped over to Jean/Trixie and Spencer/Dexter’s home this evening with a still-warm pumpkin pie in hand. It took her a second to recognize us (she blamed our hats a moment later), but it was a cordial visit marked only by a promise to have us over for her bourbon-spiked eggnog at some point in the near future.
If you’re just joining, the issue that provoked the bearing of pies is detailed in a pair of previous posts from November 9 and
My thoughts about the whole thing are considerably less strident than they were a week ago, but I’m still working on what it means to be a good neighbor, conduct myself with humility, and get over the instant passivity that seems to grip me when confronted by inconsiderate people. There’s a lot of literature on “asserting boundaries” and “being assertive,” but I’ve never much liked the culture surrounding that. It seems brittle and fake, or over-assertive and controlling: at root either passive aggressive or merely aggressive and designed to strike first when working out group norms.
Anyhow, back to the pie-giving:
Spencer allowed as how pumpkin is his favorite, which I guessed when I decided to give them that one and not the pecan pie I’ve got in the oven. I’m not sure what the attitude toward pecan pie is anywhere besides the south. I love it… Alison says it frightens her. Staring into the mixing bowl when it’s still in its “brown sugar slurry with pecans bobbing around in it” stage, it does look… energy-laden.
It was an uneventful visit. We reminded them of our names, they invited us in, but it looked like a harried sort of evening. Baby Fiona was wandering around crying and closet doors were open. So we kept it brief and got out quickly.
The part of the whole exercise that’s hard is over for me. Alison and I are both pretty shy, so it took an act of will to get the pie across the street and into their hands. I hope, though, that their offer to have us over for eggnog and “a chat,” as Spencer called it, happens. If they don’t get around to it in a few weeks, I suppose it’ll be time to lay in the basic cocktail fixin’s and invite them over.
We just got new neighbors in the other half of our duplex, so the pecan pie in the oven right now will go over there tomorrow some time. Sort of a shame, because the whole “still warm from the oven” bit is good PR that undermines any suspicions that I might have bought one at Fred Myer and transferred it into a pan of my own. We’ve got an interesting family across the other street from us that I want to give something, too. They’ve been fine, with the exception, I think, of calling my old Volvo in to the police as a derelict when I didn’t update the license plates after we moved here, but that’s offset by the nearby presence of a rat-infested garage/service station with many abandoned wrecks the owner parks out on the streets when he needs overflow space. Neighborhood tempers are running high over that.
It seems it’s most important, though, to strike when a neighbor’s new. We’ve had a year among most of the people on our block. I think it’s best to have the pretense of greeting new people into the neighborhood instead of hobbling over after a year, immediately after an embarrassing incident.
I’d guess the whole effort is going to get a mixed reception. When Bill Benysh and I lived together, the old folks from across the street bringing two bags of apples over seemed like something kindly old folks would do. 30-somethings who are seen stalking around the house in their pajamas all day long are perhaps a little more off-putting when they turn up on your doorstep bearing pies.
But my intent has shifted since I first started thinking about the whole issue of Jean ramming into neighborhood cars and demanding we clear the way and how to go about trying to get her to stop or at least help her develop a sense that she’s wrong without having to gird for battle or get snarky about it. I’m feeling a lot more programmatic about “pie diplomacy” as an anchor for being a better neighbor in general, in hopes that it reaps some benefits by helping to instill a sense of neighborliness in others. I don’t see this as undermining a fundamentally pacifistic outlook on problem-solving. The act of “de-strangering” people makes it easier to treat them like I’d want to be treated, which includes getting checked when I fuck up, and doing so in a respectful and kindly manner.
It may be that the entire effort will net little from the neighbors, but as a habit to adopt — sharing with strangers and maintaining human contact with the people around us — it seems beneficial to the general mental well-being of the neighborhood and my own personal sense of integrity, which is battered every time I let a clod step on my toes without so much as a reminder to them that what they’re doing isn’t something with which the rest of us should “be cool.”