I've always tried to be a good neighbor, no matter where I've lived.
Uptown on Joseph Street, on Prytania, on Henry Clay, on Willow, and in LaPlace, I parked in my own space, I kept my music to myself, I didn't have wild parties. Well, maybe one or two.
I never was a complainer, not when my upstairs neighbors used to stomp up their wooden stairs, or when the next one hung dozens of photos of his wife in various Playboy-type poses in the front sun room for all the world to see, or when my landlords turned down the thermostat that controlled my air conditioner. Or when I found out my LaPlace neighbor had nine speakers in his apartment and a boa constrictor. Or when our backdoor neighbors smoked so much weed we could smell it in my kitchen.
I DID yell at my second LaPlace neighbors who decided to cut the grass at 6 a.m. On a Sunday.
And I did get pretty angry when the current ones cut the branches on MY trees and dropped one on the huge ceramic fish by my pool. Yeah, I know accidents happen. But what pissed me off the most was that they didn't come knock on my door to say, "Oops." They just left it there for me to discover. And didn't reimburse me, either.
But when I got into an accident and my husband refused to answer the phone because he didn't recognize the number, it was nice to know that I could call them and ask them to go knock on my door to let him know. True story.
And the night our neighbor's trailer caught fire and we came home to find fire trucks all over the place, they weren't home. The firemen went in, did their job and left. They didn't even leave a note. So we waited up to let them know what had happened.
Most of my neighbors have liked me back. The Uptowners did because, back then, I had a sort-of-boyfriend who was an NOPD officer and he used to drive by my apartment on occasion in his cruiser.
Need sugar? Salt? Someone to feed your cats? Extra chairs for your crawfish boil or a pool for your guests to swim in? Sure! No problem!
I have no junk cars or spare tires, I keep my grass cut, my garden green and my pool blue.
So you don't get to call me "Trash."
That's what my next door neighbor called me the other day because my dog was barking at him through the fence.
"Can't you control your dogs you goddam piece of trash?"
That's what he yelled at me across the glorious green ginger in my backyard.
To which I replied, "Fuck you."
To which he replied, "Fuck you too."
And in one instant, 20 years of peace was shattered.
A few hours later, a nice St. Charles Parish Sheriff's deputy knocked on my door, aggravating The Coach and terrifying my kid. He asked me what happened. I told him. With tears in my eyes.
"It all went to crap when he called me "Trash."
And I will never forget the look on my daughter's face when she asked me, "He really called you that? The man who let me and Paige cut through his yard?"
I've been called that twice in my life. Both times because of dogs, both times by people standing on the front porch of their trailers. My mom's dog ran away once and as I chased it down the street, my mom's neighbor yelled at me, "You white trash."
The fact that it was nearly 30 years ago and I still remember it should tell you something.
I fully admit that my dogs can be a pain in the ass. I have two at the moment. A pair of poodles -- one big, one little, both rescues. They're good dogs, except Lola likes to run away and drag my daughter's dirty socks all over the living room. Leigheaux is plotting to kill the mailman (or at least the truck) and has a strange compulsion to pee on my favorite chair.
And they bark. They wake us up. They wake the neighbors up. Worst of all, they wake the mother-in-law up. They LOVE to bark. At the mail truck, the UPS man, the FedEx truck, the delivery trucks across the street, the chicken eaters, the walkers and, occasionally, the reflection of the TV. Hell, sometimes they bark at the wind.
And the neighbors.
As soon as we hear them, we try to scramble to get them back inside. But sometimes we don't hear them. And sometimes we're, like, naked. So we can't always get to them. But we do try.
They know that.
I don't know what set my neighbor off this day, whether he was in a particularly bad mood or if the dogs were just unusually annoying this day. I do know this. He can't take it back. And he can't fix what he broke.
We've lost the sense of peace we had, knowing that there was somebody next door if we were in trouble, if my daughter was in trouble, if my dogs were in trouble. Not because of two dogs, but because of one word.
And I don't know if we'll ever be able to get it back.