Friday, August 24, 2007


This may be is a long one, I've been saving up for days.

I'm reading a wonderful book, Here If You Need Me. It's the story of a woman who was widowed and became a Unitarian minister and chaplain to the Maine Warden Service, going along on search-and-rescue missions in the Maine woods, ministering to the families, etc. I'm not very far into it and I'm already hooked, she's a wonderful writer, honest and wry about subjects that aren't funny at all, like the sudden death of her husband. And every time she refers to her "Plucky Widow Story" I snort in sisterhood, though my story is different from and not as interesting as hers. But anyway....

The thing that set me off this morning, and I admit I'm tired because it has been a shitty long week and I'm also hormonal, but what set me off was her description of the period after her husband died, and how neighbors brought food and neighborhood men would show up to fix things for her. And this set me off because I have at this moment a busted sprinkler head in my front yard, I know at least 4 able-bodied neighbor men have observed it, and I very strongly suspect that one of their offspring broke it because their kids all play in my yard, and I know they know this because they are often outside tending to their own yards while their kids are running their bikes and chasing balls onto mine, and nobody has asked, "Hey, can I help you with that?" Because I would say yes. But nobody asks, and I will not go to them and beg. They know I'm a widow, at least a couple know I'm a SAH survivor, obviously I work long hours. Frankly, it's easier to hire help than get help.

But I don't feel invisible, because I did get a shitty letter from the HOA, bitching at me because my yard isn't as perfect as they'd like. Mind you, my yard looks okay, I spend about $200 a month to keep it mowed, fertilized and pest controlled, but I will not violate the water management district's watering restrictions, and that's enough to make the grass alive but not LUSH. They'd prefer a lusher, greener lawn. When rainfall has been sparse, and we are coming out of a long drought. Yeah. And if I don't get on the ball and make the grass grow without rain, they could fine me. I double dog dare them - I will make such a stink.

Oh, and even our trade contractor stood me up, he hasn't come out to look at the irrigation system, and it has been a week. So I'm giving up on him, I'll have to start calling other companies in my ample spare time at work.

So, in my tired, hormonal, self-pitying mood this morning, I couldn't help comparing the experience of the author with my own. I have lived in this neighborhood for over 11 years. These people are not strangers. God, I hate this place.

I wondered if it's me, if I'm too fiercely independent, but I realize that I became "fiercely independent" by necessity, because during the two years of my husband's horrible slow death, only three friends (two of mine, one of his) stopped by to visit with him, or picked up the phone to call, or offer any assistance.

I did not reject any help from other people, none was offered. My friends were there when needed without strings attached, both are still my friends today, his friend was all talk and no help. I haven't spoken to him in years. I went back to work a few days after my husband's funeral and have been dealing with whatever comes along ever since. I have come to expect nothing from friends and neighbors, so I am not disappointed. And now I live in this neighborhood full of Good Christians with fish on the backs of their cars, and they may or may not wave back when I wave to them. You'll know they are Christians by their love the fish on the backs of their cars.

This experience has taught me a lot, and though I am bitter and self-pitying this morning, the thing that I really have learned is that if I see someone who may need a hand, I will reach out and offer it. And also contribute my time and effort to things like the Red Scarf Project and others, that send anonymous little morale boosters to people having a tough time. And it's sad but true - the online knitting world was kinder to me than my own neighbors. So I remember that and try to pay it forward.

Except at work. I won't lift a damn finger for those people. My boss R got to hear it yesterday - we had a meeting with another department, and I was asked repeatedly to do their jobs for them, "Could you write this?" (This being a basic business letter.) Then the other one chimed in: "You can call him and negotiate this." R flatly told them that neither I nor anyone in our department would do the project for them, this was their job.But this is what I get from every department in the company. This task is is not going to be easy, fun or glamorous, so let's get Catherine to do it. Nobody, okay, maybe three or four people in my company can write a grammatically correct, intelligent business letter. I'm constantly shocked by how bad their basic skills are, though they all purport to be college graduates. They still see me as The Paralegal, so anything with even the vaguest, most tenuous legal connection is passed off to me. Please write this for me. Please help me do this. Please, please - and I pass it right back, sometimes it takes an email exchange that grows increasingly testy on my part before they give up, because Catherine is a bitch and will not help them. I'm sorry, I didn't enable my own children like this, I'll be goddamned if I'll do it for adults. Yesterday was good - R didn't wait to grow increasingly testy, as I was opening my mouth to tactfully deflect the work back to them, he jumped in and unleashed the Testybomb at the first suggestion that Catherine was to do any of this. Bless R.

And it's Friday, and I have another nightstand to assemble, but I expect it to go much faster this time, and we are finally getting some rain, so the bitch from the HOA management company should get off my back about my grass, and I plan to spend this rainy weekend indulging in movies and knitting. I'm about halfway through the first of the two Red Scarves. And I'm itching to start more socks, but I have enough socks in play right now. And I have to finish my big purple sweater, because it looks like the Asheville trip will be pushed back two weeks for work reasons, and that's not a bad thing, but it does mean I'll need the sweater even more by mid-October. I may be bringing Murphy to Asheville with me. It's such a dog-friendly town, and he'd love a road trip.

That's enough ranting for now - Happy Friday!


vi said...

you have to get out of there...... remember this little perfect neighborhood sees your life and realizes that things DO happen
no amount of suburban perfection can prevent that
so they project their fears out on to you....( you're an easy person to ignore because you ARE independant and strong)
and they avoid you
they are afraid you will whine or you will ask them to do things like help you move furniture
cause that is what THEY would do

it has nothing to do with you dear....... you got to move

me and bernie have to move...
it's time for all of us

Catherine said...

Vi, you are so wise, and that is exactly it - I'm the thing they fear. The idea that Doing Everything Right is no protection.

Cheryl, the Jungian Knitter said...

Oh it is so past time for you to move! I will be rooting you on as you approach that fateful day.

Also delighted you like Kate Braestrup's book. She often leads the service in our funky Unitarian church in my town -- she is funny, charming, and draws a big crowd every time she comes.

Catherine said...

Cheryl, you are living in the town I'd picked as our retirement nest. I meant to tell you that before - I nearly fell over when I saw where you are, because my advance planning had led me there. Now, I don't know where I'll be in between, probably MD again. I still want Asheville, but there ain't no work.

ikate said...


That makes me sad and angry that your neighbors and even co-workers are such idiots. I cannot imagine someone who I work with or live on the same block with going though what you have gone through w/o helping in at least a small way. They have no excuse ...were they brought up with manners?

Hell, I work full time and have a new(ish) baby and still can't tell you how many dinners I've made for others in the past year - a few co-workers who had surgery, several friends with new babies. One of the couples who live on our block are going through a cancer/chemo saga right now so the rest of the block is taking turns taking care of the lawn and weeding the garden.

I think part of our luck here is that we do not live in the suburbs...we live in a very cool and eclectic central-city 'hood with awesome old houses (we have a 1920 bungalow, which was so cheap it makes me blush). Lots of us live here because we want to so we take a pretty active roll in the community, lots of people live here because it's the only thing they can afford. We did the 'burb thing for a while and really didn't like it. Our 'hood has a bad rap in the media (things mostly happen around us) so people sometimes gasp when I tell them where I live - but I just chuckle because I bet the can't name off everyone who lives on their suburban block.

Wow-sorry, didn't mean to rant like that on your blog. Here's hoping your plans to hit the eject button go well! If I were there I would bring you some dinner (and wine) :)

Catherine said...

Rant away, girl! I want to be part of a neighborhood like that, not one where the state of your lawn is critiqued because you are one of the few observing the watering restrictions, caring about conservation, so you don't "fit in." This isn't even the worst of the suburban world, God knows, in my line of work I've seen more outrageous. How about living where you have to get the plants you want to put in your little yard approved by the HOA? I am not making that up. And that $200 a month for yard care? My yard is a postage stamp, not an acre.

Brenda said...

I'm single and work a minimum of 40 hours per week, and the woman next door to me is married and doesn't have an outside job. She's given me allot of grief over my lawn, and while I've never said it to her face, I always wonder what it would be like to have so few problems that the biggest thing I had to worry about was how long someone else's grass is. I wish she could see how fortunate she is to have nothing better to do than sit out on her deck while she smokes, talks on the phone, and stares at my yard. Hers is the seventh family that's lived in that house in the 20 years I've lived in mine, so I'm not moving---I'm going to outwait her. And based on past experience, I will guess that the new people will be just as much of a nuisance as she is.