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How Do You Love Your Neighbor When They’re Being a Rat Fink?

photo: mediaparker on flickr

photo: mediaparker on flickr

Is there anything more awesome than the Golden Rule?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

But what about the other way around?

What about when the unto coming your way is seriously not awesome?

A while back, we were doing some work on our house. And by “we,” I mean a talented carpenter by the name of Roberto.

One day when Roberto was not there, I came home to find this bright and perky sign taped to our front door.

photo: z egloff

photo: z egloff

My first reaction was one of shame and fear. I felt like a little kid, being called into the principal’s office.

I had done something really, really bad, and I was being punished.

Only I wasn’t sure what I’d done.

I pulled the “Stop Work” notice off the door – ignoring the fact that it said Do Not Remove This Notice – and took it inside to show Melissa.

We stared at the sign together.

What could it be? Why did we get such a bright and perky – and yet hostile – sign taped to our door?

Clearly, The Authorities had become involved in our little house project. But why?

We figured it was probably something about permits or codes or something, but why had our house been targeted? And, more importantly, who had notified The Authorities?

It had to be one of our neighbors, right? Were they angry about the noise? Due to Melissa’s teaching schedule, the work was only being done on the weekends. Did this piss off one of our neighbors? If so, who?

Just minutes after seeing the sign, my mind had worked itself into a tizzy.

photo: z egloff

photo: z egloff

Who had called? Why had they called? What did they have against us? Was it because we’re gay? Was it because Roberto is Latino? Was it because we’re vegans who occasionally eat meat?

Melissa and I took a collective breath. We reminded ourselves that we had no idea why we had received the notice. We did not need to allow our minds to run wild.

But still. My mind was seriously spazzing out, trying to figure out what had happened.

We called a friend of ours who’s a real estate agent. What did she think?

Contrary to our Evil Neighbors theory, she said it was probably the City of Santa Rosa. They were hard-up for money these days, and the Stop Work notice was probably a function of budget deficits. She told us not to worry, that it would all be fine.

This made me feel a little better.

Maybe it wasn’t the neighbors after all. Maybe I could let go of my resentment at the random, anonymous rat fink who had turned us in for being gay, meat-eating vegans.

Or at least I could try.

Following the instructions on the perky, hostile sign, I went down to City Hall. On the way there, I claimed and affirmed that everything would go smoothly. My experience there would be easy and effortless, and any encounters would be beneficial for all concerned.

photo: Highways Agency at flickr

photo: Highways Agency at flickr

The presence of the mythical homophobic, vegan-hating neighbor was still with me, but I tried to ignore it.

When I arrived at City Hall, an extremely friendly city employee greeted me at the door. She informed me that the line was too long and they wouldn’t be able to attend to my concerns that day. I would need to come back tomorrow.

When I went back the next day, the same thing happened. Another friendly city employee informed me that there was no way I would be seen and I had to come back later.

Finally, on day three, I was able to get an appointment.

A cheery city employee called me over to her desk. She informed me that to do any construction work in the City of Santa Rosa – including reshingling one side of your house – you need a work permit.

Who knew? Not me.

Normally, a work permit would cost a few hundred dollars. But because we had received a Stop Work notice, we would have to pay a fine. A big fine.

The nice lady behind the desk also told me that the Stop Work process is complaint driven. In other words, someone had turned us in.

I knew it!

Right away, my mind went back into a full-blown frenzy.

Who? What? Why? Gay? Latino? Vegan?

photo: Ben Salter, El Alvi, and Andrea Nguyen on flickr

photo: Ben Salter, El Alvi, and Andrea Nguyen on flickr

I took a breath and thanked the nice lady. Then I paid my fine and walked back to my car.

On the drive home, my mind started spinning faster and faster.

So it had been the neighbors. Or maybe not a neighbor. Maybe a random, drive-by hater. But who? Who would do that?

Round and round went my mind, frothing up a lather of anger and resentment.

And then I caught myself.

I took a breath and thought about what I’d been through.

Every step of the way, I had been met with kindness. My realtor friend who told me not to worry. The nice people who greeted me at City Hall. The friendly lady behind the desk who, even though she made me pay a big fine, was nothing but pleasant.

And then I thought about the person who had turned us in. Could I extend the same kindness to them? Surely they could use it.

Being pissed off at an anonymous person certainly wasn’t doing me any good. If someone was disgruntled enough to complain to the City about our little work project, clearly they needed some love.

photo: Caitlin Regan on flickr

photo: Caitlin Regan on flickr

And just like that, my resentment started to lift.

No, it didn’t disappear altogether, but big portions of it fell away.

I had claimed and affirmed that the process would be easy and effortless. And, for the most part, it had been. Sure, I’d had to shell out some cash, but money is just money. More importantly, I had received love from every person I’d encountered. And now I was getting to share it with an invisible “enemy.”

The love had come full circle.

It’s been months since we received the pesky, hostile sign. Though I’m still vaguely curious about who called the City, my resentment is gone. In its place is gratitude.

Gratitude for a house to live in. Gratitude for a beautiful wife to share it with. And gratitude for the person who turned us in.

Because of them, I got to extend my love to someone I don’t know. Someone who needed it.

Plus I got to work out my shame about being a meat-eating vegan.

Praise the Lord and pass me a chicken tofu burger!

photo: Steven Depolo on flickr

photo: Steven Depolo on flickr

What have you learned from your “enemies”? How did they help you grow? Share your comments below!

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8 Responses to How Do You Love Your Neighbor When They’re Being a Rat Fink?

  1. M November 5, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    Please explain.

    Where’s all the SHHHHH in this?

    • Z Egloff November 5, 2013 at 11:36 am #

      Hey M!

      The “Shhhhhhhh” was the Sunday Night talk. The blog is all about chatting and chatting and chatting. Though the “Shhhhhhhh” is implied. In between the words. 😉


  2. Jo Lauer November 5, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    Thanks for the reminder, Z. Once upon another lifetime ago, my then husband and I used to hop on his motorcycle and ride up over Mt. Veeder in Napa during the autumn to catch the early scent of the change of seasons, and the breathtaking views of the vineyards all a-bloom. It is a wonderful memory. Fast forward many years to my next new neighborhood down by the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, and my beloved Berkeley-inspired home across the street from a household of Hells Angels, resplendent with hoards of loud, obnoxious motorcycles that they would rev up all hours of day and night. Not a wonderful memory. They weren’t exactly the approachable types for a friendly chat about noise pollution. What I COULD do, however, is associate the rev of their engines with that lovely memory of zipping over the mountain enjoying the glory of autumn. After a little practice, it worked.

    • Z Egloff November 5, 2013 at 11:29 am #

      Hi Jo,

      Wow – this is an awesome story. It reminds me what imagination and creativity can do to change an otherwise intolerable situation. I’m impressed with your abilities to transform the audible interference into something beautiful. Well done! :)


  3. Karen November 5, 2013 at 11:20 am #

    Ha — I hadn’t encountered the term “rat fink” in years. High time that was brought back.

    Terrific post, reminding us not to marinate in suspicion or resentment but to replace it with better-feeling thoughts and hopefully, eventually, appreciation.

    We’ve probably all been there — when our minds take off, spazzing out on us. :) Then we get the opportunity to soothe ourselves as best we can in order to vibrate in a better place and set the stage for a solution of the problem(s).

    Thanks for your wit and wisdom!

    • Z Egloff November 5, 2013 at 11:26 am #

      Hi Karen,

      I was trying to figure out what to call the neighbor in question, as far as the title of this post: Jerk, Dweeb, etc. And then it occurred to me: Rat Fink!! It’s even fun to say!! I’m glad you appreciate it. And, as we both know, appreciation is EVERYTHING!! :)

      Thanks for stopping by, as always.


  4. Graham B November 7, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    I like “nimrod”.

    • Z Egloff November 8, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

      Who doesn’t, really?

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