I had a little run in with Chris’s crazy neighbor the other day. Remember her? Well for the last year she’s gone out of her way to avoid talking to me, even as she went out of her way to talk to everyone else, including Chris’s daughters and their friends, routinely holding them captive on the sidewalk or half inside their cars.
But apparently she’s had a change of heart.
It started small – one day last week I passed her on the sidewalk and she made a random comment about something to do with her kids and playing in the parking lot. I offered an unconvincing laugh and something along the lines of “oh… hmmm” as I continued walking. She called something else after me as I turned the corner so I gave an even less convincing head nod and vague hand wave as I continued on my way. (At that point it occurred to me at perhaps Chris and his girls simply aren’t rude enough.)
Then this week, as I walked up the sidewalk toward Chris’s house, she came out of her house, her gaze locked on me, and I knew with certainty that we were going to have a conversation.
Part of me was a little excited that I was going to get a “Neighbor Lady” story of my own to share when everyone else told theirs.
As we came face to face in front of her car, she reached out to put her hand on my arm, surprising me so much that I froze in my tracks, thus eliminating any small hope of escape that might have existed.
“Can you talk to Chris about,” she said, and my brain immediately shifted into slow motion and several things moved through my mind:
“She has a problem with Chris?”
“How can she have a problem with Chris? Nobody ever has a problem with Chris.”
“What could this bitch possibly have to say about my boyfriend, and why does her tone suggest I’m his mother?”
“Should I set my bags down in case I need to scratch her eyes out?”
And then I realized she was still talking, so I clicked my brain back into gear and rewound the tape so I could get the rest of her sentence. Which was:
Ok, so I should explain. Chris doesn’t actually recycle. I know, its shocking and you’re probably suddenly worried that you’ll be guilty by association for reading a blog by a person who is in a relationship with a person who doesn’t recycle. (Don’t pretend you weren’t doing it.) I don’t want to get sidetracked from this story with a meta discussion about social shame and recycling, so I’ll just say that I asked him why he doesn’t recycle a few months ago, and what I took from the conversation is that he’s not adamantly opposed to recycling like some right-wing nut who thinks it’s another way for the government to control us. It’s more that he sees it as just one more thing to coordinate and deal with on top of all the other things he has to deal with and coordinate in his life. I got the impression that if someone else wanted to take responsibility for it, he wouldn’t object.
So back to my conversation with the Neighbor Lady.
Once I process her statement, I realize she’s staring at me waiting for a response. My liberal shame and social guilt is quickly replaced with glee as I realize she’s giving me blog content.
Me: oh yeah…um, well… sure…
NL: Because really, he should recycle. Why doesn’t he recycle?
Me: Yeah…I don’t know. He’s quirky like that.
NL: I can get him a bin. I think if we just make it really easy for him, we can get him to do it.
Did you see what she did there? “If WE just make it really easy for him.” WE. Apparently she and I are now a team. Apparently since she couldn’t get rid of me, she’s going to partner up with me.
My personal opinions on recycling are replaced by my desire to not be a team with her.
Me: ah? uh huh…
NL: I went through his garbage the other day and I noticed that it’s mostly plastics and so if he even just started with that…
Yes, she said that. Unabashedly. I had to contain my glee at how good a story this was going to be.
Me: yeah…he does use a lot of plastic…
I say this just to have something to say, but I then immediately feel disloyal. Saying something like that is not going to demonstrate that I’m on Chris’s team, not hers.
NL: I mean, if he just did plastics and maybe some cans…
Me: yeah, that would make a difference
Crap! I’m the worst teammate ever. I’m torn between getting away and getting more material.
NL: But really, why won’t he recycle?
Me: ahh, yeah. I don’t know…he has a thing about it…?
I know it doesn’t sound like it, but this is actually me being a good teammate. I’m not going to explain to her why he’s not recycling because that will reveal too much about him. But I’m also not willing to engage her in a conversation about the reasons against recycling because that will make it look like I care what she thinks.
NL: You know, if he doesn’t start recycling its going to make the trash pick up cost more. You need to talk to him! For everyone’s sake. They’re already doing it in Alexandria.
Me: Oh really? I’ll tell him that.
Part of me is shamefully, secretly, enjoying her presumption that I have power over Chris – a presumption based in a recognition of my legitimacy as his long-term girlfriend. She’s gone from inviting Chris to the singles group at her church, to assuming I’m the kind of woman who is in charge of her man. I have this urge to go with it, to let us be those suburban women who stand on the sidewalks of their subdivisions, possibly with a glass of wine in the early evening, talking about “our men” and how hard it is to keep them in line.
Worst. Teammate. Ever.
NL: You know he has daughters? Who are educated!
Her tone implies this could be new information for me. I hate her again. I start to walk away.
Me: yes, he certainly does.
NL: They are going to college. They understand…
Me: yes, they do go to college…
Now I’m laughing. I’m suddenly giddy with how ridiculous this conversation is, how much material she’s feeding me. I want to ask her again about going through the garbage, but instead I keep walking.
NL: Tell him to recycle for them! So they are proud…
Unmoved by the argument, I keep moving, not looking back at her.
NL: They’ll get married some day! I assume. They are going to have babies. And those babies are going to want a grandpa who recycles!
This makes me stop, and I look at her for a second, tempted to tell her that of all her arguments, that’s her worst. There are few topics more likely to agitate Chris than talking about him becoming a grandpa, and all that that implies.
I try to stop laughing long enough to give some sort of appropriate response. But then decide that laughing is probably as appropriate a response as any.
She’s yelling things after me as I walk away, things about how she teaches recycling in the schools and can teach him. I offer a vague wave of my hand as I continue walking away, trying not to skip in my excitement to tell this story to Chris.
Of course, I’m sure you all now realize that as long as Chris lives there, he can never, ever, start recycling.
Sorry Earth, but seriously, what did you expect? I’m a terrible teammate.