I can see it when I’m still a dozen sluggish steps from my car, a wrinkled napkin jammed into the handle of the driver’s side door. At first I assumed that I’d inadvertently littered, that a napkin had fluttered to the ground as I ran toward my apartment with a grease-soaked bag of cardiac arrest to-go. And of course everyone would know that it was mine: If the American Girl people wanted to make a collectible matte-vinyl version of me, its accessories would be a fast-food bag and an anxiety disorder.
That had to be what it was. But no. When I pulled it out of the door handle, instead of seeing Wendy’s familiar constellation of freckles, it was an angry note in shaky capital letters, written in either blood or an unflattering red-brown shade of lipstick.
Whoever left the note — and from the lip color, it was most likely Drew Barrymore circa-1997 — was mad because I’d parked in a compact space and my car did not fit this person’s definition of what qualified as a compact car. I respectfully disagree. My car is not compact, but it’s not not compact either. It’s just a normal car and, because of that, I get the same satisfaction from parking in a compact space as I do from pushing my legs into a pair of skinny jeans. Don’t you dare take this away from me, you Revlon Colorstay-ed stranger.
I wadded the napkin into a ball and considered launching it toward the car parked beside me, a rugged looking SUV that has absolutely had a Styrofoam container full of nightcrawlers inside it at some point. Instead, I threw it into my floorboard — my compact floorboard — so it could annoy me for several hours. When I got home later that night, I did exactly what any well-adjusted adult would do: I told on them.
Let me pause and say that this building has had an endless string of property managers, and they all seem to be some kind of ceremonial entities that don’t serve any real purpose, much like Queen Elizabeth II, or Steve Bannon’s showerhead. The only consistent thing is that they’re all unresponsive and uninterested, as if management companies look on LinkedIn for people endorsed for Being Awful.
Last fall, for example, someone peed in the elevator inside the building. Another resident reached over the puddle and taped a note on the wall, one that called the pisser “a garbage person.” Rather than spend their time trying to identify the person who peed on the floor, they investigated who wrote the note — which is a lot like ignoring a gunshot wound so you can correct the paramedics’ grammar instead. (“It’s you’re about to bleed to death, not your, dummy.”)
There have also been a number of late night break-ins, when cars have been robbed of anything that could be quickly grabbed or shoved in a jacket pocket. (Someone helped themselves to my own gym bag, all the change in my cup-holders and an outdated GPS that hopefully guided the thieves into the Great Pit of Carkoon.) The burglaries have increased in the past few weeks, and the property managers responded by hurriedly posting two signs in the garage reminding residents that they’re not responsible if we walk downstairs and find that our passenger seats have been stolen overnight.
So they’re not great, is what I’m saying. But still, when I typed to them about my neighbor’s note and heard the reassuring whoosh of an outgoing email, I felt slightly better. Nothing happened of course. I didn’t get a response, an auto-reply or a reminder that they don’t care if Drew Barrymore thinks my car looks fat. But maybe feeling better was the point. I can’t imagine that whoever crammed a napkin into my door handle expected anything in return — or expected me to write 800-ish words about it — but maybe it brightened their day to scribble it all out.
Thank you for the lesson, Terrible Neighbor. I hope your feeling of superiority lasted longer than that napkin was on my door handle. Just know that I’ll be thinking about you the next time I walk toward my car. It’ll be in one of the compact spaces, just where you like it.
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