ONE LAST THING
Seeking neighbourly revenge in an urban setting requires thought and planning
Nicky Smith column
On Third Avenue in Melville the unpainted house across from the primary school has for the past two years borne a warning to all.
Spraypainted onto the exterior walls is an anarchic script such as you might see on things that are condemned. Dystopian, angry, hurried black writing. ALARM! ALARM! ALARM! The letters have been redrawn, as when a ballpoint pen writes with knobbly ink, leaving gaps as it travels across a page, and has needed overwriting. Three or four times.
The writing crosses the length of the house’s front wall.
I wanted to take a photograph the first time I drove past it. I meant to take a picture. It made me laugh, and I meant to share the funny because the desperate, suburban passive-aggression is so relatable.
I could imagine how the perpetrators had planned their vengeance over a too-long Christmas period while their neighbours were on their break, leaving the alarm to holiday alone, unsupervised.
Left to its own devices it let it all hang out, getting the dust out of its sirens, acting on its own impulses with no one shutting down its voice just when it was warming to its song of panic, horror and fright.
Unchecked by the presence of the alarm’s people, the desperate neighbours vented their rage carefully, making it clear to everyone who passed that in this house lives an inconsiderate idiot.
I could relate to the rage and the plotting to find a fitting and appropriately shaming solution.
You can’t shoot anyone because they are clearly not home. Cut the power? Hmm, could wind up electrocuting yourself; also it’s probably illegal. Okay, totally illegal. Throw rocks? Maybe. I do know someone who used this very effectively. I found out when I asked why there was wire on the outside of the bars and windows of his neighbour’s house, which is next to his pool area. (To be clear, though, he is probably the world’s worst neighbour. This guy is basically the devil.)
He laughed and said the neighbours had put up the fencing and razor wire after he had thrown a rock at the house because they were complaining (again) about the noise he was making. He hadn’t meant to throw the rock through the window into their house but he had lost control — he had been very drunk and a little high, he said, sounding just the tiniest bit ashamed.
He said he had apologised to them, and the police, and explained that he was drunk and angry and would pay for the damages. What did the neighbours do? I asked. They moved out, he said.
So it does work. But you really have to be into it and commit. Shaming them with some angry spray painting may be a lower risk option which still wins points for getting the point across.
In this case, though, it seemed that no one cared about the writing on the wall. They were defiant and shameless. Or the people had moved out and the new people didn’t have the money to paint over it.
Walking to breakfast on the main drag the other morning I saw a man painting the wall an unfortunate biscuit colour. Just one ALARM! was still visible and the third was about to disappear.
Look at that, I thought, it’s finally being removed. I watched a while and asked him conversationally how long it had been there, wondering if he would confirm that it must be at least two years.
Not long, he said, instead of “I don’t know”. I watched a while longer and then felt a familiar flutter of panic. The fear I have of familiar, cherished things changing. Childishly simple reference points.
I drive past the house often. Sometimes I barely noticed the writing, sometimes I thought that I really should stop and take a picture because it made me smile.
Sometimes it read like a warning, a reminder to guard against creeping complacency and to keep the promises made to our gentler selves.
“Time is limited. Your panic is real,” it seemed to shriek. ALARM! ALARM! ALARM! I will miss it.
I could imagine how the perpetrators had planned their vengeance over a too-long Christmas period