Dear Gentle Butch,
I live in a duplex and the upstairs neighbor had a new roommate move in a few months back. She’s apparently told my husband that she likes to “celebrate all the holidays at once!” which sounds whimsical and charming until the rotting pumpkins… now those were finally disposed of, but there are still wispy cottony cobwebs mingling with dried-out, brown boughs of evergreen going up the railing on their outdoor stairs (in the front of the house) to the wooden eaves/ their wood doorway. We live on a busy street and people walking by often toss paper garbage and cigarette butts into our yard. So it’s not only an eyesore, but also a fire hazard.
The wooden house is over a hundred years old, probably poorly wired, definitely poorly maintained, and I live in California where every year areas around us burn and we can’t breathe properly for weeks. I’m totally paranoid about the fire risks, but I also know my neighbors annoy me more than is perhaps kind (they’re loud and party a lot, but I only complain to my friends, not to the neighbors, because I understand that living in a city means hearing other people’s lives up close).
Is it unreasonable to send the following to them? If they refuse to take them down, do I mention it to the landlord? I really don’t want to start a war, and would like to get along, but I have an anxiety disorder and hate the worrying.
“Just wanted to know if y’all wanted some help taking down the old holiday decorations? I’m getting very paranoid about the fire hazard of brittle dried branches and wispy cobwebs leading up to our very old, non-fireproof house? It’s also a bit of an eyesore now that the branches are all brown…”
Thanks in advance!
Paranoid About Burning Down
First, sorry/not sorry for the image that I’ve chosen for this letter. I know you have anxiety. But I wanted to help you keep laser focus on what is at stake here: YOUR HOME BURNING TO THE GROUND.
As I read this, until I saw the part about your anxiety disorder, I found myself wondering: why is this letter writer concerned with whether or not she pisses off her neighbors who clearly give no fucks about whether or not they are pissing HER off?
They party loudly. They leave out rotting gourds. They have festooned the front of the duplex with not only cotton but also dry evergreen.
You want to know my favorite way to start a fire when I’m camping? Dry evergreen. It’s the best fire starter there is because dry evergreen is FILLED WITH EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE SAP.
It goes up like, well, a Christmas tree.
Are you in counseling for your anxiety disorder? Because if not, I think you should be. You seem to be attributing your very reasonable fear of fire to your ‘paranoia’ and your dislike of the neighbors instead of the fact that they appear intent on actually burning down your house. A good therapist would, I think, help you to understand your anxiety and self doubt while also trusting your own instincts about cut-and-dry (very very very dry) situations like this.
I am not trying to yell at you or shame you; one of the symptoms of anxiety is second-guessing your every move and suspecting yourself of having bad motivations (like disliking the neighbors for other reasons). But blaming your own mental health issues for other people’s extremely dangerous and thoughtless actions is something that right now is literally putting your home and life in danger, because you have hesitated to even bring this up with anyone.
Before you go get therapized, though, for the love of all that is holy and unholy call your landlord immediately and tell them about the horrible fire hazard your neighbors have created.
(Say nothing about it being an ‘eyesore;’ neohippies who think they are whimsical and adorable for basically leaving a bunch of crap all over the place are going to fixate on the ‘eyesore’ bit to the exclusion of safety. That’s the sort of wording that might cause them to feel warlike and self-righteous about this, and the sort of wording a lazy landlord might also use to dismiss your concerns and take no action.)
Your landlord is responsible for the safety of the building. Skip the middleman, especially if you have anxiety and struggle with conflict. This is not only a fire hazard, but also a huge liability issue for them. Call the landlord, and if they don’t respond quickly enough, the fire marshall.
This is serious. This is not your ‘paranoia.’ You are absolutely 100% right about this.
I know I’m asking you to do something that will really ramp up your anxiety, by the way. We the anxious feel that sticking up for ourselves is somehow a bad and dangerous thing to do.
But in this case, the opposite is true. Pop a Zanax, some weed (at least 800 feet from your building FFS) or have a drink; take a deep breath, pick up the phone, and call. It will feel absolutely horrible. But you feel absolutely horrible with this fire hazard hanging literally over your head already, and in the long run this will help.
One anxious person to another: I believe in you! You can do the thing!
Now do it. Maybe even before you finish reading this letter.