Following on from the post about “dying to the neighbour”, I want to share one of my failures to die to the neighbour that happened a little while ago. Like most people, I have many of these failures each week. What made this one unusual is that I saw it clearly.
I work from home about half the week, and my office window looks on to the path leading to the communal front door of the apartment block. Because of the style of the block, visitors sometimes think they’re coming to a large house, and they knock on the communal front door instead of just pushing it open and finding the apartment they want.
Because of my window I see when people are making this mistake, and even though they’re not visiting me, I have to go out and open the door for them. Often I get resentful and say things to myself like, “Who am I? The bloody concierge!”
Which is all BS. Most of the time, I’ll be feeling bored or thinking some company would be nice, and then someone turns up, and suddenly, it’s as if my life depends on not being disturbed. And I’ll get up, and with a lot of sighing, let them in.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk when I saw a young man in his early 20s walking up the path. “Oh huh, here we go,” I say to myself, “I bet he’ll make the same mistake.” Sure enough, I saw him knock at the communal door.
I got up and went to the door, and he immediately started his spiel about a special discount offer on car servicing at the local tyre shop.
“$399 value for just $79,” he said.
“All you have to do is give me your name and contact details like this person did,” he said, smiling, pointing to some writing on his clipboard, “and you can take advantage of the offer.”
“Ah,” I thought, “so not only do I have to answer the communal door, now he’s trying to trap me into getting on to somebody’s mailing list.” And who I was in the brief conversation that followed is all there in that thought: ungracious, suspicious, offputting, unwelcoming.
At a certain point in the conversation, I started to see how difficult I was making it for him. I saw him shrinking and his body turn slightly sideways as he valiantly pushed on. I saw his fear and still I didn’t get off my high horse. I “relented” by pulling the door wide open and explaining there were several other residents he could speak to; but I still held on to my ungraciousness.
I went back to my apartment, and a few minutes later, I saw him leaving the building, obviously having had no success contacting any other residents.
A few days went past, and every so often, the man’s image popped into my head. A few more days went past, and I could see that slight movement of his body in fear and rejection. I realised I had to clean it up.
I couldn’t remember the name of the tyre shop he was representing, only the suburb, but after a few calls and some persuasion, I got the email address of the market research company doing the canvassing. I sent an email describing the man and apologising for my attitude, and requested it be forwarded to him.
Two minutes after I sent the email, the manager of the market research company phoned.
“I guess you got my mail”, I said.
“Yes, I did. Nothing like this has ever happened before! Tell me, did you notice the guy’s shoes? Because I’ve got two skinny guys with British accents working for me and I don’t know which one it is!”
We had a good laugh and got excited, the manager and me. She thought it was funny, and also good fun trying to imagine which of her employees it was. She also understood it was serious, and I knew I could trust her to deliver my message as it was intended. She got my regret at my inhospitability and failure to respond to the young man’s courage and politeness.
“It takes courage to go and knock on someone’s door, and I made his job difficult,” I said.
About a week later, another man came to the door. This time I was ready. I whipped open the door with a smile. For my pains, I found a very beautiful young French man wanting to give me something (!).
Image: Detail from The Critic, collage by Arthur Dove, 1925