My condo neighbor yelled at me

He freaked out because I parked in "his" parking space

By Cary Tennis

Published October 2, 2009 7:04AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My partner and I just purchased a condo unit with no assigned parking spots. The previous owner told us not to park in the handicapped spots even for a minute (a no-brainer), but that was the only "issue" she mentioned.

Yesterday evening, an angry neighbor whom we'd never met knocked on our door, claiming he'd been trying to reach us for a month (we just moved in two weeks ago). He then went into a rant, saying, "I'm sure you've noticed that the same cars are in the same spaces every day."

Nope, we hadn't.

"The reason that spot you've been parking in is empty is because it's mine. I've been parking in that spot for 15 years, so I'm sure you can understand my frustration, etc., etc.," becoming more and more angry as he went on. We were speechless, and didn't engage in any argument or discussion. Needless to say, this little interaction left my partner and me quite shaken. We're not sure why he felt that attacking us about a problem we knew nothing about was appropriate. Perhaps he assumes because we are two younger females that we are renters.

We are feeling very conflicted. We don't want to interact with neighbors in general, and certainly don't want problems. But we also don't want to be bullied. We've been parking in three different spots in front of the building for the past two weeks, so we're unsure which spot he's referring to. Our understanding was that if a spot was open, we could park there (we only have one car). Especially since the condo documents clearly state that there are no assigned spaces. The spots aren't even numbered, nor do residents receive hang tags, and the previous owner didn't direct us to one spot as being "hers." Do you have any advice?

Without a Space

Dear Spaceless,

When you move into an apartment building or a condominium complex that has been inhabited for many years, you encounter certain creatures you have never before interacted with in their native habitat. These creatures may work in the same buildings and shop in the same stores as you do outside the habitat, but their interactions in public are far different from their interactions in what has become their fiercely protected homeland.

Many of these creatures have lived for years in a space no bigger than a typical suburban garage; their habits are sometimes nocturnal, and they grow fanatically protective of their small spaces and their habits. The trails they wear into the asphalt may be invisible to you at first, so you are apt to cross them, or block them unintentionally. When you do, you will observe their distress, which they show in a variety of ways. Sometimes they react immediately, with mild irritation; other times they stew and then erupt, as this creature did.

It is important to understand the importance they attach to their ability to proceed unimpeded along these invisible trails. For many, it is their only, and sadly shrunken, experience of liberty. When after many years such a trail is impeded or altered in some way, naturally they become aroused. Something has come into their world. They feel a threat. It is not conscious. It is visceral. They respond as any threatened creature would, with an attempt to root out and destroy, or at least frighten away, the source of the threat.

Thus the creature appears at your door, fluffing up its wings and barking or cawing or screeching in a harsh, grating tone intended to frighten and alarm. And indeed it does frighten and alarm, freezing its victim, who stands speechless, unable to respond, as if hypnotized. This is the point at which the creature, were it so inclined, might strike its victim a fatal blow and devour it right there on the doorstep of 109A, a two-bedroom beauty with pool view and recently modernized kitchen (marble countertops, Pfister faucets and Bosch appliances). But rarely do these creatures actually kill and devour their victims; in almost all cases, the intent is merely to assert territorial privilege and drive the intruder away.

How to live among such creatures?

Well, as time passes, if you continue to live quietly among them, you will cease to be viewed as an intruder, and will gain marginal status as a resident.

Meanwhile, you must become attuned to the many sounds and phenomena of this habitat, much as a camper or rural resident becomes attuned to the creatures of the forest. You hear the comings and goings of the creatures as they feed, mate, sleep and work to feather their nests. You learn what startles them, what peculiar likes and dislikes they display. And you learn to expect the unexpected: One day they appear at your doorstep in a rage; the next day they come bearing apple pie.

The reason for their apparent changeability is a fact we sometimes forget: While you and I live in a complex, ribbon-shaped river of contingency, of memory and consequence, such creatures as you are now among live in an ever-present now. While we will remember such frightening and infuriating encounters for months or years, and use such a single event to characterize the entire animal, to the animal, that was just another day in the forest. It will be forgotten.

So when we, after months of stewing about the injustice of that harrowing visit, finally determine to seek redress, and we appear at the creature's door with a carefully calculated algorithm describing all the possible permutations of parking behavior, including hours of work, weekend parking, the parking of guests of ours and guests of other neighbors, vendors, mattress deliveries, caterers and relatives, worked out painstakingly and printed in extra-large, easy-to-read characters, the creature's seeming indifference to our grievance or its proposed solution, his inability to recall exactly what the problem was, stokes our fury to an extent we formerly thought ourselves incapable of, and then it is we who stand screeching, wing-fluffing, barking, and raging in the doorway of a fellow condo dweller, now simply another creature whose habitat has been violated and whose safety feels threatened.

(You mention, as a possible explanation for this creature's behavior, that he may have mistaken you for renters. That is possible. In condoland, renters appear smaller and weaker than owners, and so are attacked with greater frequency. But in many habitats, renters have unseen allies who will come to their aid quickly. In San Francisco, for instance, renters appear small and powerless but in fact have great and powerful allies hidden in the trees, eager to swoop down at the first sound of distress.)

Thus life goes on, day to day, in the strange and savage world of condoland.

So my advice to you, to sum up and make explicit the metaphorical and somewhat fanciful speech foregoing, is to know that you have moved into an alien universe inhabited by creatures you have never before encountered. As explorers in a new land, your first duty of survival is to study these creatures and try to understand and predict their behavior. Clear your mind of expectations. See with new eyes. Hear with new ears. This is a new world.

It may help to keep a daily journal of the comings and goings of these creatures, and to speculate about the meanings they attach to various rituals; you may wonder why they purchase and trade the items they do, and what is the meaning of the chants they sometimes erupt in; you may note bellicose cheers coming from several apartments at once, and you may correlate these phenomena with the scheduled television broadcasts of National Football League games. Such observations will serve you well. Likewise, take note of your own slow adaptations to this life, how you yourself begin to mark certain territory as your own and regard with narrowed eyes anyone who trespasses on it. You may notice how you yourself have become hypervigilant about the noises you hear around the entrance to your habitat, how a rung doorbell down the hall or a shouted hello will, without your realizing it, register as either friend or foe, routine or deviant; note how your heartbeat and respiration respond accordingly. You, too, are a creature of the night in condoland.

As much as possible, maintain the routines of your previous life. Otherwise you may become overly attached to the rhythms, sounds and smells of the condo's plumbing, its denizens and its many regular and irregular visitors, until you too find yourself standing in the doorway of another creature's habitat, screeching and puffing in a murderous rage.

Welcome to condoland. Let us hope that its charms and utility outweight its strangeness and danger.

Living with others? Yep, there's stuff in here about that

Makes a great gift. Can be personalized for the giftee of your choice. Signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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