Love thy neighbor’s dog

The housing market in the Washington D.C. metro area has been booming, even though we are supposedly in a recession. Naturally, people upgrade to larger houses or just try to take advantage of the high prices and sell and move elsewhere.

My wife and I were dreading the fact that our good friends and neighbors of 8 years were moving to a larger house a couple of blocks away. We enjoyed their company and didn't want to have “new” neighbors that we would have to get to know all over again and perhaps even have to change our backyard living habits for (e.g., turning the stereo volume down, or not playing my guitar with the amp turned up all the way).

However, fate was kind in this case, and a nice young couple moved in with no kids, and so far we have had no complaints or problems.

My fear of the unknown with new neighbors began some twenty years ago when I lived in an apartment in San Mateo, California. We had just moved in to this very nice two bedroom apartment with what turned out to be very flimsy walls.

The first night, after having unpacked, and being exhausted I collapsed on the bed when I heard a Big Ben type of chime on the hour, every hour, in addition to another chime every 15 minutes. I was curious to see where this was coming from.

I placed an ear to the wall in different places and lo and behold, I found the source of the sound… it was a grandfather clock in the adjoining apartment. When the clock hit midnight, I counted 12 chimes, and realized this has got to stop or else I was going to experience “renter's remorse” real fast.

In the spirit of “love thy neighbor”, I waited until the next morning and went and knocked on the neighbor's door. An old lady answered and I introduced myself explaining the situation. Through the small door opening, I could see the giant grandfather clock standing right against my wall adjoining my bedroom, so I pointed to it and said that is what kept us up last night and if there was anyway to turn off the chime or turn it down in some way, we would really appreciate it.

She said she was the mother of one of the two guys living together (as a couple) and was just visiting, and that when she first used to visit, she couldn't sleep at night either due to the sound, but she got used to it after a while and we would too if we just gave it some time. She did add that she would give her son the message.

I thanked her, and left. But after another night of counting chimes, I realized I had to involve the management office. After speaking to the manager, she told me that as long as no one else is complaining there is nothing she can do, since by law, he can do whatever he wants within his four walls. She said for example, if his upstairs or downstairs neighbors also complained then she could take action.

As I was leaving her office, heading back to my apartment, I saw one of my new neighbor guys

checking his mailbox and heading to his apartment. I went up to him and introduced myself, explaining the situation that I had explained to his mom the day before.

But as he began hearing my complaint, he started walking faster and faster as if to get away and I was practically running behind him to catch up, losing my breath still trying to explain that his “Big Ben” was a big headache. We reached his apartment door.

“I have lived in this apartment for 15 years and you are the first person to complain about my clock!” he said

“That's because your previous neighbor which they took to a nursing home (that's how this apartment had become available for us to rent) had lost her hearing for the past 15 years,” I noted.

He slammed the door in my face.

My blood was boiling, especially since there was no place I could turn. I started thinking what the manager had said about needing other tenants to complain about the same problem before she could do anything. But chances of other neighbors complaining were slim since the clock wasn't adjacent to their bedroom walls.

As I was cursing this neighbor through my bedroom window, I noticed he had a very small, old dog, the kind you would name “Fifi” or something. I came up with a plan, with the dog as the main character. I decided to try and find a way to get the dog to bark every time the clock chimed so that other neighbors which couldn't hear the chimes, would at least hear the dog bark and then we could complain that the dog is disturbing the whole complex due to the chime. If this worked, perhaps we could get the uncooperative neighbor to cooperate.

In California, I used to work as a consultant for an environmental consulting firm. I had a colleague who had retired from NASA but was working again due to financial considerations, as an acoustic engineer. I went to him and asked if there was anyway I could get this dog to bark on cue? He said it's a long shot but yes. He told me to go buy a dog whistle, the ones you blow like a regular whistle, except human ears cannot hear the very high pitch. It could get dogs to howl or bark.

I went to a pet shop, bought the whistle, and rigged a cassette player so that the tape played in a continuous half-hour loop that kept repeating the same high pitch frequency every fifteen minutes to coincide with the chimes. I then placed the cassette player where I thought the dog would have the best chance of hearing it.

Another night passed, but the chimes continued and unfortunately the dog didn't bark. The next morning, to check and see if the whistle even worked, I saw the dog sleeping next to the window adjacent to my bedroom window and I started playing that whistle like I was Jean-Pierre Rampal on the flute.

The dog, which had been sleeping, moved his head a little, opened an eye, an ear twitched, but he fell back to sleep again. I realized the dog was like the previous tenant of our apartment, almost deaf and ready for the dog nursing home! I decided I would tell a “white lie” and complain to the manager anyway that the dog's barking keeps us up all night and that it must have something to do with the clock chimes.

I met with the manager and explained the situation, when to my amazement, she said, “Dog?”

I responded, “Yes, dog!” She said by regulation they were not supposed to have a dog without having paid a $500 deposit in case of damage by the dog. She would talk to the guy.

An hour later, I heard a commotion outside my bedroom window. It was the manager talking to a very angry and animated neighbor of mine. The neighbor was saying that it would be impossible for anyone to have heard his dog bark since his voice box had been removed many years ago due to an illness, and so the loudest sound the dog could make was a whimper (of course, I had no clue when I
made up my fib about his barking). The manager said what mattered to her was the deposit that should have been paid. She wanted it immediately.

One thing led to another, and the neighbor got so upset and insulted that they decided to move. The day he was moving, he saw me in the courtyard. I have never seen anyone look at me with such disgust and anger. I wrote it off as his own fault for being so stubborn and un-neighborly. I thought, forget “love thy neighbor” and good riddance!

A few weeks later, a young German couple replaced them as our new neighbors, and even though the walls were still as flimsy, and we could hear everything going on, especially late at night, for some reason, in the same spirit of “love thy neighbor” I wasn't bothered by my neighbors loving themselves a little every once in a while either.

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