Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise! That’s one thing he hated! The NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! . . . the more the Grinch thought of the Who-Christmas-Sing. The more the Grinch thought, “I must stop this whole thing!”—Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957)
There once was a neighbor from hell. She hated kids. She hated dogs. And she hated parties. Not just late-night parties mind you. Midday mirth too. In the midst of our ten-year-old’s birthday party, she came storming down the fire escape, ranting and raving about how much noise the kids were making in the courtyard. Our guests, unaccustomed to her insanity, were shocked. The kids weren’t really making that much noise—but that’s besides the point: It was the middle of the day! The very same woman has already succeeded in getting two of my neighbors evicted. In both cases, she put so much pressure on their landlords that they eventually gave in to her demands and evicted them. We were sorry to see them go. And they were sorry to leave. These were good neighbors, and good friends. And they’re gone. Because of her.
In the summer of 2003, when our second son was less than a month old, I rented an air conditioner. Montreal was in the middle of an oppressive heat wave, and we just couldn’t take it anymore. Sleeping through the night with a newborn is never easy, but the heat and humidity made it virtually impossible. So I broke down and got the air conditioner. Within two hours of its installation, the condo was cool and crisp, and my exhausted wife and infant son were getting some much needed rest. It was so nice, so peaceful. Until someone started slamming on the front door.
Yes, you guessed it. It was her. She screamed and yelled and cried. Said this was totally unacceptable. Said the air conditioner made far too much noise. Said there was no way she’d be able to sleep at night. But couldn’t she just close the window at night? Nope. Why not? Because I need fresh air at night. But what if I bought you some earplugs? Nope. Why not? Because they’re uncomfortable. I must have pleaded with her for the better part of an hour. Told her the air conditioner was a rental. Told her it would be gone in a few weeks. Told her it was temporary. Told her that the sleep-deprivation was driving my wife crazy. Told her that my wife hadn’t slept in days. Told her the heat was getting to the baby too. Alas, she was unmoved. Those are your problems, John. Not mine. Besides, the condo agreement clearly stipulates that no one can have an air conditioner that sticks out of their window.
My wife and I checked up on this and discovered, much to our chagrin, that she was right. Still, we contacted all of the other neighbors to see if they’d be willing to make an exception. It was a temporary measure, after all. Everybody was sympathetic. Everybody said YES. But she refused to budge. And since she had the law on her side, she got her way. Just two days after its arrival, the air conditioner went back to the rental company. Bye, bye, $200; and bye, bye, home. We packed our bags and moved in with some relatives across town in Verdun. Stayed there for four days and four nights, whilst the heat wave ran its course.
Like the grinch in Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957), my neighbor is extremely sensitive to noise. If asked, she would no doubt say that this is the source of our conflict. But I disagree. I think her intolerance is the problem, not her hypersensitivity to noise. After all, she could buy earplugs. She could close her window. She could move to a quieter neighborhood. In truth, there are many things she could do—yet she adamantly refuses to do any of them. Instead, she stays here—in Plateau Mont-Royal, the most densely populated neighborhood in Canada—goes to sleep at nine every night, and refuses to compromise in any way—all the while expecting her neighbors to conform to all of her wishes . . . OR ELSE!
Dr. Seuss’s grinch manages to steal Christmas all by himself. Thankfully, this is something Plateau Mont-Royal’s grinches simply cannot do. They can’t steal our neighborhood on their own. They need the coercive power of the state (i.e., heavy fines, disruptive police interventions). Difficult people—people like my neighbor—are everywhere to be found. But there’s not that many of them. As such, the havoc they can wreak upon the social fabric is usually minimal, so long as you keep them away from the levers of power. But Plateau politicians have been pandering to people like my neighbor a great deal lately. In so doing, they’ve unwittingly given them the power to shape the character of our neighborhood. This is extremely unwise. Sort of like making Fredo Corleone head of the family business.
Clarence Darrow once quipped: “I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.” I felt something akin to this yesterday as I watched our neighbor’s moving truck pull away from the curb. She has endeavored to make our lives miserable for the past twelve years. But I’m happy to report that the Grinch’s reign of terror has come to an end.
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here: A Love Letter to Montréal (2018)