From Etiquette to a Stakeout.

When I awoke Saturday morning, my dad had learned of the message I’d received the night before about playing a Christmas gig, and was anxious for me to call the guy back. I hadn’t yet decided if I wanted to take the job; I hadn’t even had breakfast yet.

“What’s to decide? It’s eighty dollars! I’d take it if I were you; what are you going to do around here? We’re going to the lot today, right?”

It’s hard to think when I’m not fully awake yet, and he was throwing a lot at me at once. I had promised to visit his lot and check out some littering and damage that had occurred. Earlier in the week before work, I got out of the shower early enough to hear him conversing with the owner of the warehouse next to his property. He was telling the guy about some “bed frames” lying in our lot as well as beer bottles, and a section of fence had been knocked over. He asked if the guy or any of his men had been responsible, then asked what day was a good day to help my mom move her old piano from my uncle’s house to our house. Without knowing the whole story, I got on his case a little bit about tact and phone etiquette, pointing out that it’s bad to accuse someone then ask for a favor. He defended the way he speaks, and pointed out that the guy promised to clean everything up and fix his fence.

On Saturday I was to go with him to see if the mess had been remedied, or learn the true extent of it. But his priority shifted to me returning the musician’s call as soon as possible to be polite. I looked up the town on the internet, and learned it would take nearly two hours to get to that part of New Jersey, and there would be tolls as well. It didn’t seem worth it, and I really didn’t like being asked at the last minute. My mom defended me, saying that it was rude for the guy to call around midnight two days before, but this particular musician does have eccentricities like that. It just doesn’t occur to him that it may be too late to call.

I called and left a message. My dad was satisfied that I was at least polite, at which point I suddenly became the mediator in a discussion of manners. Earlier in the week my folks went to a cocktail party and slideshow at the arboretum where my mom does volunteer work. They arrived early and got good seats, but my dad made her move further into the row rather than sit on the end, in case other people arrived after them. My mom couldn’t see, and had a worse view than my dad, and complained that he always thinks about other people first. It was an interesting dilemma. As Christians, we shouldn’t be selfish, and should move aside for others. Yet in doing so, my mom felt my dad was putting strangers before his wife. On the other hand, she could have told him she didn’t like her seat and at the very least, switched spots with him. Men aren’t mind readers, but women always expect us to be as intuitive and empathic as they are.

Still, after listening to both sides of the account, I decided that a slideshow is more like going to the movies rather than in church. Even in church, we only slide down when other people arrive, not ahead of time in case other people arrive. But in a movie theater, if you get there early enough to get a good seat, you earned it. You’ve staked a claim to prime real estate, and latecomers must climb over you. There’s no giving up the seat once you’re there. “Fine, I was wrong!” grumped my dad, shuffling out of the room.

The phone had not yet rang, so I headed off with my dad. He was still moping about the slideshow thing, pointing out that she should be happy he went at all. “That’s not my kind of thing, all rich people. I didn’t come from rich people; I have nothing to talk about. I’m just standing there while she’s talking about plants.” He was in a better mood once he had vocalized his silent suffering, and it lasted until we arrived at our destination. I couldn’t believe what I saw.

There were beer cans everywhere, but we had always found the occasional can or two over the years that someone threw over the fence. There had never been this many and worse, there were bottles of 40 ounce hard liquor as well as vodka and scotch. A black trash bag sat nestled amid our fig trees; we were afraid to check the contents. Pears at the base of our pear tree were squashed, and leaning against the back of our garage was a large metal frame, what I would describe as warehouse shelving, easily eight feet tall, four feet wide, and two feet deep. Across our property lay the frame’s twin, and before us a section of the wooden fence separating us from the warehouse was pushed over, nails sticking up, a makeshift ramp into mischief. This wasn’t one or two teenagers; clearly it had been a full blown party. I apologized to my dad for giving him a hard time earlier in the week. Even if the warehouse guy wasn’t responsible, the big heavy frames that he denied were his had to be dragged over from his property, possibly used as ladders before the fence gave way.

My dad was upset that everything was as he found it, after the guy promised he’d fix his fence and have someone clean things up. I told him the weather had been bad the last few days, and to give him a week. I’m off from work next Friday, so if the bottles are still there I said I’d help him clean things up. We had enough to worry about at home, making room for all the old photos, furniture, and other items my mom’s been rescuing from her old house, since my uncle would no longer have room for it all in his apartment and would otherwise throw it away. There are plenty of projects here to keep my dad busy and keep his mind off the other property.

It was off his mind, but not mine. Late Saturday night, when I still hadn’t heard from the other musician about the Jersey gig, I headed out with my camera, under the guise of shooting Christmas lights. It wasn’t a total lie, but I neglected to tell my parents that I was also heading to the lot, to see if I couldn’t catch our trespassers in the act. When I arrived, there was a car parked in front. Some kids climbed out, one carrying a dry cleaning bag. It wasn’t unusual; there’s an apartment building across the street from our yard. I drove around the block and things were quiet once more. I walked into the warehouse yard, and saw that the fence was still down. In the dark, I couldn’t see if anyone was back there, but there were no sounds.

I drove around some more, taking more Christmas photos and having only one encounter with a security guard at one site. I returned to our property an hour later, closer to midnight, and parked the car for a while. Three teenagers, two guys and a girl, walked by on the sidewalk at one point, a little tipsy, but continued past our property without stopping. Satisfied that nothing was going to happen, I returned home. There were still no messages, so I can only assume the musician found someone else to cover for him. Hopefully he doesn’t expect me to show up armed with only the name of a town and no idea how a band I’ve never played for will be dressing. I thought my dad was sleeping as I told my mom why it took me several hours to take pictures, but he suddenly started mumbling that I was crazy, and someone could have “knocked me over the head with a beer bottle”. My actual plan wasn’t a confrontation, since anyone who could consume that much liquor without dying would clearly be bigger than me. If I saw lights and heard voices, I would have just called the police on my cell phone.

The property is really becoming a burden for my father. I’m realizing his recent talk of selling it wasn’t just to help me buy a home for myself, but that he’s genuinely considering getting rid of it. I’m wary that the warehouse owner offered to buy it for a much lower price than it’s worth, and now drinking parties are spilling over from his property to ours. Earlier in the week I thought my dad was impolite on the phone, but now I’m suspicious of the whole situation. Meanwhile, in between patrols, I did get some good practice shooting at night. Maybe there will be photos later this week.

In closing, I’ll open up the earlier etiquette question to everyone. What is the proper thing to do in a public venue when there aren’t assigned seats? Do you sit where you want and never move? Do you sit where you want but move aside to make room for others? Or do you leave the best seats for others automatically, as my dad did? Was my mom being inconsiderate of others, or was my dad being inconsiderate of her? If I don’t get knocked in the head with a beer bottle, I may someday need to know how to behave in such a situation when I’m married.


Blogger TheWriteJerry said...

1) In today's day age, you were crazy to stakeout the property. That's how people end up dead.

2) Your mom was right. Those who are early get to defend their seat.

12/03/2006 5:36 AM  
Blogger Otis said...

I was raised to give up your seat to women or the elderly when all other seats were full. I do agree that you get to defend your seat if other seating is available.

In theatres, I hate people who place their coats in a chair beside them. It's not a big deal if its not crowded, but theatres always seem to be crowded when I go.

I agree with thewritejerry. Don't put yourself in a situation where something bad can happen. Going anywhere by yourself at that hour is a mistake.

12/03/2006 12:05 PM  
Blogger Lorna said...

when I go to movies, or theatre or dance, I choose my seat very carefully, because I'm short. i only move if some tall person sits in front me. since there are few adults shorter than me, that never seems to affect anyone, and it works fine. Dave goes where I go.

12/03/2006 5:13 PM  
Blogger b13 said...

My father (an old Italian like yours) was the same way. He always put strangers ahead of family. I catch myself doing the same sometimes.

Let me know when the next stakeout is. I'll bring my night-vision goggles and my tripod. As well as my cell.

12/03/2006 8:22 PM  
Blogger Rey said...

1) If you're gonna do a stake out you need a real telephoto lens and a mini-tripod to hold the cam steady in your car. Doing it with a 10x zoom on a point and shoot is not your best scenario (although with that cam I'm sure it came out nice). Also you might need a gun (with license).

2) It's tough, as a Christian we're to think of Others before ourselves but we're also to lay down our lives for our wives—in other words do the most possible for her since she is your closest Other. So I guess that would mean that in that public situation you get there earlier for her and also get the best seat in the house for her but it would also mean that if someone comes along liking your seat, you get up and sit at the feet of your wife or stand off to the side.

True Christianity always consists of the hardest road.

12/05/2006 10:43 AM  

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