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  • Danielle Foushée

A Neighbor’s Scorn

The sun’s rays barely peeked over Sheep Hill this morning and I was already fired up.


I walk a lot — every day at least two miles, often more. On weekdays I’m usually strolling with my dogs around our retro 1970s neighborhood in Flagstaff, Arizona. As I walk by each house I wonder who lives inside and what their lives are like. I know who has dogs and who has kids, who likes gardening, who’s a veteran, and who goes camping.


I know my neighbors, even if I’ve never met them. They leave all kinds of things in their yards and driveways — and on the sidewalks. I step over their stuff, around it, and on top of it. My dogs sniff it and pee on it. Sometimes they try to eat it. Sometimes they succeed. This is why we usually walk in the streets and not on the sidewalks where we belong.


I try to imagine what people are thinking when they parallel park their vehicles on the sidewalk. I can’t. It isn’t like our streets are narrow. I should get out my tape measure. Because I’m sure four lanes of traffic would comfortably fit through the whole community. The people at one house insist on permanently storing their waste bin in the middle of the sidewalk. It makes no sense. Every morning, I wheel it, rattling, onto the street. I open the lid and drop in my dog’s poop bag. Every evening, someone wheels it back onto the sidewalk. This has been going on for weeks! I’m mildly entertained by the idea that our standoff could continue forever.


Early in the morning, I usually see my elderly friend shuffling around people’s miscellaneous junk with his limpy old dog. I wonder if anyone thinks it’s odd when they see entire families — with babies in strollers — walking down the middle of the road.


Today, I physically rolled each individual recycling bin off the sidewalk and onto the street. I considered it my service to the community.


When it comes to community, it’s hard to beat the earnest hipsters in Portland, Oregon, where I used to live. The metro area houses over two million people. Despite its size, there’s a small-town vibe in the city. Even if you don’t know a lot of people, it always feels like you could. Portland can evoke a feeling of the “old days” — when people grew their own food, stitched their own clothing, and made their own soap. People sit on porches and drink iced tea while waving cheerfully at passersby. Everything is cute. And nearly any day of the week you can find a community festival full of eager DIY’ers selling their crafty doodads and craft ciders.


It’s strange, then, when — inevitably — you find a handwritten, yet unsigned note on your front door, or maybe on the car windshield. You knew this was coming, but not when. You’re a terrible, horrible person — having committed one minor infraction or another. Maybe you parked in front of someone’s house, or too far from the curb, or too crooked. Perhaps the aroma from the fish you grilled last night wafted into someone’s open window. Or you forgot to grab your clothes from the laundromat — somebody was waiting for that dryer! It doesn’t matter; people have their issues. And they absolutely need you to know how inconvenienced they were. But don’t expect them to approach you directly.


Portland’s famous “passive aggressive notes” are well-documented in news articles and on social media. Locals acknowledge this custom with a hint of pride, lots of humor, and an exaggerated shrug: ”Whatever.” You will no doubt be educated on your carelessness. The message is always sardonic, and it usually comes wrapped in a playful, friendly veneer. Often the writer invests significant time and effort on the note’s design: words are drawn in varying sizes and weights, then filled in with colorful markers or crayons. Sometimes your offense is illustrated in painstaking detail. Will there be glitter? — Only if you’re lucky. When you finally receive one of these classic “passive aggressive notes,” you know you’ve become a true Portlander. And like many others who came before, you’ll probably snap a quick pic and share it with friends for a good laugh.


I live in Flagstaff now, but that won’t stop me. I’m getting my crafting supplies ready. It’s time to share a few neighborly reprimands here in Arizona, Portland-style.


© 2023 by Danielle Foushée