Tuesday, February 05, 2008

How to Influence People While Also Losing Friends Left and Right

On my door this week was a typed note from the building manager that began, “I find myself in an uncomfortable position.” I was marveling at the courteous tone when I realized it was something all tenants had received, hence the lack of open vitriol.

Here’s the rest:

“The building owners and I have received complaints from one tenant and we feel we are being pushed into making some rules which we really do not fully support. In the effort to get the complaints from one to stop, we are being pushed into altering rules for everyone. This is not a comfortable or enviable position to be in. So to all of those who this may negatively affect, please accept our apology.

“If you will be BBQ’ing please do so only in the backyard and near the hoses in case anything gets out of control. Although it is not illegal to use lighter fluid to start a BBQ, please refrain from using it as we have a tenant who is sensitive to the smell of it. Also, it is not illegal to smoke cigarettes in the garden, but please refrain from doing so as the same tenant opposes this as well. I also will no longer be allowed to use my fire pit as a wood burning fire pit, which was a real source of fun for me and my guests.

“We trust that this will satisfy the tenant who wants this put out in writing. The owners and I have made special accommodations for this person in the past, which we feel go unappreciated as the complaints continue. We hope this will finally put an end to the complaints regarding these issues and hopefully will curtail future ones. We find it unreasonable that everyone must alter their behavior to accommodate one, and for this again we apologize to all of those who make an effort to coexist peacefully in the building.”

As you can imagine, I was tremendously pleased to be even indirectly identified as the one person in the building smart enough to have figured out that having an apartment full of lighter fluid fumes is not a good thing, although in truth, Tom has also said that, with his allergies, he would just as soon people wouldn’t smoke in the back yard, and I have in my files a note from my neighbor across the hall expressing dismay about the cigarette smoke produced by her upstairs neighbor.

Also, for the record, I have said nothing about fire pits; I didn’t know we had one. We do have a fountain. Perhaps this has been repurposed as a fire pit.

However, writing to “clarify” would only be about having the last word, or to try to convince the landlord and building manager that I’m not 100 percent evil, obviously impossible at this point.

It’s like getting a note that says, “Because ONE TENANT keeps complaining, we’re going to have to stop murdering homeless people in the garage. Yes, if you can believe it, ONE TENANT, with her endless complaining, has now made it so that NO ONE can murder homeless persons in the garage. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.”

Going too far to liken secondhand smoke to murder? Not in Northern California. (Well, maybe just a tad.)

When I was visiting Michigan in November, I went along on my father’s monthly lunch with his high school classmates and was astonished to see people smoking in the restaurant. “Those people are smoking,” I whispered to my father. “Should we call the police?”

At least in these parts, the era in which one person can flood another with secondhand smoke is over, and landlords are not uncommonly sued these days for failing to protect tenants from fumes and smoke, so directing tenants not to produce fumes in problematic areas seems merely prudent.

However, in all this wrangling over the amazing amount of smoke I’ve encountered in our nominally non-smoking building, I have never once let the word “lawsuit” escape my lips. It is my understanding that neither party ever feels happy after legal action, and so my goal has been to succeed by other means. Thus I consider that note a victory and I don’t care if it was worded to try to make me feel bad.

One doesn’t have to take offense even if the other party is working her fingers to the bone to GIVE offense.

During the recent rains, my beloved 25-year-old Columbia yellow rubber rain jacket sprang some undeniable leaks. Not two weeks ago, a woman in Chinatown asked me, with a gleam in her eye, where I’d gotten it. She knew an excellent rain jacket when she saw one.

I went online to see if Columbia offers something similar these days, and they do, but not in yellow in my desired size of men’s XXL. The old one is an XL and was no longer quite as baggy as preferred.

So I called them and they said, “Sure, we have those.” They directed me to a store called Shyda’s in Pennsylvania, and, sure enough, they said they’d send me one. Score!

1 comment:

lisajean1015 said...

When I got to the end of your reprint of the building manager's letter, my blood was boiling. I was furious that she had tried to make you look like a big unreasonable meanie for asking that people living in a shared dwelling follow some practices of common courtesy that would protect the health and safety of everyone in the building. And what is this "ONE TENANT" bullshit? If your alternative is to move out of the city and buy your own property far away from anyone else and change your whole life, and the other people's alternative is to change a few optional and intermittent behaviors, does that justify your building manager's advocating the tyrrany of the majority? Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!

Then I read, "As you can imagine, I was tremendously pleased..." and I howled with laughter and relief. Bless you, thank you, for showing us a different way to see the situation. I hope she looks as ridiculous to the other tenants as she does to you, and to me.