Barbarella
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The tendency to whining and complaining may be taken as the surest sign of little souls and inferior intellects. — Lord Jeffrey

I struggled to maintain a deadpan expression, using what was left of my energy to fight the impulse to break into a full-blown guffaw followed by a rolling of my eyes that would take my entire head along for the ride. You have to be cordial, said a calm, firm voice in my head. But how can I when this is so unbelievably asinine? answered another, in the high pitch of a tired child. Before my inner adult could quibble back, both voices were silenced by a wail that originated from outside of my skull: “So? What are you going to do about this important issue?” (I learned long ago that every issue at a homeowner’s association meeting is “important.”)

“What would you have me do,” I answered, “stand on the corner all day and night and reprimand people who don’t pick up after their dogs?” Careful, the calm voice in my head returned to warn, don’t say anything you might regr — “You live in a city, you deal with assholes. Our management company is not responsible for policing random acts of inconsideration, and, personally, I don’t have time to deal with this shit — no pun intended. Next?”

An older man, a nice guy whose face I knew but whose name escaped me, raised his hand slowly. I nodded for him to go ahead while suppressing a knowing sigh: he had come to the last two meetings to complain about some mystery noise that keeps him up at night. I listened to this third recitation of his grievance and proffered the same answer I’d given him twice before, my tone imbued with the patience and understanding his innocent elderliness elicits in me.

“I’m sorry you are suffering from this nuisance, but in order to help you, I need to know where the noise is coming from. I can’t send a violation notice to every unit that is adjacent to yours.” I suggested, as I had in the past, that he try introducing himself to his neighbors and politely inquire as to the source of the sound. “When it comes to noise complaints, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt — always try to resolve the issue in person. It promotes communal courtesy. You never know,” I said, with more optimism than I felt, “whoever it is might not be aware of the problem.”

It was David who insisted I volunteer to be on the board of our homeowners’ association. “You’re the people person,” he’d said. It was our first home (still is), and we wanted to protect our investment by getting involved in the implementation of everything, as the building was brand spanking new. That was four years ago.

“I’m not sure I’m up for doing it again,” I said as we walked home from the last meeting.

“When is the annual election?”

“Next month,” I answered. “I’m just so jaded. The stupid complaints, and most of them are so stupid. The imprudent suggestions, like requiring all guests be approved and identified in advance, or shutting down one of the elevators to decrease our carbon footprint. Like I’m going to check with someone every time my dad wants to visit? And you want to decrease your carbon footprint? How ’bout you don’t drive that SUV or have that kid.”

“They’re not all bad,” David said, and he had a point. There are the shining examples, the handful of involved homeowners, the ones I consider “good neighbors” — considerate, helpful, sensible. For them, I didn’t mind the many hours spent mediating on a variety of issues, working out the budget, monitoring the emails, choosing high-quality-but-low-cost vendors, running meetings, and all the other responsibilities that come with the unpaid gig. What I minded were the incessant complaints.

Some people seem to regard kvetching as a hobby. For example, one guy has fussed about noise in the neighborhood from day one. I once suggested to him that perhaps a building constructed in the city between a few prominent nightclubs isn’t the best choice of residence for a seeker of peace and quiet. In response to my reasonable observation, which I’d communicated politely in an attempt to offer perspective, I received an onslaught of threats. I quote, from one such email: “...it would prove to be very disadvantageous for this building’s reputation, if for example a news story in the local media were developed explaining the disappointment of moving into a new, upscale and expensive condominium only to find it was so poorly managed and where anything goes.” He accused me of not doing my job, an interesting prospect when one considers the job of a board member is to decide where association funds are allocated and to enforce the rules and regulations as set forth in the building’s governing documents, not to stand outside the club and hush bar patrons. I’m not sure what sparked his next statement, but it made me chuckle: “Let me assure you, you do NOT want to get into a pissing match with me.” He went on to say something about how I’d better look for good counsel, yada, yada, yada. None of this concerned me, as the more blustery browbeaters rarely follow through on their threats, and when it comes to “pissing,” I’m confident in both my distance and accuracy.

Four years later, the same person continues to bellyache about noise in the neighborhood and most recently has threatened to write a letter to the editor of the Union-Tribune in a supposed bid to drive down property values. When I saw this latest gripe/threat, I sighed, shook my head, and thought, Really? This is how you want to spend your time? Moving to a condo in the middle of a city and complaining about noise is like waltzing into Chuck E. Cheese and demanding the manager ban children.

I realize complaints are part of the territory — how else would I be able to enforce our rules if I were not notified of those who break them? It’s the endless nitpicking over petty issues that I have no surefire way of preventing that I find exasperating (e.g., skateboarders in the alley, theft in a parking garage, a particularly hot day outside).

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Comments

Barbarella Fokos Sept. 9, 2009 @ 1:17 p.m.

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magicsfive Sept. 9, 2009 @ 3:28 p.m.

good for you, barb :) "...and when it comes to “pissing,” I’m confident in both my distance and accuracy." LMMFAO that was too funny!!!!!!!

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Kansaskid Sept. 9, 2009 @ 3:39 p.m.

Who is Lord Jeffery that I may pay him homage?

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Barbarella Fokos Sept. 9, 2009 @ 3:43 p.m.

Happy you liked that, Magics. Did I mention my annual HOA meeting is tonight? Should be fun. ;)

Kansaskid, some more info on the Lord: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_...

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magicsfive Sept. 9, 2009 @ 3:58 p.m.

can you get the meeting on video? i would love to hear some of these complaints lol j/k :)

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SDaniels Sept. 9, 2009 @ 4:01 p.m.

I am a renter, so am not on my condo's HOA board, but I hear the horror stories and loud angry voices from the meeting room, and we benefit daily from their poor choices in property management services (and lack thereof).

We regretfully quit the community vegetable garden (land owned by the Port of SD) for many of the same reasons; though we were able to patiently trap feral cats and get them medical care, and did garbage and garden cleanup duty, we still received several citations for the presence of a couple of weeds on our plot from a council of petty tyrants and habitual, smallminded complainers who have no interest in working with the group, and do not appreciate the hard work put in by others. If you are an honest person with some listening skills, and try to work in true democratic fashion, they may walk all over you.

If you become head of the board, it's probably best to keep a separate phone line just to deal with its business :)

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Barbarella Fokos Sept. 9, 2009 @ 4:05 p.m.

Oh, SDaniels, I don't give out my number, at least not to the irritants.

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SDaniels Sept. 9, 2009 @ 4:10 p.m.

Of course not :) Good luck with the meeting!

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Barbarella Fokos Sept. 9, 2009 @ 4:14 p.m.

Magics, not sure I'd want that kind of footage. It's rough enough to sit through it the first time around. ;) SDaniels, well put! "a council of petty tyrants and habitual, smallminded complainers who have no interest in working with the group, and do not appreciate the hard work put in by others."

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sarahlayne Sept. 9, 2009 @ 8:11 p.m.

while I totally agree with 99% of your comments (I can't bear to sit though my HOA meetings anymore because of all the complaining), I wonder how "theft in a parking garage" is a petty complaint?

we have thousands of dollars of items stolen from out storage cage in our parking garage because of a security failure, so I am a little sensitive about this!

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PistolPete Sept. 9, 2009 @ 8:25 p.m.

Damn Barbarella....I have a newfound respect for you. I haven't exactly given up on your column because of this weeks installment. If you get tired of the whiners,let me know. I'll get drunk and hang around their condos till I have to elude the civilian murderers(police). It would be a fitting punishment. Tell them you know a redneck from Chicago you'll feed beer to if they don't shut the f*** up.

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antigeekess Sept. 9, 2009 @ 8:58 p.m.

I agree. The "pissing" comment was, well...

Golden.

:)

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Barbarella Fokos Sept. 9, 2009 @ 10:02 p.m.

Sarah, you raise a good point. I should have been more careful with my punctuation, as that wasn't a petty complaint, as much as it was one of those things that is beyond my control. Aside from installing security cameras (which I have done), there is not much I can do about a theft of someone's car, especially with no sign of a break-in (which means it was most likely someone from within the building, or someone who was allowed into the building by someone who lives here). Theft is one of those things that has to be followed up with the police, and sometimes people expect the board to act in the same capacity as the police. I hope this sheds some further light on what I meant.

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MsGrant Sept. 10, 2009 @ 10:18 a.m.

I have to give you credit for being so involved in your HOA. I sat jury duty once - for a homeowner's association meeting that got out of hand. One of the homeowner's attacked the HOA president and he pressed charges. They selected me based on my use of a word they liked. They asked me what I knew about HOA meetings. My response was "they can get heated, at best".

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CuddleFish Sept. 10, 2009 @ 12:35 p.m.

Damn, Babs, that's a pretty ugly post, if reported correctly.

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SDaniels Sept. 10, 2009 @ 12:50 p.m.

Yay! MsGrant's back :) So can you tell us--what was the word you used?

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MsGrant Sept. 10, 2009 @ 3:18 p.m.

The word was "heated". They felt it best described an emotion somewhere between rational calm and the eventual fistacuffs.

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SomeoneElse Sept. 10, 2009 @ 8:20 p.m.

Having received requests for police to respond to neighbors arguing over one putting their trash can 1/2 ft over the other's property line, complaints like this do not surprise me. It's sad that we call people adults when they qualify in age only.

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Barbarella Fokos Sept. 14, 2009 @ 1:35 p.m.

The latest from my building's psychotic complainer, Mr. "pissing match," in an email to management: "I ought to have known that THAT WOMAN who only has one name was behind this crap! This is the woman who threatened to call the police on me for harassment because I dared to write civilly constructed email complaints to her - AN ELECTED OFFICIAL who apparently wanted such responsibility. Then she has the audicity [SIC] to say hello to me in an elevator? This is pure CRAP."

See, people? I'm not making this s*** up. ;)

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PistolPete Sept. 14, 2009 @ 2:38 p.m.

You're an elected official? O_o Barbarella 4 prezident!

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Josh Board Sept. 14, 2009 @ 3:12 p.m.

Barb...is there a way you can explain to this guy, with very insane examples, why his complaints weren't followed up on? He obviously didn't get the fact that HE needs to find out where the noise is coming from, for anything to be done about it. So, you could say to him, "What if you hear a motorcycle ride by, and you write me a complaint about cars with loud stereos and loud Harleys driving by at night. And then you wonder why I'm not doing anything about it, or why I'm not on the street monitoring cars." Just keep walking him thru those types of examples, until he realizes that you guys can only do so much.

I would also explain to him, that having a disagreement with someone on a matter involving things like this, should hardly mean you'll be rude to each other in elevators or anywhere else you see each other, as that would be like 3rd graders not speaking to each other on the playground. Then ask him, "Would you prefer that when you ask us a question or file a complaint, we then just start ignoring you any time we see you? I don't feel that's how mature adults need to act."

And hopefully, talking down to him (and at the same time explaining that to him), should drive the points home. If not, f*** him, and don't say hi to him. And don't hold those elevator doors when they're shutting!!!!

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Barbarella Fokos Sept. 14, 2009 @ 3:22 p.m.

Josh, I could hire you for mediating. All good advice, though I prefer not to waste any more time explaining the obvious to someone who seems incapable of understanding it. I continue to smile at everyone I see in passing, even this guy, who apparently perceives my civility as antagonism. Hence my general misanthropy today.

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Joe Poutous Sept. 14, 2009 @ 4:08 p.m.

NOTICE: All tenant disagreements from this date forward will be resolved by means of competitive tequila drinking. The last tenant to fall out of their chair is the victor.

All decisions made via this "mediation" are final.

THE MANAGEMENT

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SDaniels Sept. 14, 2009 @ 4:16 p.m.

Any vacancies in your building, tiki? :)

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Joe Poutous Sept. 15, 2009 @ 5:53 a.m.

SD - you would just start trouble on purpose.

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SDaniels Sept. 15, 2009 @ 4:59 p.m.

Ah, but the kind of trouble I start is delicious! (Especially with lime :)

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