I’m visiting my in-laws in a small community in New England. The house across the road belongs to a family my in-laws haven’t gotten along with for many years. A few weeks ago, the family’s 50-something daughter brought a karaoke machine out to their front porch, and began singing. She hasn’t stopped. Her taste in music is blessedly benign—mellow rock songs from the ’70s, think Karen Carpenter, but the singing goes on for hours, day and night. This would be annoying, even if she were Karen Carpenter, but let’s just say, birds suddenly do not appear every time she is near. Given the history between the two families, we can’t figure out how to gently ask her to stop. —Needing Ear Plugs
I’m going to start with the last sentence in your letter, because I think it betrays your fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. The reason you can’t “figure out how to gently ask her to stop,” is because the time for such polite measures is long gone. This is a 50-year-old woman singing out-of-tune Carpenters songs on her front porch: That degree of passive aggression can’t be confronted with a mere “please” or “thank you.”
You said your in-laws haven’t gotten along with these neighbors for many years. What you’re caught up in is a good, old fashioned New England feud—kind of like the Hatfields and McCoys, but with judgmental side-eye instead of guns.
Your only recourse is to match small-town snub for small-town snub. Buy yourself the loudest lawn mower you can find, and fire it up every morning at dawn. Join the local pie making contest, and start a rumor that this neighbor uses pre-made crusts. If you really want to go nuclear, try to find something scandalous about her great-grandfather, like he briefly dated Jewish girls back in the 1890s.
This may take a while, but if you pile on enough backhanded attacks—all the while maintaining the pose of friendly neighbors—you may get her to turn the volume down by next year. ❏
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Jon Moskowitz is s a writer and editor who lives in New York City (and is the last person who should be giving other people advice).