5/9/13

Howdy, Neighbor . . .

We joke that this guy"looks like" a criminal yet . . . for over
a decade no one actually saw it in his face or actions.
A news story you might (sarcasm) have heard about is the escape/freeing of three women and a young girl in Cleveland, Ohio that have been held captive (and presumably horribly abused more than just mentally) for over a decade. We hear this story and we immediately have a reaction of "how the h-e-double hockey sticks does this happen"? And yet it does. All the time.

Not this exact situation but ones not that dissimilar. People held captive. People abused. People misused. Women. Children. Men (why not - it happens). People plotting and preparing and carrying out horrible crimes. And in every one of these situations, when the news crews show up (and they ALWAYS do) they talk to the neighbors and they hear the same thing . . . "they seemed like a regular person" or "you could knock me over with a feather to hear this" or "he was always so nice to me" or "if I had known, I would have done something."

Let's recount a few things as relates to this Cleveland situation (note - some of this may be fact, some fiction, and some in the middle) . . . Ariel Castro would regularly attend neighborhood barbecues and was a "nice guy" while there. Neighbors saw and reported women in leashes in the back yard of Catro's house and police were called, went to the house and never went inside (I heard this on the radio but I've also heard accounts that the women were only outside a total of two times in a decade so I'm not sure which is true - or more sad). Castro attended vigils and search parties for at least one of the women he held captive. Former neighbors have repeated hearing knocking from the windows and home. The windows are almost entirely covered/boarded up/nailed shut on the house. Castro was seen as a "good guy" that would "help people out" yet he was brutally abusing and raping women, chained in the basement and second floor of his home for over a decade. Which is it?

I don't blame the neighbors. Really, I don't. Sociopaths are who they are for a reason. But I have to say this . . . animals like this guy would have had a much, much harder time doing this (especially for this long) 30 years ago. We KNEW our neighbors once upon a time. We went IN their homes. We BORROWED and LENT things. We DINED with them. We HUNG OUT with them. We watched out for each other's kids. Collected the mail while the other vacationed. We paid attention and we weren't (as) afraid to say something when weird stuff was going on next door. I read a fantastic book on this phenomenon called Bowling Alone a long, long time ago.

I know, I know. It is "impolite" to involve yourself in your neighbor's life and business and home. It is "rude" to ask questions or raise issues. It is "wrong" to think there may be a criminal in the neighborhood. It is "presumptive" to think that someone next door may be verbally, physically, mentally, sexually, or all-of-the-above abusive to their own family. It is "best" to mind your own business and be glad your home is not part of these horrible activities and that you and your family are safe.

No. It is not. I'm not saying you have to bust your neighbor's balls every time the lawn gets beyond four inches. You don't need to watch the lingerie dry on the clothesline. You don't need to call the cops every time you hear a noise. I would not encourage you to intervene on behalf of your fence-sharers every time you think you have something to add. That is not going to help either (none of that crap happened all the time 30 years ago either). But if you don't at least know your neighbors by face (name is way, way better) and if you don't know their approximate activities and if you don't get a generally "good" vibe from them you should pay at least enough more attention to put the unease to rest or to verify you have something to worry about.

In the last 72 hours, I've confronted teen aged boys throwing/breaking glass bottles in the vacant lot across the street from my apartment (including watching them pick up the pieces with their bare hands and carrying the shards a full block before they found a trash can) and I've tracked down the landlord of the slum house next door to me filled with dirty 20s hipster hippies and their bad, foul smelling pot. No. I'm not a grumpy old man insisting people stay off my lawn . . . I'm a middle-aged man and father that wants a neighborhood free of broken glass and sticks and seeds filling the air. Conversely - if my neighbors needed help with something or if those boys had fallen down and gotten hurt - I would quickly/readily help all of them out. Our neighborhoods are our responsibility.

It is simple, people. Let's all step a little out of our own heads. Put the smart phones away for a second. Exchange a "hello" - maybe even help carry the groceries to the house for the older woman next door (with no alternate agenda, ya' pervs). It is not a sacrifice. It is the right thing to do.

Would these women who've endured horrible quality of life have been discovered sooner? We'll never know. And that is the point.