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Stogie Commentary: Common Discourtesy

30 Jul 2008

Not long ago I enjoyed a cigar with one of my best friends and his new wife in the backyard behind their house. Large, airy, and lushly landscaped, this is the sort of place I hope to own someday. Backyards are at a premium here in Los Angeles, and to me they’re more important than the houses built around them. They can be shared with friends and family, or they can be intensely private places of tranquil meditation and uninterrupted reflection. If people elsewhere around the world take such open space for granted, here we consider it sacred and inviolable—a small, but personal plot held fast against the encroachment of a sprawling, noisy, and land-hungry city.

This particular backyard was, as I’ve said, pretty big by LA standards. Unfortunately, the view was “fenced in” on the west side by a neighbor’s addition to her home—an ugly, three-story guest house with a window overlooking my friend’s entire yard. Nevermind the fact that building a three-story structure is illegal in this part of the city; what was particularly onerous about this building was its violation of my friend’s privacy. In shape, form, rule-flouting design, and hostile spirit, this building pretty much embodied the neighbor herself. She, a 70-something widow, was notoriously paranoid, litigious (again, ironic, given that her guest house was in clear violation of building codes), angry, and conniving. She was always around, never left her house, and never ran out of excuses to harass or even sue her various neighbors.

And on this particular day, as we smoked in peace, or so we thought, we’d noticed her popping up every now and then from behind the curtain in that watchtower window. She’d appear for a few seconds, glower at us, then disappear. Eventually she thrust open the window and started shouting at us. She demanded that we extinguish our cigars, as the smoke was “choking her to death.”

We complied, if only because she was old and because she was so lawsuit-happy; pressing the conflict just wasn’t worth the time and expense, even though my friend probably would have prevailed in court.

But part of me couldn’t help thinking that we were simply appeasing a madwoman. For one thing, there was basically no way that the smoke had drifted the 50-odd feet into the air, up toward her sealed window, and through it—an especially difficult feat given that the wind was blowing in a different direction. More likely than not, she had been spying on us and was simply looking to pick a fight, as is apparently her modus operandi. She and my friends hadn’t been getting along ever since they moved in next door, and this was one more complaint in her endless litany. She was bullying them, establishing dominance. If they didn’t challenge her this time, she probably figured, she could keep getting her way in the future.

The real question, however, is this: What would you have done in this situation? Have you been in such circumstances before? Does your neighbor have the right to complain about what goes on in the confines of your private property? And will such situations arise more frequently in the future, thus giving the anti-smoking lobby a proverbial invitation into our houses?

Jon N

photo credit: Flickr

17 Responses to “Stogie Commentary: Common Discourtesy”

  1. Ben Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 5:04 am #

    I agree with Patrick A on following the hosts lead. If it were my home though I would continue to smoke my cigar. There are things that neighbors can complain about on your property, barking dogs, hazards, etc. I don't believe that smoking, yet, is one of them and I'd be willing to see what her next move is. What can she do? Call the police? I hope they would laugh at her. Sue me? I can't see her proof of damages.

    As for your friend, I would recommend he plant a quick growing tree or hedge row in her line of sight quickly. Maybe a nice hop garden? They get to 20+ feet. Or perhaps he could follow your governors lead and setup a smoking tent, ha!

  2. Ben Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 5:06 am #

    On second thought, maybe I'd just move? =)

  3. Louis Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 6:19 am #

    I would have extinguished the cigars right away, pulled out my big Weber charcoal grill and then start grilling something that would create a lot of smoke and stink, even get my smoker going to start smoking some sausages!

  4. Bubba Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 6:23 am #

    Well, me being me, I'd most likely tell her to kindly pound sand..not is so many words however! I feel that my backyard is mine, I pay taxes like everyone else and I'll do what I want! If she doesnt like it she can move into one of the many senior citizen centers they have in America!!

  5. Marc E. Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 6:38 am #

    Hello fellow cigar nuts…well Jon, I also live in LA and like you, I prize a good backyard more than anything on a property. Just as it has already been commented above, if it was my friend's house and he/she had decided to stop smoking, then I would have complied. However, if it was my home and the idiot had started yelling at me, I would have simply replied that any more complaining about my cigar would lead to a home inspection of her property from the city. This particular lady is old, alone and obviously bitter about a life that has not yielded anything close to the dreams she may have had when she was younger…but even having said that, I would not care about her feelings since she obviously does not care about anyone else's…and most likely I’d call in a home inspection tip on her anyway just go get her to move.

  6. Mike G Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 6:43 am #

    This seems to be a problem that is becoming more prevalent in the country today. I am marveled at the sheer audacity of a person who believes they can shout orders from their "ivory tower" with impunity. Only when a person is so far removed from the truth may the notion become acceptable that the world will conform to your every desire, while your neighbors must be subject to your will. I find it almost as appalling that so many people will yield to such an oppressive personality.

    Maybe someone should notify the building inspector of the suspected code violations, or erect some sort of smoke barrier, such as a concrete wall along that side of the property, so you may adequately relieve her of any noxious fumes usurping on her airspace.

    Or perhaps she should just be ignored altogether. Usually cleaning the guns in the backyard would be enough to quell even the most inquiring of neighbors.

    What would I have done? I can honestly say that my retort would begin with a one finger salute, where it ended would be up to her.

  7. Lisette Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 7:34 am #

    My initial thought was that I would just ignore her. But it sounds like she is very lonely. Maybe I would invite her to my home for brunch. Try to find out a little more about this old woman. However, I would continue to smoke cigars in my backyard.

  8. Patrick A Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 9:52 am #

    Since I would be a guest in someone else’s backyard, I would have complied with my host’s wishes. If he wanted us to relocate our smoking, fine. If he wanted us to continue (and possibly give the hermit busybody the middle finger), fine.

    I have been in many of these situations before. Most recently, while smoking in a smoke-friendly bar in Vegas, I was asked to extinguish and didn’t. There are plenty of nonsmoking locales in that city, and I had intentionally chosen this gaming floor bar so I could puff away. I was yelled at and told I looked too young to be smoking (I’m 25) before she angrily cursed stormed off.

  9. Cigar Jack Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 10:08 am #

    Neighbors on both sides of my house are both smokes so I don't have to worry. 🙂

    Yeah following your hosts lead is best. It isn't your place.

    If it was my place she'd be getting a much different answer.

  10. MATT G Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 10:24 am #

    I would have explained to the woman that despite her protests we were not going to lay down our stogies, but she was more than welcome to join us for a drink and a cigar if she so desired.

    Maybe she was just lonely and a friendly gesture would have been appreciated. Either way we were going to enjoy our cigar.

  11. Kevin D. Korenthal Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 10:58 am #

    What would I have done?! What would I have done?!

    Oh man! First thing I would have done is insure that the cigars we were smoking were of the big smoke making variety. If they were not, I would have quickly lit more up. Then I would have been on the horn to every cigar and cigarette smoker I knew to invite them over to smoke and drink. Then I would have turned up the music and made sure our voices were nice and loud. To wrap things up, my very first apointment the next day would be to the building codes enforcement unit on the City of Los Angeles.

  12. Jon N. Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 6:18 pm #

    I tend to agree with most of you. Since it wasn't my place, I didn't feel I was within my right to protest. But had this been my house, she'd have gotten an earful. Could she sue me? Possibly. Could she prevail in court? I really doubt it. And hell yes, I'd use her code-violating building as leverage in any sort of disagreement with her. 🙂

    The bigger issue, however, is just how many of these proverbial little old ladies are out there, complaining about the smoke coming from their neighbors' houses. If even one of them brings a case to court, and that case gets media attention, it could be like blood in the water for the anti-smoking sharks.

  13. BubbaGene Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 10:57 pm #

    My knee-jerk reaction would be to drop my drawers and give a good display….., but obviously that would solve nothing. I think I'd ignore the old bat and practice my right to smoke in my own yard.

  14. kevink868 Thursday, July 31, 2008 at 9:35 am #

    The first thing that always pops into my mind in such situations is this: We encourage what we tolerate.

    I'm not usually one to take the most militant position on the spectrum, but private property is the whole deal here. If she doesn't like what's going on outside her window, she should stop looking. If she believes outdoor pollutants are entering her house, she should seal it up tighter. Or stop breathing. I vote for the latter.

  15. Harry Callahan Saturday, August 2, 2008 at 9:29 am #

    if it'd been pot you were smoking she would've never said a word. that's the kind of shift that's gone on in america. here in seattle you can barely smoke outside your apartment anymore and per the fda getting control of tobacco it's going to get a lot worse. we need to fight back against crones like this woman and all the others.

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