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When rage lives next door…

October 28, 2010

Dear Erica,

A family lives a few houses down from me. I see the father all the time, out in front of our houses with his little girls. He’s always been friendly and pretty mild-mannered. Today I heard angry shouting going on outside my window … going on and on and on. Finally I looked out to see what was going on. He was screaming at another guy, for — as best as I could gather — talking on his cell phone while driving. I’m talking SCREAMING — in his face, angry, hostile yelling. The other guy appeared calm and quiet and seemed to be trying to deescalate it, but my neighbor kept going. Finally he went back inside his house — and a minute later was back out, repeating the same scene. Then back in again — and back out, to yell some more.

I mean, I understand that distracted drivers aren’t a good thing, but this reaction is over the top. I think this guy is crazy. Here’s my question: When you discover a previously sane-seeming person, who happens to live a few doors away, is in fact prone to out-of-control hostility, how do you handle them from that point forward? I don’t want to exchange pleasantries with this guy anymore. I want to shun him — both of personal disgust and for the principle of it. I feel like Miss Manners would probably say to be extremely cold but civil to him. What do you say?

– Really Afraid the Guy’s Explosive

Dear RAGE,

I’m sorry you are dealing with. Although my answer isn’t entirely rooted in etiquette and manners, and more some concerns about you dealing with someone who may be potentially unstable.

Definitely don’t shun him. Not because it’s not polite – but because it could be dangerous. This guy  may be off-balance. Do you really want to trigger a potential “what is this bitch’s problem?” reflex?

Cold, polite detachment sounds like a good possible course of action. Basically “Keep calm and carry on.” Continue on your normal day, say hi and nod if you see him in the yard, wave back if he waves at you, etc. Don’t hang out and ask for a cup of sugar, but don’t be an outright jerk. Just stay under the radar.

The above advice applies if the guy really is a nutter. But maybe it was just an off-day? Or maybe he saw that same person, talking on their cell phone almost hit one of his kid’s friends the other day.

If you are feeling REALLY generous (and safe), you could say something to him like “Hey, I saw you the other day. You seemed pretty upset. Is everything okay?” Maybe a little embarrassment will go a long way? Or, if it’s the first time that it’s happened and you’ve known him awhile – maybe he’d say something like “Wow. You know what? I was feeling crazy that day. I just got news that my grandma died and was out of sorts.” or something. Maybe there’s an explanation?

And on another note: those poor little girls. Having been partially raised by an insane father – it’s rough. I don’t want to say I speak from experience … but mood swings? Not so uncommon. If nothing else, it may be nice for the kids to know that a safe, friendly person lives just across the way.

Good luck and keep us updated.

Readers – have you encountered this? Any advice or suggestions?

  1. October 28, 2010 6:54 pm

    You are way nicer than me. I want to provoke him.

    Such a good point about his little girls though.

  2. October 29, 2010 1:09 pm

    I’m highly sensitive, especially to volatile people. I tend to avoid people like that. That’s just scary. I wonder if he’s like that with his wife and kids?

    I’ve lived with someone like that. No fun!

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