is it worth confessing your innocence to someone who is prone to writing you condeming letters?
January 20, 2010 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I received a not very nice letter from my neighbor. Is it worth explaining to this neighbor that I did not actually litter? What happens when someone reports you for littering?

Today, I received a letter in the mail from an anonymous neighbor (I suspect it is from someone who lives two houses down), explaining that they found a letter of mine in their driveway, and that I should be more responsible about my trash. In it, was the original (recyclable) envelope that they found "blowing all over the driveway."

In the half page typed letter, the neighbor complains of the presumption that I did not dispose of my trash correctly, since it had blown a "half a mile away." It also includes all kinds of "friendly" suggestions and phone numbers, should I need help learning how to throw my trash away properly, and that I should be ashamed of myself if I simply threw the letter on the ground, which in case I did not know, is illegal.

Back story: A few months ago, I moved within the same town - about a half a mile away. The envelope was from my old address, but I had put it in with our recycling (it was recyclable) recently. So the letter they mailed was to my old address, but the USPS had forwarded it to my new address. I presume it was a house two houses down, because of the layout of the local houses and streets. I believe there is only one actual "driveway" on the street where we put our trash/recycling out.

The trash and recycling crew that picks up our items is not very diligent. So regularly, bottles, papers, and trash do not make it successfully from the bins to the truck. It's a natural fact that about 5% of what you put in the trash/recycling somehow ends up on the curb. Even if it's disposed of correctly, you will often find it strewn about the next morning. We try to pick up what we find leftover the next day, but I am not in the habit of going into my neighbor's driveway and looking for flyaways. I hate litter. I hate litterbugs. I hate when people spit their gum out on the sidewalk and throw their cigarettes on the ground, let around more prominent pieces of garbage. And I hate the fact that some people don't give a crap about personal garbage and public spaces. But accept that in an urban environment, a certain amount of litter is inevitable.

I do not actually know whether or not this person reported me for littering, but judging from the fact that they took the time to type me a letter with all kinds of city phone numbers, and spent $1+ to mail me a letter, I would not be surprised if they did. What happens if someone reports you for littering? Is there any way to prove you did not litter? (this is in Massachusetts)

I am VERY tempted to knock at my neighbors door and (1) apologize that my letter made it to their driveway, but (2) explain that I did not litter, know how to dispose of my trash properly, and the letter did not blow a half a mile away (this point was mentioned 3 times in the letter). And that sometimes, (3) the garbage folk just aren't very careful, and it's not something we can help.

Now, I will probably move away from my current place in about a month. It is in a somewhat urban environment, and was meant to be a temporary residence, so I'll be honest in the fact that I just don't know these neighbors (our front entrance is on a different street than the trash pick-up side of the house).

I want to suck it up, but my pride is hurt that someone thinks of me as someone who doesn't care about the environment/neighborhood, and may have reported me for something I didn't intend to do. I have no ill will against these neighbors, but I also kind of want to explain to them that sometimes such things aren't wholly in our control. They also have my name and address and mentioned these things several times in the letter. It was not very nice. They made no actual threats, but they clearly took my letter that fell out of the recycling bin on the way to the garbage truck, as a personal attack on their driveway.

What would you do? Should I say anything? If someone has your name and address, can they report you for littering? What then?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (46 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ignore them. People like that are always looking for reasons to complain. This will only be the beginning of many such instances from the sound of it.

Just hold your head high and go on with life.
posted by damiano99 at 1:36 PM on January 20, 2010 [16 favorites]

Drop it.

Seriously, drop it. Don't respond at all. File the letter, but otherwise you need to pretend this never happened. Confronting someone who has the time and motivation to write a long, LONG letter about an envelope is not something you want to waste your sanity points on.

If, for some reason, you do receive a fine for littering (very, very unlikely), then you have a very good defense. But I doubt anything will come of this.

Be glad that you're moving away soon.
posted by muddgirl at 1:36 PM on January 20, 2010 [28 favorites]

I wouldn't say anything to the neighbor and I wouldn't worry about being reported. For what? An envelope? That would be a laugh riot. This neighbor is an absolute nut and I would let her stew in her nuttiness. She obviously has too much time on her hands. Stuff gets blown from recycle bins all of the time. Try not to give this wacko another minute of your thoughts.
posted by Fairchild at 1:37 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Holy cats, what a busybody! Perhaps an emotionally unstable busybody, at that, to get riled up about a situation that has more benign explanations than malicious ones. Leave this busybody to his or her own loneliness and ignore the accusations. This is not worth your time and attention.
posted by workerant at 1:39 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Definitely file it under "don't give a shit." It's just some busybody pain in the ass. Ignore it.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:39 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Let it go. Who care what someone who didn't even have the guts to tell you who they are thinks?

I don't know what happens if you get reported for littering. But I can only imagine that, "My neighbor left a piece of mail in my driveway!" will not incite much action.
posted by amro at 1:40 PM on January 20, 2010

Someone who thinks you have a littering problem just because they found just one single envelope, I would think is not someone you want to have any actual interaction with, ever. I would imagine if they're doing this for you this is the kind of thing they spend all their free time on.
posted by advil at 1:40 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wait, even better than filing it is submitting it to Passive Aggressive Notes. It will be cathartic for you.
posted by muddgirl at 1:40 PM on January 20, 2010 [33 favorites]

Put it behind you.

On the prospects of you getting in trouble for "littering":

Ring Ring.

Police Operator: Picks up phone, "Hello Podunk Police, how may I help you?"
Cranky Pants Neighbor: "Hello is the is the Police department?"
PO: "yes, how may I help you?"
CPN: "Can I talk with the Cheif of Police?"
PO: "Humm... What is this about?"
CPN: "I'd like to report a criminal repeat offender who lives in our town."
PO: "Oh, What is the crime?"
CPN: "Litterning! I found an envlope with their name on it in my driveway!"
PO: "..."
posted by bdc34 at 1:42 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ignore. There's nothing to be gained by either a.) apologizing or b.) confronting them. I have a neighbor that leaves shitty notes on my car whenever I park in front of his house. But we're in the city and it's all street parking, so fuck him.
posted by electroboy at 1:45 PM on January 20, 2010

The obvious course of action is to put the letter back in the envelope, and then leave it in their driveway.
posted by Benjy at 1:48 PM on January 20, 2010 [49 favorites]

Buy a shredder -- future problems with this solved forever no matter your address -- and seconding a forward to Passive Aggressive Notes. (Though on preview I like Benjy's suggestion, too.)
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:49 PM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Trying to fix broken people is not a job for amateurs. My wife used to help hoarders clean out their stuff. They were never grateful and they never stayed clean. This person is hoarding bitterness.
posted by mecran01 at 1:50 PM on January 20, 2010 [11 favorites]

Yep, don't engage. There is absolutely no benefit that can come of it. Even if this neighbor did report you, no one would take his or her complaint seriously. It's nice that you want to be seen as environmentally conscious but really, it's not worth it with this person.
posted by amicamentis at 1:50 PM on January 20, 2010

I would shrug it off. Honestly, the person who wrote you the letter sounds... well, not entirely unhinged, I suppose, but at least some of their hinges are already detached. If I found an envelope lying around, I would assume that its owner had carelessly dropped it rather than thinking that the owner was a Bad Person Who Litters All The Time or a Moron Who Doesn't Know How To Throw Things Away. Moreover, the fact that the letter took over a dollar to mail implies that it was several pages long, which suggests a very strange set of priorities on the sender's part. Obviously this person's rantings have resonated with you in some way, since you really dislike litter too, but that doesn't mean that the sender wasn't ranting.

That said, something doesn't quite add up here. You mention that the neighbour found an envelope addressed to your previous home; but how did they know what your new address was? I suppose they could have sent the letter to your old address and then USPS forwarded it, then how does the neighbour have your new address? Or do they not actually know your new address?
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:50 PM on January 20, 2010

Anyone who would write a letter like that is crazy. Be thankful you're moving away from crazy person and just forget about it. And thank you for not littering.
posted by Dasein at 1:51 PM on January 20, 2010

If you're concerned about whether your neighbor will escalate things and involve the police -- I invite you to consider the song "Alice's Restaurant."

If you're simply wanting to defend your good name to this individual: I invite you to consider whether the opinion of someone who writes a lengthy screed in response to a piece of trash in their driveway is an opinion which carries much weight in the first place.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:52 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd say ignore it. It sounds like it might have been cathartic to get it all out here on AskMeFi.

Lots of people have nothing better to do with their time than to judge their neighbors. One of mine worked in the local drugstore. When I was shopping in there one day, she lambasted me for (briefly) airing my quilt out of my bedroom window because it "lowered the tone" of the street.

Definitely send it to passiveaggressivenotes, as muddgirl says. You can get a real kick out of others' comments there.
posted by vickyverky at 1:52 PM on January 20, 2010

Ignore them. People like that are always looking for reasons to complain.

This. I don't know why some people like to get so worked up but they do. I had a women who used to shake her fist and wag her finger at my through the window when my gate was left open (pointing inwards, on a mostly-unfenced yard, it was weird). Your defence is solid but if you try going over there l be the aggressor and I guarantee they'll turn it all around into you being mean and rude, you can't reason with people like this. Sucks I know.

But also consider putting in a complaint to the council or whoever is in charge about the bad job the trash pick up people are doing. Getting that situation resolved would fix the litter problem in general and leave the neighbourhood just a little better when you're gone. If nothing else it starts a paper trail for your defence if they do decide to try fining you.
posted by shelleycat at 1:56 PM on January 20, 2010

I'm going to take the minority position here . . . this person won't stop thinking about the "issue" if you just ignore the letter. I'd respond in kind: draft a short letter thanking them for their letter, expressing your complete agreement with their concern for the environment, and explaining that because you think as they do, you took great care to properly recycle your misrouted mail. You may want to add that if they have time (you don't), it would be good if someone would call the recycling company to explain that the workers are not taking enough care to make sure all the material gets inside the truck. Then I'd slip the short letter under their door and then forget about it. This also serves the purpose of making a little paper record for you about this incident . .. . helpful in the remote event that someone follows through on a littering complaint. (I never rule anything out in Mass.)
posted by bearwife at 2:00 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Exactly Johnny Assay!

If I read your question correctly, the crazy neighbor thinks you live on the other side of town?

Why do you want to tell them you are next door? So they can harass you further??

File. Forget. Dispose of the letter after your move in a month or two.

(Of course, I think this makes and excellent opening for some kind of crazy thriller movie! Everyone on the green sees the ax-wielding neighbor heading to your house, and we're all yelling, "No! No! Don't go outside!!" You can't hear the audience, and open the door. Hilarity and blood spatters ensue...)
posted by jbenben at 2:00 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Anonymous, I work with a huge community. Handling user concerns is an enormous operational endeavor. The most important thing I've learned: recognize when someone is batshit insane, and stop talking to them.

You can imagine all kinds of reasons why they are what they are, needy, lonely, drunk, crazy -- it does not matter. You cannot give them space in your brain because they will take up residence and their batshit crazy tendrils will filter all through you, which is how you wound up with nine paragraph post on this topic.

Putting a mean anonymous letter in someone's mailbox is crazy. That is absolutely as far as you need to go with thinking about it. Throw it out and have a drink.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:01 PM on January 20, 2010 [9 favorites]

You... you made this anonymous? I really feel that at the heart of this, you just might care too much about what others think of you.

This whole ordeal is a simple misunderstanding, you're moving shortly anyway, and even if you did explain yourself to your neighbor, it likely wouldn't change his/her mind. I wouldn't waste my time.
posted by runningwithscissors at 2:02 PM on January 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm going to take the minority position here . . . this person won't stop thinking about the "issue" if you just ignore the letter.

The problem with that, bearwife, is that the OP doesn't know for a certainty who the letter is from, because it was sent anonymously. So writing a note to the person they THINK it's from could cause even more confusion if they assumed wrong (''where the hell did this person get the idea I complained about an envelope in my driveway?'') and complicate things even further.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:04 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another vote for "move on." Or - post it to Passive Aggressive Notes and then move on.
posted by chndrcks at 2:05 PM on January 20, 2010

(rolls eyes) batshitcrazy, insane, etc, I wish people weren't so friggen quick to drop these terms... You know somehow I think the letter sender is as sane as 90% of the people on the interenet. And that is exactly how I'd treat an annoymious letter complaining about such a minor thing, with as much credence as you'd give a random internet stranger who claims to know all about your personal habits.
posted by edgeways at 2:10 PM on January 20, 2010

It's not worth it, at all.

This person thinks they know you are a litterbug because they found a letter addressed to you in their driveway.

You know this person is somewhat unhinged because they ignored way more plausible scenarios as to how that letter came to be on their driveway, and jumped on the implausible one that you are throwing your garbage into the wind for others to clean up. Then they acted on this assumption in an exaggerated, inappriopriate way.

In essence, you know something about this person, which is that they are not reasonable. Engaging unreasonable people will never get you the result you want, which is to change their minds about their opinion of you. At best they will keep thinking you are a litterbug, at worst they will escalate their interactions with you. Laugh it off and stay away.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 2:10 PM on January 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

Knock on the neighbor's door, and ask if they can assist with a neighborhood watch; explain that you've seen a criminal breaking into neighborhood mailboxes, removing the mail, and tossing it everywhere. Ask the neighbor if they've seen the criminal. Stress that this criminal makes you FURIOUS.

If the neighbor believes you, they'll feel bad for assuming that you were at fault for the littered letter. If they don't believe you, they'll get SO MAD
posted by Greg Nog at 2:10 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

If they threatened to call the police, there's a 95% chance that the police already know who they are, and have written them off as batshitinsane. You face absolutely no risk of a littering fine.
posted by desjardins at 2:10 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, and in seems like you are making an educated guess as to who sent this letter, rather than knowing for sure. This would likely make things worse even if you are rightm, because your neighbor can always hide behind the fact that the note was anonymous (either to say it wasn't him, or to accuse you of maliciously targeting him).
posted by DrGirlfriend at 2:12 PM on January 20, 2010

If they would actually turn you in as a litter bug for finding a letter on the street, what's to say if you show up at their door they won't call the cops and say you were threatening them?

Keep the letter in case you need proof of harassment, but put it out of your mind.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:16 PM on January 20, 2010

You should definitely ignore it, as your neighbor has proven they will assume the worst out of a random occurrence. Normal people don't waste time dealing with issues that literally take seconds to resolve. Confessing will not change their mind, as it was made up before the incident even occurred.

Also, there is probably no way that you can get a fine for littering if the person did not actually see you littering. No judge or police officer will take this seriously as there are a thousand more likely explanations for your trash in their driveway.
posted by meowzilla at 2:16 PM on January 20, 2010

Nothing will ever come of it because I guarantee you the authorities already know your anonymous letter writer is crazy. These are the people who get on the Youtube highlight reels of community government TV stations for giving a 45 minute rambling address to bored town council members. They are mentally ill and desperately lonely. And what is the worst thing in the world? Dealing with those people. Toss the letter. Do not be tempted to figure out who did it, because in this instance, ignorance is your sweet trustworthy friend.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:16 PM on January 20, 2010

Ignore it. It was irrational of them to seek you out, I suspect no good can come of any sort of confrontation, and it's not like they know where you REALLY live anyway.
posted by hermitosis at 2:19 PM on January 20, 2010

We had a neighbor who was not completely sane. She got pissed off at her neighbors one by one for various reasons. She got angry at my family because my parents were friends with her employer who had the nerve to start dating again after being divorced for umpteen years. Yeah.

What she did: sent a letter to our house pretending to be the health department citing us for leaving out our trashcans more than a few hours after trash pickup.

What we did: laughed about it and hoped that she wouldn't escalate.

What you should do: laugh about it and hope that this person won't escalate. Perhaps talk to your other neighbors and find out what degree of crazy you're dealing with.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:21 PM on January 20, 2010

Since you say you're planning on moving within a month, ignore it. No municipality will follow up upon a report that fast and even if you get a notice to comply you're generally given some time period to respond.

If you were staying longer, I'd say go talk to them. My street has a lot of busybodies and crazies who love to communicate semi-anonymously. I once recieved a notice to comply over renovation trash (in my own backyard, hidden by a rather high fence) and I went over to the person chattily while they were working in their yard and related the notice to comply and how it made me feel sad that someone would focus on such things when I was putting so much money and time into fixing up the (previously) worst-maintained house on the street. I mused that perhaps I could just move out find some drug dealers to rent to as the previous owners had done, since that would be easier. I didn't have any further problems.
posted by Kurichina at 2:45 PM on January 20, 2010

I hate litter, too.
The trash and recycling crew that picks up our items is not very diligent. So regularly, bottles, papers, and trash do not make it successfully from the bins to the truck. It's a natural fact that about 5% of what you put in the trash/recycling somehow ends up on the curb. Even if it's disposed of correctly, you will often find it strewn about the next morning.

Ignore the letter. Somebody had a Very Bad Day. But fix the recycling litter issue: Put all your paper recycleables in a paper bag. It's not more work for me. I have a recycle box in the kitchen, and paper goes in a paper bag, cracker box, whatever's handy, and plastic/glass/cans go in a plastic shopping bag. I take the plastic bag and the paper container to the curb, and have no recycling bin to bring back in.
posted by theora55 at 2:58 PM on January 20, 2010

You're moving in a month. So not worth the hassle of doing anything but filing the letter in case the crazy escalates.
posted by dejah420 at 3:03 PM on January 20, 2010

I am the odd woman out here.

I have had two neighbors like this. Both screamed and yelled at me, and I, back at them. Ultimately we became close and I cared about these people immensely.

Both times I reached out to them and it turned out they were just lonely old ladies. My heart broke for one of them as she hid in my apartment when her family were harassing and frightening her. They both winded up baking me cookies. I was glad I was able to be an advocate for them later as well.

If they are too wacky, then it might not be a good idea to contact them, I agree. And if you are moving, you might not want to bother. But I have found that when I reach out and don't take it personally, it's been risky and mindblowingly awesome.

(then again, I might be the odd old crazy lady at some point, so I am giving out the love to stock up the karma...)
posted by Vaike at 3:03 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Keep the letter, don't do anything. If the crazy neighbour reports you, he or she will have to identify themselves to the authorities in order for anything to happen. Writing anonymous threatening letters is a crime, is it not? This neighbour will never do anything, or if they do, you can just file charges right back at them for harassment.
posted by Joh at 3:11 PM on January 20, 2010

It's a bored old person who has gone slightly batty with age. Ignore him/her. If anyone official actually contacts you about littering, explain that you put it in the recycling bin and you can't control what the garbage crews do with it at that point.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:28 PM on January 20, 2010

That neighbor sounds a bit coo-coo. Ignore the letter and be glad you're moving out of his/her radar soon.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 6:12 PM on January 20, 2010

my pride is hurt that someone thinks of me as someone who doesn't care about the environment/neighborhood

It hurts me that someone could think of me as unintelligent or more likely to get pregnant or commit a crime just because I'm black. Do I write them a letter vindicating myself? Of course not. I know who and what I am, and the people that matter to me know who and what I am. The problem is with that person, that they are jumping to such a ridiculous and unfounded conclusion, and so what they think of me is completely irrelevant, unless it escalates to affect me materially (eg, they are denying me a job), in which case I would deal with the proper authorities and not with that person or what they think of me.

In your case, this person is a stranger, they're obviously unhinged/unreasonable, so whatever characteristics they assign to you in their own mind cannot "hurt" you. You know that you're not a litterer -- The End. If you do receive a citation for littering, and I doubt you will, then you can deal with whoever is bringing the charge against you and whatever agency is responsible.
posted by thebazilist at 7:12 PM on January 20, 2010

Where's your imagination? Photocopy the neighbour's letter, then leave both copies in their driveway.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:22 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I feel sorry for your neighbor who is obviously disturbed. For one is really cowardly not to sign the damn thing!

I also feel badly for you...that you take something like this hard. You should be laughing about it. Perhaps in a couple of days you will. Meanwhile, try to absorb that what a looney negative oddball neighbor thinks of you is of no consequence whatsoever. If this person thought you were an automobile...would you be an automobile?
Get me?
posted by naplesyellow at 12:53 AM on January 21, 2010

Responding to that note sounds like a beginning relationship with Crazy Neighbor. It starts with the little notes, next you know you're getting fined for your dogs digging into the garbage - despite the fact you have no dogs. It continues to escalate until YOU'RE having to call the police because the neighbor has now gone batshit at your front door. And it will not end until you move if you get started up with this person.

I STILL have no dogs.
posted by _paegan_ at 9:36 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older Are you legally an adult at 18 or 21?   |   Teaching to Distraction Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.