Don't touch my grill!
September 30, 2011 4:24 PM   Subscribe

What's my next move with my weird neighbor? What in the world could have possibly made him do what what he just did?

Husband & I just moved into a new apartment we really love. We have a shared semi hidden patio with a neighbor in the same apartment complex.

There is a fence that partially divides the patio, but you can walk from one to the other (though we have never so much set foot on his side).

Today he came over and knocked on the door. I had no clue who he was until he introduced himself as our neighbor with the shared patio.

He then started asking me if I had been using his BBQ grill. I was incredulous. I have never so much as set a foot on his half of the patio and I have no clue what would have prompted such an accusation. I told him no and asked him if there was anything wrong with his BBQ, and he said no.

When I said I hadn't, he said "Oh ok, fine, just making sure because I pay for it!" shit. Anyway, he then left. If it matters, he seemed a a bit socially awkward dude, but not mentally handicapped.

Is this something we need to document with a report to our landlord? I honestly have no fucking clue why someone would just randomly show up to my door and accuse me of touching their BBQ, given that nothing was even wrong with it?! I guess I could see it if he went out there and it was damaged but seriously?

Are we missing something in this situation of why he could have possibly done this? What should we do (document it to our landlord? go talk to him again?) if anything?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds within the range of normal twitchy-anxious to me. Maybe someone in the past had assumed that the BBQ was something that came with the apartment and there had been some drama in the past and he's trying to be proactive in his weird way to make sure that doesn't happen. I don't think I'd do anything except maybe call the landlord and ask if this sort of thing has been "a thing" in the past and ask if they have any suggestions. I'd just be normal neighbor friendly to him and put this away unless there's anything else that happens along weird-neighbor lines.
posted by jessamyn at 4:27 PM on September 30, 2011 [19 favorites]

That's funny. I bet he used to have neighbors who used his grill, and he is a little obsessed with it. Next time you're out there at the same time as him, ask him if he wants a beer.
posted by michaelh at 4:28 PM on September 30, 2011 [19 favorites]

You might mention it to your landlord; maybe include a note with your rent next time. Maybe he's a little out of it. Just keep an eye on it, but don't freak out yet.
posted by emjaybee at 4:29 PM on September 30, 2011

Your neighbour, with whom you share a patio, knocked on your door and asked you if you'd been using his BBQ? That sounds completely within the realm of normal neighbourly interactions to me.

I mean, document it if you want. If he starts accusing you of things every week, then it's something you'll want to deal with. But this? This is life with neighbours. He probably forgot to turn off the gas tank the last time he used it and is trying to figure out why he's low on fuel.
posted by auto-correct at 4:29 PM on September 30, 2011 [50 favorites]

Has he lived there long? It might be that he's never shared a patio (or other area) before, and is worried you think things out there are for your use. It was his way of letting you know. Or it might be that previous tenants did use his BBQ and he's worried.

It is odd, but not scary-odd, I don't think.

(on preview - what they said)
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 4:30 PM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Nothing special: sometime in the last few days/weeks/months, someone has used (or he thinks they may have used) his grill. I wouldn't take it too seriously. Don't document anything or call anyone. Instead:

a) go back over and say hi to your neighbor. You are, after all, patio-mates. Provide him your digits and say you're glad to be living next to him in your favorite apartment of all time.

b) be friendly when you see him in the hall.

c) for extra bonus points, invite him to your half of the patio for drinks some point in the next couple of weeks. You do share the patio with this guy. If you're buddies (or at least casual acquaintances) it can be civil and even cordial. Also, having neighbors who keep an eye out for you is also helpful.
posted by arnicae at 4:30 PM on September 30, 2011 [6 favorites]

I wouldn't do anything at this point. This is probably a problem he has with everyone (socially awkward, as you said, and maybe a little paranoid--?) that has nothing to do with you. Wait and see what happens.
posted by marimeko at 4:30 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

So, um, did he "accuse" you or did he "ask" you? First you said he "started asking [you] if you had been using his BBQ grill," then you completely changed the scenario and said that you have no clue why someone would "randomly show up to [your] door and accuse [you] of touching their BBQ."

So, did he randomly show up and accuse you of touching it, or did he ask you if you had been using it?

I wasn't present for this interaction, so I don't know what his tone was or what he actually said. But from the way you've written your question, it looks to me like his previous neighbors may have used his BBQ grill, and he had some reason to wonder whether you had been using it, too, and he just wanted to make sure the new neighbors knew that it's not a shared grill that comes with the apartment but his own grill that he paid for and that he would like you not to use.

And it looks from what you've written like you immediately started overreacting - he "asked" you and you were "incredulous" looks like you were the unreasonable one. But again, I wasn't there, so maybe he was yelling at you or something else that you just didn't include in the question. Assuming it all went down exactly as you describe, though, you're overreacting, this is totally a normal exchange between friendly neighbors, and you need to chill out and just be sure not to use his BBQ.
posted by The World Famous at 4:32 PM on September 30, 2011 [31 favorites]

Nit: You asked if it was damaged. Perhaps it looked like someone used it. (it was dirty than he remembered, there was less gas/charcoal). The person that shares the patio would be the first person to ask.
posted by birdherder at 4:35 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sounds a bit weird/off but not a big deal. He either thought it looked used or wanted to let you know it was his and not communal.

There's really nothing to document with the landlord, and you'll just make yourself seem fussy.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:42 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well you say he asked you whether you used the grill, which technically is something different than actually accusing you of having used it.
Maybe this is supposed to be a - in his world - subtle way to tell you "don't use the grill" before you perhaps do. Some people are obsessed with that type of turf thing and have a hard time living with the "perhaps" in their heads.
I'd tread lightly around that dude. If you're weirded out by this, document it for yourself for now.
posted by Namlit at 4:45 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Going along with what birdherder said, next time he asks you something weird like this say "What makes you say that?" or "What tells you that?". That might lead him to give you some insight on where he's coming from (if he's had problems in the past, etc).

Otherwise, sounds like an overly anxious neighbor, or he did something to the BBQ that he doesn't remember doing but it looks different/used/etc.
posted by MultiFaceted at 4:46 PM on September 30, 2011

Forget about it. So the dude's a little weird? No big deal.

If he starts bothering you regularly or his behavior escalates to the point where you feel unsafe, then you can start to think about talking with him about it or notifying people or documenting it. But as of right now, this is one conversation. Just make a mental note that he's a little touchy and treat him the same way you treat all of your other neighbors.
posted by decathecting at 4:46 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

You overreacted. I think you and your husband should show up to his apartment with some grillin' meat and offer to cook and share a meal with him.
posted by allseeingabstract at 4:52 PM on September 30, 2011

Socially awkward dude is socially awkward.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 4:57 PM on September 30, 2011 [7 favorites]

I kind of disagree with everyone else that it's totally normal. There are certain people who are quick to jump to the idea that something they have done is someone else's fault, in scenarios where more likely or rational explanation is that it is their fault. For example, they lose their keys, and jump to thinking someone else might have taken their keys. These people are often also paranoid about others messing with their stuff, even if their stuff is garbage.

My experience is that once these people start "inquiring" to you if the things they have done are your fault, or have been messing with their stuff, it's a short step to flat-out accusing you of these things, and telling others you have done these things.

I've just been around and had to deal with enough of these people that I wouldn't take it lightly if signs of this particular behavior started to pop up. I would probably start by completely dividing that patio. I would probably also make note of what he said, and include it with the rent to the landlord.
posted by Ashley801 at 4:57 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would give it a month or so before you initiate contact; you don't really know who you are dealing with. My parents have new neighbours who were very friendly at first, and hosted a barbeque for the neighbourhood. However, things got weird when the new neighbours decided the fence needed replacing. Very nasty people it turned out. So it pays to wait and see.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:59 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are we missing something in this situation of why he could have possibly done this?

He had shitty neighbors in the past who used his grill without asking and then denied it. He told himself that when he got new neighbors, he was going to make it clear that his grill was for his use only.

I mean, I have no idea if this happened, but it seems totally within the realm of possibility.
posted by 23skidoo at 4:59 PM on September 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

Not totally normal, but not unusual for a socially inept neighbor who's lived there much longer than you, who's a little (though he shouldn't be) territorial about 'his' patio (the boundaries of which don't seem to correspond with yours). I would prefer first introductions made via the front door, but to him, it's all the same. Based on his possible obsession with said grill, a prediction: he'll be out there using it way more than you prefer.
posted by Rash at 5:06 PM on September 30, 2011

It was a weird thing for him to do, but I think it's way too soon to be alerting your landlord. Maybe he's just had bad neighbors in the past and was just putting up the initial "watch out" warning because someone else abused his trust in the past.

If he starts leaving bills for you claiming that you used it at a time when you weren't even home, though, that's another thing.

I'd keep an eye on him, try to make friendly (albeit guarded) overtures, and see what happens.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:14 PM on September 30, 2011

Reading your question, I see a bit of confusion over his question, but then you turn to ranting by the end, so I really worry that you overreacted to him in person (can't say you did, but it sounds a bit defensive). I'd shrug it off, as above, unless something else happens. If you were as tetchy with him in person as you sound here, though, that might be sooner rather than later.

Another way to make/keep the peace could be putting out your own grill -- whether it's a fancy one like his or just a Smokey Joe. That makes it clear that you intend to use your own equipment, even if you'd actually just planned on using your stove.

I know, myself, that keeping watch for drug dealers in my neighborhood means that I may look a little too suspiciously at innocent people. It annoys me, because I don't want to be "that guy", but I draw the line at openly selling contraband on the street corner. It's hard to mode switch. If this guy had issues with the previous tenants in your place chronically using the BBQ without permission, then yes, he might come at you a little harder than he should. But strategically, being offended would be the wrong approach.
posted by dhartung at 5:28 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know where you are, but here in Texas places that have a BBQ-able area tend to "come with" a barbecue. It's nothing official it's just... they're there and no one ever wants to move a barbecue I guess.

Anyway, if I were your neighbor with our shared patio and had my own barbecue that I cared about, I'd find some way of making it obvious that it was my personal barbecue because it'd be reasonable for you, my neighbor, to assume it was communal. I hope I'd be a little more tactful in my approach, but your landlord doesn't care about lack of tact.
posted by cmoj at 5:32 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe next time you see him you could say, "Hey, so has someone been using your grill? Is that why you asked me? Because if you want I could keep an eye out for you and let you know if I see anyone strange on the patio. I sure wouldn't want someone who doesn't live here messing with our stuff on the patio."

I mean, A.) it's possible that someone DID use his grill and he just (wrongly) assumed it was you. And B.) even if no one used it and he's just weird and paranoid he can't really object to you politely offering to keep an eye on his property unless he's totally batshit, in which case it's probably better to find out that he's that way sooner than later and C.) if there is another neighbor or a wandering stranger regularly messing with stuff on the patio, you probably should be keeping an eye out.

My (very nice) neighbor asked me once if my kid took his kid's bike (he didn't), and I wasn't offended, and we're still friendly. It is sort of a normal thing to ask your neighbors if they know what happened when your stuff is used without authorization or walks off the property.

It would have been more polite for him to welcome you to the neighborhood first, though. And the "I pay for it" remark was uncalled for.
posted by BlueJae at 5:35 PM on September 30, 2011 [7 favorites]

From the OP:
Thank you to everyone for your responses. I should have explained the layout better but we each have our own separate cement patio that leads to a shared grass yard. The grill is located behind a fence on his cement patio and there is no way a reasonable person would assume it was communal. The responses have been helpful in determining what his motivations may have been, so thanks!
posted by jessamyn at 5:37 PM on September 30, 2011

I will bet you that someone had used his grill without his permission in the past, and he didn't stand up to them. He is trying to make sure it doesn't happen again, and for some reason thinks that you had done it too.

If he mentions it again, you know what I'd do? I'd recommend that he put one of those cable bike locks around the front of the handle things most grills have so that no one can open it without unlocking the bike lock. That way you sound like you're helping him with his concern and at the same time you're eliminating this crazy question for the next time.
posted by winna at 6:06 PM on September 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

Sounds like pretty typical suburban weirdness to me. We got written up over a bird feeder we had. Weird neighbors are weird.
posted by tremspeed at 9:55 PM on September 30, 2011

Wow? Dude shows up out of the blue and accuses (in a deniable way) you of touching his grill? Not normal, whatever a few other responses here have said.

At this point, I'd personally probably fish a webcam out of the junk drawer and keep it recording everything that happens on the patio, "just in case". Perhaps he just doesn't know how to relate to people, and you can forget all about it in few weeks; but your description makes him sound far more than "awkward".

I count as "awkward", and I don't accuse random nearby people of touching my stuff. :)
posted by pla at 10:24 PM on September 30, 2011

pla- I think recording a shared patio with your hidden webcam would be much, much weirder than asking your neighbor if they used your grill.
posted by emd3737 at 10:27 PM on September 30, 2011 [13 favorites]

Heh, when you put it like that, I have to agree it sounds creepy.

I didn't mean to hide it or anything... More as a CYA technique, perhaps even tell the neighbor about it in a "conspiratorial" manner - "Let's see who keeps touching your grill!".

At worst, you'll have proof you didn't touch the grill. :)
posted by pla at 11:18 PM on September 30, 2011

Nthing the 'Do nothing just yet'. Be passingly friendly-ish. I certainly don't think you need to suck up to the guy and play BFF neighbors or anything.

Story Time*: Shortly after I moved into my current place, a dude came hammering on my door, pointing fingers in my face and accusing me of stuffing an upright vacuum down the 7th floor garbage chute. I didn't know this guy. Never seen him before. He turned out to be the building super, and my heart instantly sank into my socks as I envisioned years of absolutely nothing ever getting fixed and still being obligated to tip this jerk during the holidays.

I'm guessing my being brand new in the building somehow conveniently clumped together in his brain with, "No one has ever shoved a vacuum in the garbage chute before", which neatly totalled out to me being 100% guilty of being the garbage chute vacuum-shover. And so I stood there, all deer-in-headlights, listening and completely stunned, particularly since I hadn't even figured out that we HAD a garbage chute yet, and I was sadly excited about that. And I still can't fathom why anyone would cram pointy, accusatory fingers in someone else's face and commence screaming at them based on anything less than the rock-solid, non-drunk first-hand witnessing of that person doing whatever they're being accused of doing. You just don't DO that.

This being New York, my finger quickly turned up in his face, informing him that I didn't own a vacuum because I was already living in a closet and it wouldn't fucking fit. He looked confused for about a half-second, but he didn't back down. He did not remotely apologize for accusing me of the vacuum-shoving. He just kept yelling. And at some point, I got over my mystification and asked where the hell the garbage chute was. And then he went away in a huff. And I worked myself into a froth. And that was that.

I've been here for seven years now, and am merely passingly friendly to this guy when I run into him, which is often enough since he lives in the building, right by the damn front door. And I seriously doubt he even remembers this particular incident, or feels remotely bad or embarrassed about it. But he recently told me in passing that he had been working a non-stop ball-crusher of a job for those years and was utterly miserable with his life. And I'm guessing THAT is what exploded in my face at the time. Because all in all, turns out, he's actually a pretty nice and relatively normal family guy. And cooler heads don't always prevail when we're seriously fed up with shit.

So here's the tidy Brady Bunch wrap-up: Your neighbor was a jerk TO you, but it clearly had nothing to do WITH you, because you didn't touch his grill. So that's his problem. And it's on HIM to make nice now after being such an ass to you. But he might not do that. So just do your thing, enjoy your new place with abandon, be civil and a perfect blend of friendly/distant/polite to him when you encounter him. If he IS a paranoid jackass freakshow, you're gonna know about that soon enough and can proceed accordingly, but you really don't need to freak out just yet and assume he's going to terrorize you. And you certainly shouldn't let him ruin your delight in your new space. So go about your life. You'll see over time if he's batshit. Just let this one go for now, and try not to let this kick you into Defcon 1 vigilance before it's proven necessary.

*story time may or may not be terribly wine-induced.
posted by involution at 12:56 AM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ahhhhhh...., that pesky normal curve. He's on the 'social skills' continuum somewhere. So are you. Why he is where he is anyone's guess. Ditto you.

I think the most positive thing you can do is to imagine how you would perfectly react to such a transaction, then go about becoming the person who generally reacts that way.

Of course, since that's subjective to some degree, you might come to the conclusion that freaking out and getting fearful and legalistic about a clueless neighbor is the right thing to do, in which case, you're already golden.

Oddities like this are why smiling and head shaking were invented. People are weird, sometimes, and we're all people. You gotta laugh.
posted by FauxScot at 4:44 AM on October 1, 2011

The part where he asked if you'd used his grill isn't too unusual, in a "setting boundaries" sort of way.
The part, though, where he says "Because I pay for it." is weird as hell, in an "uncontrollably OCD" sort of way.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:05 AM on October 1, 2011

[folks, your jokey "kick his ass" comments are not helpful. Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:33 AM on October 1, 2011

"Because I pay for it."

This would be a perfectly non-weird thing to say if there had been someone using it before, the cost is significant to him, and (a) this guy is still paying for it (b) he paid for it but english isn't his first language so he mixes tenses sometimes or (c) he paid for it but his accent drops off some final syllables.

I wouldn't give him a beer or invite him to your own BBQ in the next week or two. If he IS paranoid, that looks like you lied but are trying to make it up to him. I'd bond over non-patio issues after a few weeks have passed.
posted by salvia at 8:08 AM on October 1, 2011

syllables = consonants
posted by salvia at 8:09 AM on October 1, 2011

Just ignore it and see if he says anything else odd. Maybe someone else used his grill or mice got into it (happened to me!) or something like that.
posted by meepmeow at 9:30 AM on October 1, 2011

Slightly OT: meepmeow, until I had a grill of my own the mouse thing never occurred to me as a potential issue. And then I nearly set Fatmouse and his giant stockpile of acorns on fire one evening. And why wouldn't a mouse love a grill? It's a nice dry beefy mousehouse.

Probably the most useful response would be "We haven't touched your grill, but will certainly keep an eye out for anybody else trying to use it." And if it comes up again, I'd suggest that so that whatever anxiety he has will ease up a little. You've got a big adrenaline surge from the confrontation and it probably scared you a little, but really he's probably just a little weird and it's not going to turn into a nightmare scenario.

I don't think going over there with a pile of meat is a great idea, though. That might very well "prove" that you covet his damn grill, or create boundary problems.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:55 AM on October 1, 2011

I don't think you can figure out why he's doing this in any way that's going to help you deal with it. I think you can and should set your boundaries early and often. In my experience of apartment living, if someone comes over and knocks with that kind of issue, there's a change that they are going to be a pain in the ass in the long run. In your shoes, if someone like that came over again, I'd say, "Not trying to be unfriendly but I really prefer it if people call rather than just pop by. If you want to leave a message telling me what it's about, I'll get back to you."
posted by BibiRose at 11:51 AM on October 1, 2011

Oh, and give him your phone number of course. In addition to other things, if he is crazy-pants and he leaves some crazy-pants messages, at least you'll be able to run them by your husband or whoever else.
posted by BibiRose at 11:52 AM on October 1, 2011

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