So I’m down at the water enjoying a lovely summer day, looking out at the sparkles on the water, music in my headphones, a cup of tea in my right hand, a book in my left, the fresh air—fuck. Someone’s started a fire. I can smell it. Instant headache. I turn to my right and sure enough, I see smoke rising on a property several lots upwind of me. It’s 11:00 in the morning. Why—
I try to take shallow breaths … I turn my chair a bit …
Nope. Not working.
At 1:00, it’s still going strong. Determined to enjoy at least part of the day, I head out in my kayak. And as I pass by, I see that there isn’t even anyone outside enjoying the campfire. (Though since I don’t see any flames, I’ll call it a smokepit.) And that really pisses me off. It’s one thing to have to go inside for an hour while someone upwind has a campfire, chatting with friends, maybe toasting marshmallows with the kids. That I accept. It’s quite another to have to spend the whole fucking day inside for—what? Because someone mindlessly associates being ‘up north at the cottage’ with ‘campfire’? Even though they’re inside, probably watching ‘the game’ on their huge flat-screen tv?
I decide that if it’s still going when I return, I’ll stop and say something.
And it is. Still going when I return. At 7:00. And there’s still no one there, enjoying it. So I linger at their dock, hoping someone will see me. Sure enough, someone appears at the door.
“I’d like to talk to you,” I call up.
“We’re in the middle of dinner,” she calls down.
So? She expects me to sit in my kayak, paddling to stay in one place, until they’re done? Or go home and paddle back? She can’t stop eating for a minute?
“I’d like you to put out your fire,” I call up. I add that it’s been smoking for eight hours, no one’s even enjoying it, there are several houses downwind …
“I’ll do it after dinner,” she replies.
No. Her casual response indicates that she hasn’t understood the incredible rudeness of her behavior, the utter lack of consideration …
“No. Put it out now.” I’d decided I’d get more aggressive with asshole renters because there’s little chance of retaliation—they don’t know where I live.
Her response is unclear.
“Well, I’ll be contacting the owner then,” I say as I start to paddle away. Hopefully, it’ll kill their chance to rent again.
“I AM the owner, BITCH!” she screams at me.
Then she yells something like she’s heard about me and I’m a bitch and get the fuck out of her face …
“Move along!” she says then, dismissively, actually shooing me away with her fingers. As if I’m a child.
I do not move along.
Next thing I know, there’s a guy running down the hill onto the dock yelling at me, “Why don’t you just fuck off and mind your own business!”
“I am,” I reply calmly. “When your smoke comes onto my property, it becomes my business.”
“You’re crazy, you know that?”
I repeat what I’d said about eight hours, downwind, headache, no one’s even enjoying it …
Then another man comes down to the dock, says he’s also the owner and I’ve upset his wife, they’re having dinner.
What? I’ve upset her? Because she’s had to stop eating for a minute? (What is it with people and eating food?)
Well, I’m upset too. Because eight hours, smoke, headache … I’ll apologize for a two-minute interruption when she apologizes for a three-hour headache.
I try to explain. “If you could keep your smoke on your own property, no problem, but you can’t, so—”
“That’s scientifically impossible,” he says. Oooh, ‘scientifically’. Such a smart man. “Just think about it,” he adds, helpfully. I’m tempted to scratch my head and look like a complete idiot.
By this time, the other guy is really losing his shit. He’s charging the full length of the dock at me again and again as if trying to scare away a bear.
“If I used a paint sprayer while on my property,” I say to the man, the second one, “and because of the wind, much of the spray drifted over onto your property, and you ended up with your screens, your windows, your siding covered with a fine mist of red paint, that’d be okay? No cause for objection? Mind your own business?”
Well, except for, “You know what you should do?” It’s the other guy, the first one. He’s practically spitting, he’s so excited. “You should take your headphones off, get some rocks, and smash them against your head, then jump in the lake, and drown.”
Part of me’s thinking, ‘That’s a lot of words.’
Another part of me’s thinking, ‘That’s a hair away from a death threat.’
So now, I move along.
I’m surprised at their seeming surprise. (I’m crazy!) This is not a new issue. It’s why, for example, chicken farms are widely hated. And it’s why there are zoning bylaws in so many townships. (Not our township. Of course not.)
Of more obvious relevance, weather websites have been for days issuing air quality alerts for our area because of the forest fires northwest of us. And the smoke drifting through the neighbourhood from their smokepit is way worse than the slight haze we’ve seen from the forest fires.
And I’m stunned at how easily it came to them, the verbal abuse. Did I say fucking fire? Or fucking smoke? Perhaps. But I didn’t tell any of them to fuck off. I didn’t call her a bitch.
So, how should I have dealt with the problem? Well, first, I shouldn’t’ve been a woman.
And second, I—no, actually, that’s it. If a man, greying at the temples, had stopped on his way past, I suspect the whole interaction would’ve unfolded quite differently.
[First posted at Hell Yeah, I'm a Feminist.]
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