The front door of our building doesn’t close unless you pull the knob hard, and my wife—condo association president—left a sign: “Please pull door shut.” Still it often isn’t shut, leaving me to guess why.
In elementary school, I was a kid who believed every lost item had been swiped. It didn’t matter that no one would want one sock or a special zebra rock I’d found under the slide—evil forces lurked. Unfortunately, since then only the range of possibilities has changed. I invent scenes I haven’t seen, eye everyone as a character in some drama, and assign intentions.
My neighbor’s boyfriend is often in the building. His clothes are impeccably dishabille, his hair artfully mussed, and he wears sunglasses when it’s stormy. His deft movements say he should have left before now. I offer “Hello,” and he raises his chin five degrees. Sometimes, he says something that isn’t a word.
This winter, during our worst snowstorm, as I shoveled the front steps, he appeared at the front door in expensive leather shoes. He stepped gingerly in the spaces I’d already cleared and into the street. 20 minutes later he returned with a sandwich from Subway as I continued to shovel, and, still hurrying, swept inside. No words either way.
So he’s my number one suspect, and I’ve invented a personality from these few particulars… plus others. I’m convinced he convinced his girlfriend to install an elaborate sound system that shakes our wall when it’s full-throat. Once I went to their door about noise and my knocking went unheard, and I was sure he was ignoring me. For the holidays, he received a horn and occasionally, at moments seemingly timed to annoy, he blows it like a shofar.
So I imagine his walking up to the front door, harrumphing in contempt at my wife’s sign, and then deliberately leaving the door ajar.
“He’s just the type,” I think.
Of course, my supposition reflects more poorly on me than my sometimes neighbor. I shouldn’t blame him if he doesn’t care to fraternize with his girlfriend’s neighbors. Perhaps he is late. Maybe his eyes are sensitive.
And maybe I’m too quick to blame others as deliberately difficult when I’m just being difficult myself.
I’ve met a few people who celebrate stubbornness and boast about obstacles they create. In our diagnosed age, we’d say they have O.D.D. or oppositional defiant disorder. They are pathologically obstreperous, hostile to innocent commands, and determined to subvert order. But I suspect they’re less common than we think and, seen from another angle, they’re necessary, the only people poised to see what we accept too readily. Are they any worse than people, like me, who are too fearful of confrontation? I’d never follow my neighbors downstairs to check their work at the front door. I’d never say anything if I found a culprit out.
Who knows, assuming malice may be another way to sublimate my own buried hostility. The safest accusation can neither be tested nor proven. The greatest satisfaction arises from what’s held closest, most inviolably. As I learned in elementary school, better to believe in stolen goods than admit carelessness.
One political party stands ready to accuse the other of deliberate evil. Congress blames the President, and he wonders if their actions reflect their beliefs or a desire to obstruct progress. TV hosts boggle at the stupidity of public figures they wouldn’t dare invite to the set, and public figures take pot shots at hosts they never watch.
The open door probably has many thoughtless authors, each believing someone else guilty of the crime. What if someone’s picked me out as the criminal?
If everyone loves the idea of an adversary as much as I do, the world is in trouble. It shouldn’t be so hard to think better of people, but it is. Sometimes it seems the only important transgressions target you, intrude on you, hurt you, endanger you. It’s too easy to offend our rectitude. That door is always open.