Thursday, March 31, 2011

Old Dog Learns New Tricks

For a very long time, a young man who lives in the building next to mine has been smoking in our doorway, creating noxious conditions for non-smokers. I am well versed in the dangers of second hand smoke as I grew up with it, and have had pneumonia five times. My brother suffered from asthma as a child, unsurprisingly, as we were daily victims of our father's chain smoking at home and in closed cars. Walking out of my building through clouds of blue smoke every day has make me angry, and has also made my hair and clothing stink on a regular basis.

Yesterday, after glaring at our neighbor for months, I finally summoned the courage to ask him not to smoke in front of our door. I was prepared to back up my request with the fact that a San Francisco ordinance makes it illegal to do so within 18 feet of a door or window, but tried to find words which would not be overtly hostile.

"Would you please not smoke in front of our door?" I said. He replied, "I don't. I smoke in front of my own door." I said, "Well, it seems as if you're over here a lot, too." He said, "Is the smoke getting into your apartment?" "Yes." "Oh, sorry. I won't smoke there anymore," he said. I thanked him and went on my way, quite stunned at how nice he was about it. He is also so young that my maternal instincts fluttered for a moment, but I refrained from lecturing him on the effects of smoking. Quit while I was ahead.

Today, I noticed him puffing away on the far corner, across the street, his back to my building. I almost felt bad for banishing him, so I walked over and said, "I just want to thank you again for being so nice yesterday." He smiled and said, "There are lots of other places I can smoke." I continued, "I hesitated to mention it because I know everyone is mean to smokers. I don't hate smokers, I just hate smoke." Exhaling like a chem trail, he said, "No problem."

I've been hating him for months, and it was so unnecessary. I could have saved myself all that angry energy if I had manned up and mentioned it sooner. How could I have forgotten that most people are really nice if given a chance to be? I don't think we'll be Facebook friends or go to movies together, but now I'm sending good thoughts his way, and it's such a relief. Some of life's lessons come from the most unexpected places.


Whitney Lee said...

I seem to run headlong into this lesson again and again...still not learning it, obviously. Mine is more a fear of confrontation than of anything else, particularly with those close-ish to me. I'm glad your request turned out to be such a positive!

English Rider said...

Your conciliatory approach paid dividends. Well done.

nick said...

I know the feeling. You never know if someone's going to be quite reasonable about your complaint or be totally obnoxious and say you're the nuisance not them. You must have been quite amazed that he was so cooperative.

TechnoBabe said...

This was a good learning tool for you. To carry the anger inside, be weighed down with it and have it in your life at all, has been shown to you in good light. I hope you are heaping blessings on this young man and sending them out to the universe. I will too now that I know about him. This was an uplifting story and I for one am pleased to be part of it way over here on the part of the earth.

the walking man said...

An extra cupcake from that shop would probably be well appreciated if he can still taste food.

I have been smoking outside for years and if I am in the only place left in MI where you can smoke inside I always ask the person next to me if it will bother them.

We smokers have been trained now how despised we are.

But to be honest Susan what's up with this "man up" thing? How's you manage that?

TaraDharma said...

it is amazing how far cig smoke travels....i used to smoke in my front yard, and the smoke (unbeknownst to me) was wafting into the front bedroom where our roommate lived. I was soooo embarrassed when she finally told me.

Now, being an ex-smoker, the smell from even far away bugs the hell out of me. You were very kind to that dear man, and he in turn treated you respectfully. Here's to harmony!

Barb said...

A good lesson learned! Sometimes what I fume about turns out to be the least of my worries, too.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


That's it exactly. I think most people fear confrontation. Big lessons here when he turned out to be so very agreeable.


If only I had acted months ago.


I was amazed enough to write a blog post about it, which as you may have noticed, doesn't happen that often lately.


Anger is heavy. And when I got close enough to actually see someone I had been demonizing, he was really sweet-looking. I certainly do wish him well, (and hope he stops smoking for his own good, not mine.)


You think I'm not manly enough? Damn. Will you give me lessons?

You and I are of a generation in which most people smoked when young, and many still do. What I don't understand is the vast number of really young kids smoking today, when we know how dangerous it is.


It does travel, and cigars are even worse. I'm glad you're an ex-smoker. I want my friends to be healthy.


Isn't that the truth? Something I've been agonizing over for a very long time turned out to be such an easy fix, and best of all, nobody got hurt.

Molly said...

The old honey v.vinegar debate! When I was teaching quilting classes I'd sometimes get people signed up who seemed very grouchy and hostile at the first class, making me wonder why on earth they signed up. But I didn't react and continued to treat them as though they were the friendliest and most charming people I'd ever met. And gradually they would thaw and be much nicer. I firmly believe that if you treat people as though they are nice, even when they don't seem to be, they will eventually relax and let their nicer side be seen....Who knows what causes them to act grouchy at first? Maybe they're out of their comfort zone, afraid they'll make a fool of themselves,whatever. You handled it like a champ!

e said...

Thank you for this post. I too grew up with second-hand smoke from my mother and grandmother. The former also died of lung cancer before the age of sixty. Perhaps your positive approach will help an otherwise decent young man see that quitting is really in his best interest.

seventh sister said...

I'm not sure we ever get to the point where we remember this all of the time. It seems to be easier to just lapse into complaining (even if it's only to ourselves) and to think the worst of a person rather than just ask for what we want and give them a chance to grant our wish.

the walking man said...

I don't think you need to man u susan, you don't need to grow a pair or anything else like that. You do just fine with being your up front feminine self. besides if you were to man up it would involve tinted car windows and guns as you slowly rode least in these days.

Deborah said...

So refreshing, I loved this :o)

Jo said...

Omigoodness...! Kudos for your courage. :-) It could have gone either way.

I grew up in a household where both parents smoked as well, and I had pneumonia several times too, as well as ear infections. Maybe that young fellow will quit smoking altogether, but I guess you can't count on it.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


He wasn't the grouchy person -- I was. Every time I saw him skulking around our door, smoking, I gave him the stink eye. It was really childish of me. But I agree with you about treating grumps kindly as we never know what burdens another carries, and a smile can go a long way.


Nice as that would be, I have no illusions that he will stop smoking because a stranger complained.

Yesterday I saw him out there again as I returned home and said, "So, how do you feel about cigars?" He smiled and said, "I like them, too." Uh oh.

(My father died at a young age from heart disease, doubtless made worse by his smoking.)


Complaining seems to be my default setting. Being old doesn't necessarily mean being mature.


Maybe I should get an old Duesenberg, a Fedora and of course, a gat, and talk out of the side of my mouth. I really prefer the old-style gangsters. It would be perfect for stealing flowers from empty lots and freeway gardens.


Thanks for your visit!


It took me a long time to work up the "courage" because I expected a negative result, but he surprised me. Big lessons there.

secret agent woman said...

Seems like it's always best to try the polite approach first, but so easy not to. I So good for you for talking to him in a way that didn't force him into a defensive position.

Also, I so agree with the walking man on the "man up" thing. Sometimes when women talk about being ballsy or whatever, I just cringe. As if strength and courage were solely masculine traits. You womaned up, and that was perfect.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Many of the most courageous people I have ever known were female. I just get a kick out of the expression "man up," but you're right -- "woman up" is much better.

Grandma's scrapbook said...

As said Barb "good lesson learned! Sometimes I fume about what turns out to be the least of my worries, too. " I wish you all the best and enjoy this wonderful spring morning

Anonymous said...

You are a class act, you are, and something about catching more flies with honey. But, I hate seeing young people smoke because I know how brutally hard it is to quit later in life.My parents used to both smoke in the car with the windows up and us in the back seat.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I hope your day is a beautiful one, too!


Yep, the old smoke in the car with the windows up while the kids cough in the back seat-trick. My mother never smoked, but my father more than made up for her.

mischief said...

It's so weird when people break stereotype. Glad this one did though.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Of course, most people never realize that they are stereotypes in other people's minds. It might be harder to break with them if they did.

Brown said...

Make no mistake; he was mischievously planning your demise until you thanked him....bravo for growing a pair, as it were.

I often do the same thing: I'll worry about confrontation, but when I finally get around to it, things don't turn out all that bad. I'm in no rush to do it more often though, glaring is much more fun...

Los Angelista said...

Well, in your defense it does seem that folks get totally bent out of shape when you ask them to not smoke around you, so it's a surprise that he was so nice about honoring your request. Actually, send some of that this way. My downstairs neighbors (the ones that barfed on me) have now picked up a noxious pot habit. I can't stand the smell...and they girl told me it's "not illegal" so they can't do anything about the smell wafting through the vents. Ugh.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


You may be right about mischief-plotting as he's back to his old habits already, smoking in front of my house. I thought we had a deal.


That doesn't sound good at all. We had all sorts of noxious smells wafting through the vents when the Bad Subtenant lived next door, but your situation is worse because of the boys. Have you spoken to the building manager or the Rent Commission? Be vigilant-- these people may be breaking some kind of law, not necessarily related to pot, which could get them evicted. (I base that on their apparent unconcern for others.) Good luck!

Cadan Henry said...

just found the blog. enjoyed the read.


heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you so much, and I hope you'll come back again.

Cadan Henry said...

i appreciate you visiting and your comments. just getting going and you are now part of the adventure. lived in noe valley for almost 5 years and its nice to envision the area again. like i ever stopped.


heartinsanfrancisco said...


Welcome to the blogosphere! I really like that you are able to express so much in so few words. I live in the Marina, but visit Noe occasionally.

Maria said...

I started smoking when I was 14 and quit when I was 24. To this day, I miss it.

But, I really do hate having to walk through smoke clouds to get into buildings. Bing refuses to shop at stores who allow their employees to smoke in front of the building. I think you were very admirable for just taking initiative and handling things in a non-threatening way.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


My 89-year old aunt hasn't smoked in over 50 years, but claims to miss it still. I share Bing's views on this, although they can't always be implemented.

Thank you for the atta-girl. Apparently, our boy reconsidered as he's been smoking in front of our door again for the last week, and I'm pissed all over again. It was nice while it lasted.

David said...

I was wincing at the beginning of the story, ready for the crazy reaction or the battle of beliefs. What a nice ending.

I love the line, "I don't hate smokers, I just hate smoke." I wish we could all separate what it is we actually like/dislike/fear from the people we are talking to.

Thank you, dear Hearts, the lesson.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Update: Butthead is smoking by my front door again. I guess he had second thoughts about being agreeable. I may have to amend my list of people I hate.

David said...

Oh, that is *so* disappointing. I am sorry.

Okay, so, you don't hate smokers, you just hate smoke. Oh and you hate Butthead.

heartinsanfrancisco said...



Jocelyn said...

The part I love about this story is that you opted to act non-passive/aggressive and with civility and--here's the surprise--he responded in kind. We've been so primed to expect uncivil responses to our best efforts that we get fogged into not even trying anymore. Great lesson here, my dear, for all of us.

Jocelyn said...

Crap. Now I read through the comments and saw your update. Could you nail a "No Smoking, Please" sign outside your door?

Or squirt him with water pistols.


heartinsanfrancisco said...


The building manager put an institutional-looking sign on the door citing the relevant SF Ordinance as we had a problem with tenants smoking in the common areas. The sign didn't deter our determined neighbor, though, so I printed one just for him and hung it outside. Apparently he can't read, or more likely, doesn't give a damn.

nick said...

Perhaps a bit of tit-for-tat? Every time he's been smoking outside your front door, you dump a whole pile of rubbish outside HIS front door?

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Good girl.

Did you say 'manned up'?

There are snowflakes in hell.

*still belly laughing*

Scarlett & Viaggiatore