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The Hamburg Baby Burglar

, , , , , , , | Legal | May 7, 2022

Back in 2011, we moved to Hamburg, Germany from The Netherlands. My German was basic at best, but I tried. One day, I was coming back from a jogging session and I saw a neighboring building on fire. It was nothing massive, but black smoke was coming out of a couple of kitchen windows on one of the stories.

In front of that building, I saw my neighbor: a young woman with her four-month-old daughter in a pram. The neighbor was completely in distress, obviously trying to reach someone on the phone without any luck. She was screaming into what I suppose was a voicemail:

Neighbor: “Pick up the d*** phone. Why don’t you answer me?!”

I approached her to see what was wrong and whether I could help. Apparently, one of the kitchens burning belonged to a friend of hers — the one she couldn’t reach. She was in complete panic, afraid that the friend was still inside. The street was starting to fill out with various emergency vehicles, being extremely loud. I offered to help her and she gave me her kid so that the baby wouldn’t be in all that noise. Mind you, I had been living there for just a couple of months and more than knowing we were neighbors could not be said about our relationship. 

I took the kid in the pram to a safer place and had to ask for permission to enter the street, as it was closed off by the police officers. I was wearing a bright neon pink shirt — the typical “don’t run me over” jogger outfit. The kind police lady let me pass after I told her I live in the building next door and advised me to go inside with the kid to avoid breathing in the fumes. In all the confusion, I didn’t tell the neighbor where I was going, and she didn’t tell me where to take the kid. We each assumed the other one knew. I’m sure you all already know where this is going.

I took the kid inside, into my apartment, as advised. She was tired, and as I rocked her in my arms, she fell asleep. I put her on the sofa and sat beside her, not knowing if the could turn and fall down. All of a sudden, I could hear helicopters flying over, quite low. My heart leaped; I was sure that the building on fire was in a very bad condition.

Suddenly, someone rang the doorbell. When I opened it, I saw two police officers standing in front of me. They looked at me, up and down, and asked if I had seen a baby girl, matching the description of the baby sleeping on my sofa. 

Me: “Yeah, she’s here, sleeping.”

Officer: “What? Wait… This was all a misunderstanding. What luck. Oh, dear, what luck! Could you pick her up and bring her along?”

Me: *Completely confused* “Sure.”

I picked up the still sleeping girl and, guided by the two police officers, stepped out of my apartment onto the street. What I saw scared the living daylights out of me. There was an entire corridor of the police force: a full K9-unit, motorbike police officers, police officers on horses, uncountable police cars, ambulances, etc.

Apparently, the neighbor — the little girl’s mother — finally reached her friend and, happy that the friend was okay (she wasn’t at home, but working, to begin with), she turned around to her kid… who was gone… and she had no recollection anymore to whom she had given the child. So, her first reaction was to go into full-blown panic mode and claim that someone had kidnapped her kid.

In a street full of emergency services due to a fire, it wasn’t difficult to organize a full search. And then, it hit me: those helicopters were looking for me!

All is well what ends well: we (me and my husband, who missed the whole ordeal due to work) went to visit the neighbors a couple of days later with some newborn presents, and we had coffee, cake, and a good laugh about everything. I even ended up babysitting on a couple of occasions.

And, ladies and gentlemen, that is how I ended up having a true story of how I, once upon a time, was Hamburg’s most wanted criminal, even if it was for a very short period of time.

Making Assumptions Can Be Taxing

, , , , , , | Related | May 3, 2022

I am driving with my sister and the song “Neighbors” by J. Cole is on. 

Sister: “Okay, I really relate to this song right now.”

Me: “What are you talking about?”

Sister: “I think the neighbor’s son is selling weed.”

Me: “Why do you think this?”

Sister: “Because ever since he moved back, there has been a ton of cars driving up to their house, staying for like five minutes, and then leaving.”

Me: “You are so stupid right now.”

Sister: “Why?”

Me: “One, he hasn’t moved back in; he’s just helping out his mom at work. And two, it’s tax season, you idiot! All those people are dropping off their tax stuff because she’s a preparer!”

Sister: “How was I supposed to know?”

Me: “She’s been doing our family’s taxes for years!”

It’s An Incredibly Annoying Day In The Neighborhood

, , , , , , , , | Friendly | April 29, 2022

In 1979, when my husband and I were first married, we bought a house near the university in the good-sized city where we lived. We liked the neighborhood for a lot of reasons. The nearby university had a lot of energy around it, and there was always something going on: free concerts, lectures, exhibits close by, etc. But our street was a quiet little backwater, off the main drag. With the exception of a mom-and-pop grocery store on the corner fronting the main street, the only other nonresidence was the church across the street from us. Everything else was a one- or two-family house.

Right next door to us was a single-family house. The owner lived nearby and owned several houses, living on one floor of a two-family a block or two away. We’d see him around sometimes. He charged people, usually students, $100 a month for a room with use of the bath and communal kitchen and living room.

There were anywhere from four to six students in the house at any given time. Most of them would move in and stay for a couple of years until they were out of school. We got along well with most of them, doing the usual neighborly thing, taking in mail, watering plants if they were out of town, and that sort of thing. For the most part, they were usually so busy with work and school that they had no time to misbehave. There were the usual parties and such, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Notice that I said, “for the most part”. There was one group of students who proceeded to make life hard for everyone on the whole street. They moved in a few days before the fall semester began. They were three guys and two girls, most of them wearing T-shirts from the same high school, so they were freshmen, friends from high school starting college, out on their own for the first time.

They were loud and rowdy moving in, but no one thought much about it at the time. School had not yet started and everyone was excited. Everyone assumed they would settle down in a couple of days when school began. We were wrong.

Apparently, the party started as soon as they moved in. Music was blaring from every open window, and people were on the front porch catcalling passersby and neighbors in the yard. The porch roof was flat, so they were up there sunbathing, eating, drinking, and throwing garbage all over the sidewalk and neighbors’ yards.

That was bad enough, but the worst was parking. I know parking in the area was usually tight, but there were no trendy bars or restaurants to bring people in, and the church across the street had its own parking lot, so except for a little while on Sunday morning or Wednesday night, there weren’t any on-street church parking problems, and you could usually find space across the street in front of the church.

It didn’t seem to matter to these kids; they parked where they wanted. About half the houses had driveways and we found ourselves with our driveways blocked — sometimes just fudging by a little, sometimes totally blocked. Everyone up and down the street had this issue. It got to the point where if my husband and I came home, more often than not, one of us would have to get out and go get someone from the house to move their car. The alpha girl told us:

Alpha Girl: “You can always come and we’ll move our cars, no problem.”

Me: “I’m getting tired of having to get your permission to use my own property.”

She ignored me.

One Friday night, my husband had to work late. It was well after 11:30 when he got home, and of course, our driveway was blocked. He laid on his horn, but the usual Friday night loud party was going on and no one heard. He got out of his car and knocked on the door. Nothing. Finally, he parked his car and came inside, and we called the police.

The police arrived a little while later, and apparently, the flashing light did what all the knocking and horn hadn’t. The door opened and seven or eight people ran out. We also came out to speak to the officer. The blonde ran over to the officer and demanded to know what he was doing. He looked at her and said:

Officer: “Writing a ticket. What does it look like? This car has completely blocked this driveway.”

Alpha Girl: “But the girl who owns that car is a visitor! She didn’t know; she shouldn’t be responsible!”

Officer: “She’s never seen a driveway before? Must be from a really small town.”

He finished writing the ticket and put it on the car.

Officer: “Does one of you own the blue [Car] down the street?”

Kid #1: “Yeah, that’s mine.”

Officer: “You need to move it before you get a ticket, too. You’re also blocking a driveway. I’ll be back again on patrol, and if both cars aren’t moved, I’ll call a tow truck and have them towed. You also need to turn down the music before we have a noise complaint.”

He left, and the blonde girl turned to us.

Alpha Girl: “I told you, all you had to do was ask and we would have moved the car!”

Husband: “I tried. No one answered.”

Me: “And I told you, we’re tired of having to get your permission to use our own driveway.”

They went back into their house, but I guess the life had gone out of the party as the music went off and so did the lights.

It was a quiet weekend for once, but that ticket would prove to be the opening volley of a vicious conflict. By Monday, music was blaring out of every window and door all day long, not just when they were home. If they were home, they were on the porch, now yelling at anyone and everyone obscenities and other unpleasant things. Parties every weekend got louder and bigger. The girls would go up on the porch roof and flash people. Of course, by the time the police got there, nothing was happening and they couldn’t really do anything.

One day, I got home from work and got the mail. Included was a letter addressed to one of the male students. I almost marked it return to sender, but from the return address, it looked important, so I decided to do the right thing and take it over. The three guys were on the porch doing their usual catcalling when I walked up.

Me: “[Kid #2]? There’s a letter for you.”

[Kid #2] smirked.

Kid #2: “What is it? An apology for how you treated us? Maybe if you f*** me I”ll consider forgiving you.”

At that, I threw the envelope on the porch.

Me: “It’s from your probation officer, jerk.”

I walked away. He jumped up, grabbed the letter, and ran inside while his buddies laughed.

After that, they doubled down on their usual hijinks. In addition to their routine, our newspaper would disappear from our porch and be scattered all over the yard, trash cans got upended and trash would be everywhere and even worse, in addition to the trash they usually threw around, they started throwing glass beer bottles into our driveway so we always had to check for broken glass every time we went in or out. And, of course, we could never catch them.

Finally, one day, I came home to find the piece de resistance. One of the guys had an old junker of a car. It one looked as if it had been hit front and back; both ends were crunched up so much that the car had an inverted V in the middle. My neighbor told me that they had somehow pushed it home and left it parked squarely in front of my house for us to look at. And they left it. It didn’t move for ten days or two weeks maybe; it just sat there.

One day, someone from the city came and asked me about a report of an abandoned car.

Me: “I think it belongs to someone next door.”

I guess the kids saw me talking to the city official and assumed I had been the one to call. It wasn’t me, actually; it turned out to be the minister from across the street, concerned that it was a safety hazard with all the kids in the neighborhood who were always out playing. And God knows what the thing was leaking all over the street. And the car didn’t move then.

The next day, Karma reared her pretty head. I don’t know if the city official did something, or whether the police finally caught up with the car owner, but the next day, the car got booted — for unpaid parking tickets, according to the stickers left on the car. By the end of the day, the car was gone with nothing but an ugly stain on the street left behind. I figured we were in for it. And I was not disappointed.

The next day, a sign went up. They put a four-by-eight sheet of beaten-up plywood on the front porch with a fairly obscene message painted on it, telling the neighbors where we could all go and what we could do when we got there, in graphic detail, accompanied by some pretty crude graphics. The artist was not too talented, evidently.  

I told my husband we should batten down the hatched and brace ourselves; it was probably only going to get worse. But I was wrong.

Silence came — absolute radio silence. The sign disappeared, the music stopped blaring, there was no one catcalling on the porch, no trash, nothing. We wondered if they had all died, but no one in the neighborhood cared enough to go check.

Several days later, someone knocked on our door, and we opened it to find the landlord from next door.  

Landlord: “First off, I’ve come to apologize for all the problems my tenants have caused. I’ve been renting to students for years and I’ve never had any problems like these kids before. I’ve had more complaints in these last two weeks than in my entire career. But they won’t be a problem anymore.”

Me: “How can you be so sure?”

He got an evil smile on his face.

Landlord: “I keep a room in the house that I never rent out; I keep it for when my brother comes to town. I’ve decided to move in there while I have some work done on my apartment.”

He shook my hand and left.

And he was true to his word. The students behaved themselves, the sign went out in the trash the following week, and there were no more problems.

One day, I was out in my yard when the blonde came home. She glared at me and I couldn’t help myself.

Me: “Having fun with your new roomie?”

She glared knives at me, went into her house, and slammed the door. There were no more problems for the rest of the year.

Peace came back to our street once again, and by the beginning of the winter semester, there were a whole new group of students next door.

Dog Sitting Is Getting Tense

, , , | Right | CREDIT: Wanderlock | April 28, 2022

Recently, I have begun a dog walking and pet sitting business that I run out of my house with express permission from my landlord. I’ve worked with animals for years and I’m grateful to finally be able to do it for a halfway-decent living.

That being said, I’ve been MUCH busier than I anticipated, and as such, I’ve been a little stressed about over-extending myself. I even had a nightmare about forgetting that I had to watch a dog, and the dog was left alone at their house for several days. Even though it was just a nightmare, this prompted me to get more serious about my organization and scheduling so I wouldn’t miss ANYTHING. Nowadays, my schedule is rock solid and I’ve been super on top of it.

I only say that so you can understand the immense confusion I feel when my doorbell rings at 2:00 pm on Monday and I hear a dog barking outside. I get my dogs calmed down and answer the door. On my doorstep is an elderly woman, maybe eighty years old, holding a very cute West Highland Terrier.

I’m honestly so confused by her being there that my mouth does not form words. I just sort of stand there, opening and closing my mouth like a fish out of water, while my brain is just screaming, “YOU FORGOT! YOU FORGOT!”

After a moment, she graciously saves me from myself, and talks first.

Lady: “Hello, I’m [Lady], and I’m here to drop my dog off for boarding!”

At this point, I’m almost positive that my nightmares have literally come true and I have straight-up deleted a dog from my short-term memory. But as I’m racking my brain, I cannot remember EVER seeing this dog or woman before.

Me: “Hi… uh… Who is this little guy?”

Lady: “This is Chico. I was hoping to leave him with you for the weekend while I visit my grandson.”

Okay. “Hoping”. That’s an interesting word. Now I’m less anxious but more confused.

Me: “Okay? Have we spoken about Chico before?”

Lady: “Oh, no. But your neighbor, [Neighbor], said you watched dogs, so I just brought him over!”

OKAY. Now, this is making more sense. [Neighbor] was my previous neighbor who had recently moved out. I had watched her dogs dozens of times, and she was always very kind to give my name out to people who were looking for dog sitters. Sometimes, however, she did treat me as “on-call” in the sense that she would call me as she was pulling out of her driveway to tell me she was leaving for the weekend and I would need to watch the dogs. She would play it off like she was so frazzled and forgot, but it started to get old after the third or fourth time.

At this point, I have a little old lady with her energetic dog on my porch and still more questions than answers. I invite her in while I try to get to the bottom of it. Come to find out, the lady is a friend of [Neighbor]’s mother, whom I have never met. [Neighbor] had a couple of my business cards at her house, and apparently, the last time her mother was visiting, she took a couple of them to give to her friends. Apparently, [Neighbor] inherited her entitlement from her mother, as her mother told this lady I was available ANYTIME for dog sitting. Literally anytime.

Worse yet, because [Neighbor] was my next-door neighbor, her mom figured out my address and gave it to the lady. Because of that behavior, the lady had the impression that I was a dog boarding facility, and she was just as confused as I was to arrive at a normal-looking house.

After we got it all explained, the lady and I had a pretty big laugh about it. The lady was super apologetic and sweet, but I knew it really wasn’t her fault, so there was no harm done. She was just a sweet old lady who got a little confused.

Unfortunately, because I was already booked, I couldn’t watch Chico. But good news! The lady determined that she could just visit her grandson the next weekend, and I went ahead and booked her for it. Chico and my dogs had plenty of time to socialize while the lady and I were chatting, and they were becoming fast friends. I think I may have just fallen back into a great client.

Still, I was a little miffed, so I called [Neighbor] and told her to ask her mother to please not tell people that they can just come by “anytime”. [Neighbor] was legitimately confused as to why it was an issue. After a few minutes of going around in circles, I simply said I couldn’t watch any dogs that I didn’t know and left it at that.

While I wish that was the end of it, two days later, [Neighbor] called me.

Neighbor: “I’ve just left my house. Can you please watch the dogs?”

Me: *Gently* “You just moved three hours away. I’m no longer your neighbor.”

She just gave a half-hearted “Oh…” and hung up. God bless her.

Like A Good Neighbor, Control Your Kid!

, , , , , | Friendly Right | April 19, 2022

I was witness to the worst table ever. A neighbor invited me to go out to a restaurant with her and her toddler. I said sure, although I didn’t know her well, as we’d just moved to the area.

She let her toddler dunk paper napkins in water and paste them on the walls and smear mashed potatoes everywhere. Then, she let him out of his high chair with wet potatoey hands to roam about touching everything.

Neighbor: *Laughing* “The staff here just love [Kid]!”

She kept going on about it. The kid came back to the table and grabbed my plate, which was half full, and smashed it on the floor under the table.

My neighbor saw nothing wrong with any of this, nor did she help clean up. I tipped heavily and never went out with them again, nor did I go back to that place!