Beyond the Pale
Should I tell my infertile Asian wife that I want all-white babies?
There’s something malignly brilliant about hiding sick fan obsession under cover of a thesis. Since you’re doing graduate work yourself, you know you have to be somewhat obsessed with your subject. Your classmate would be remiss if she were writing about an actress and wasn’t familiar with all her work and the literature about her. There are also plenty of fans of actors and actresses who know way too much about their crushes but are of no danger. But you make a convincing case—the conversational compulsion, the physical tracking—that this student may be more than a dogged biographer. I think you should have a low-key conversation with this woman’s adviser. Just say you’ve gotten increasingly concerned about her level of fixation on her subject, then cite your examples. If this student is going off the rails, an authority figure should step in before she crashes.
I live in an apartment in a large city. My elderly neighbor immediately across the driveway has started playing the tuba and never stops. He is not talented and literally sits and blasts out the same few notes over and over for hours at a time. He never leaves the house, so tuba playing ends up being a constant possibility. I work from home seven days a week on my Ph.D. I don’t have an office on campus, and I can’t carry all my dissertation books to the library to get some peace. I understand that I have no control or say in what other people do in there home, but I am wondering if it is appropriate to talk with him? If so, what should I say?
Here’s one for you: Q: “What's the difference between a chain saw and a tuba?” A: “Some people enjoy listening to a chainsaw.” I got this from an entire page of tuba jokes that I’m sure you’ll now find even less funny than you would have before your neighbor took up his musical passion. Talk about a cry for help. I’m wondering if this poor guy is trapped somewhere and what you’re thinking is a tuba concert is his desperate attempt to signal for an ambulance. You need to go over and discuss this with your neighbor. Sure he could blow you off, but a civil conversation might bring some relief. Arrive with a box of chocolates or some such, explain you’re a poor graduate student who needs quiet to do her work (please tell me you’re not writing about the career of a distinguished actress), and you’re wondering if he could limit the hours of his practice, or play the tuba in the basement (if he has one). If that doesn’t help, it could be that the constant honking is violating a local sound ordinance, so call the police. And if there are other neighbors who are home during these Grateful Dead-length marathons who would feel grateful to be dead rather than have to listen to any more, maybe you could all get together and buy this guy a piccolo.
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“Life or the Party: Dear Prudence offers advice on a woman self-destructing with sex, drugs, and alcohol—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Sept. 26, 2011.