Wednesday, April 17th, 2024

O On The Front Porch With You by Rob Lauer
The Surprising Joy of Being Wrong About Your Neighbor


I’ve always been confident of my ability to “read people”—to sense whether someone is genuine or phony, thoughtful or rash, principled and trustworthy or not. When my first impressions have been negative, I have tended to give people “the benefit of the doubt.” Because I vent my frustrations through sarcasm, I have a very “long fuse”—meaning I tend to suffer perceived fools, if not gladly then politely—although, the older I get, the shorter my fuse. These days, the still, small voice within has become considerably louder, often shouting: “You knew what this person was like when you met them! Weren’t you listening?” With a newfound sense that life is short, I now give my negative first impressions the benefit of the doubt. The result has been like detoxing my central nervous system.

That said, I find it joyously life-affirming when my negative first impressions of someone are wrong. As a case in point, I offer the example of a neighbor whom I sarcastically christened “Parson Sunshine” after meeting him 13 years ago. Decades before missing the casting call for the film “Grumpy Old Men,” he answered a higher call, becoming an Episcopal priest—a vocation I initially found surprising given his seemingly sour disposition. Thus, the moniker “Parson Sunshine.”

My dear friend Carey lived next door to the Parson on a scenic point of land elevated high above a local river. An elderly widower, “Parson Sunshine” hired a local teen to mow his lawn. I suppose for safety reasons, the kid never cut the half of the backyard that sloped down to the river. Carey took that job upon himself. Every week, after mowing his one-and-quarter-acre yard, he drove his mower into the Parson’s backyard and dutifully cut the dangerously steep hill—and not without occasional mishaps. One steamy July evening, days after a heavy downpour, Carey called me to help him dislodge his riding mower from the saturated mush at the bottom of the hill.

For his part, “Parson Sunshine” routinely tossed the pine cones that fell into his yard from the towering pines boarding Carey’s property back into Carey’s yard—many landing in his flowerbeds. That irked me, but Carey—a better neighbor than I—continued mowing the Parson’s backyard.

In 2021, Carey tragically suffered a disabling stroke just three months after his 58th birthday. Since then, he has been in a nursing home. Every Sunday, without fail, “Parson Sunshine” brings Carey (a United Methodist) Episcopalian Communion along with a burger and shake. His visits aren’t brief or perfunctory but leisurely and enjoyable. His sour personae seems self-consciously created for comic effect. His laughter-inducing bluntness about human foibles is exceeded only by his compassion and commitment to redemptive grace. A truly devoted friend, he has been a constant, dependable ray of sunshine in Carey’s life.

My first impressions of my neighbor were dead wrong, and I am glad of it.

Rob Lauer is an award-winning, nationally-produced and published playwright with over 35 years of experience in the entertainment industry. His national credits include production work for MGA Films, Time/Warner TV, The Learning Channel and The History Channel. Locally, Rob has been producing, directing and hosting three TV series for PCTV (the City of Portsmouth’s official channel) since 2011.