The Real Busy Bodies of Arlington County
Greetings everyone from beautiful Arlington, Virginia! Let me say right up front--this is truly a wonderful place to live. The public schools are top-notch, the people are engaged and interesting, the environment is verdant and lush, the sidewalks and parks are plentiful and in good repair, the crime is almost non-existent, the houses are well-kept, the gardens are fussed over, the children are (generally) polite, and the dogs are very, very cute. The taxes are high, but you get what you pay for. We have one of the highest education levels in the country and are number two in per capita income by county. And, while I don't have hard data on this (and woe unto any Arlingtonian who makes an assertion without data) but based on observation, Arlingtonians care about those less fortunate (which is pretty much everyone on earth) and donate significant time and money to charity. So big picture--great place, great people, I am super lucky to live here.
Arlingtonians are high achievers. I don't have hard data on this, either, but I don't run into a lot of people from old money/inherited wealth (nor do I meet many people who come from truly humble beginnings; most people are middle class folks). I meet a lot of people who have gotten to where they are primarily through talent and hard work. They expect a lot of themselves. And other people.
You take all this together--energetic, over-achieving people who have high standards and few material problems--and you get one of the highest number of busy bodies per capita in America. And no I don't have hard data on that either because I don't think busy body levels are studied (but they should be).
Let me take a moment to define what I mean by "busy body." Webster's offers the extremely charitable definition of "an officious or inquisitive person." If you, like me, weren't sure what "officious" means (most Arlingtonians would know), let me save you the research and tell you it means "meddlesome," but I think you'll agree "officious" sounds a lot nicer, like maybe you are efficient or official or maybe officially efficient.
I would agree with that definition, but I'm going to break it down a bit more, based on my Next Door research (Next Door is the somewhat infamous neighborhood news app, and let me tell you, Arlington's is EPIC). I think there are actually a few categories of busy bodies, at least as the term applies here. And let me just confess right up front, lest any Arlington friends think I am putting myself above them, I have, at times been a busy body. Not every kind of busy body, but I've had my moments.
1) The Classic Busy Body--that's the person who is very much concerned that your lawn hasn't been mowed on a weekly schedule, or that you take more than a day or two to roll your dumpster off the curb after trash day, or you have painted your house a non-neutral color. These days, all the people walking in the street due to social distancing (not a little bit in the street, but IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET) are very concerning. Full disclosure--I once filed a property line review case with the county because our neighbors were building an absolutely horrific, morally repugnant, view-destroying two-story garage mere inches off our fence line. The fact that it is apparently, shockingly legal does not excuse the total lack of consideration and poor taste that it represents. I have also been known to post about the dangers of off-leash dogs. Because they are dangerous! So there.
2) The "My Child Deserves Better" Busy Body--Now, if I were a teacher, there would be many reasons I'd want to teach in Arlington. The kids are generally well-behaved, smart, and come from stable homes. The parents are very engaged. And by engaged, I mean they scrutinize every single thing you do in your classroom and probably have private investigators follow you home, because their children WILL have every advantage in life and you had better be on board with that plan. If you compromise their future by say, handing out candy in your classroom, you will hear from them. Needless to say, this has resulted in some of the saddest classroom parties I have ever seen, in which the kids make holiday snowmen out of rice cakes and celery and try to seem enthusiastic. Similarly if you take an educational approach not supported by the data, you will probably get a lengthy spreadsheet of some kind in your inbox. In general, this person has serious SERIOUS issues with a school district that is the best in the state and one of the best in the country. If I didn't excuse myself to get another drink when this person launches into their list of complaints, I might have some idea what a complete and utter affront to education the Arlington Public Schools are and exactly how to make them acceptable.
I have never been this kind of busy body, because I know for a fact that whatever my kids' teachers are doing, it is far superior than anything I could offer them, and I'd be a remorseless hypocrite to ever even think of a misgiving of any kind, much less express one out loud. My kids come home happy and can read and multiply. Done.
3) The Environmental Activist--This person is very, very concerned that you use Round Up on your driveway or get your yard sprayed for mosquitoes because don't you know it kills bees. This type of busy body is extremely concerned about bees. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, I'm just saying it is a fact. I'm not saying they don't raise valid concerns. But from my standpoint, if something is approved by the FDA and it works, I'm using it. These folks need to lobby the FDA instead of me. That's just my opinion. Now I'll probably get run out of town. These folks also regularly post advice on how to catch and release snakes, rodents, and even insects and spiders in your home without harming them.
4) The Neighborhood Watch--This person has their eye out for anything that seems suspicious or unseemly, and then they assiduously report it on Next Door. Unlike in many places, Arlingtonians will thankfully check their racial biases before reporting, and if they don't--or even if they do, but that man who wasn't wearing pants in the park happened to be African American--so sorry! but he was!--they will get called out by #5, and in fact there will probably be a massive virtual smackdown as a result. Examples of suspicious things include the distribution of non-mainstream religious flyers that could brainwash everyone and turn the entire town into a cult; a black sedan that does not belong to the neighbors that keeps parking on a certain block; kids being loud; dogs being loud; nannies who spend too much time on their phones; people who are caught on Ring putting their dog waste in dumpsters left on the curb (a VERY hot topic); people coming to the door in uniform, with a labeled truck on the curb, claiming to be utility workers but who are probably not utility workers.
5) The Virtue Signaler--This person wants all of us to be better people, but mostly they want us to know that they are a very, very good person. Since this is a liberal area, this usually consists of policing for insufficient social awareness and tolerance (the red states have their own version, of course, such as loudly yelling "Merry Christmas!!!!" while carrying several automatic weapons). Which I am all in favor of, really I am. But I'm probably not going to get into a smackdown on Next Door because someone referred to LGBT people instead of LGBTQ people, when the Q is actually very, very important and not using it "erases" people. I'm probably gonna let that one go. However, I will confess to being a Virtue Signaler on occasion. I did it from the right when I was an evangelical, and I do it from the left now that I am more liberal. Old habits die hard, and being morally superior is the most delicious, addictive feeling there is.
In these COVID times, all the busy bodies are in their element. There is SO MUCH to do. The Classics and the Virtue Signalers are all over the mask situation. They have full reports every day on which businesses are doing well and which aren't and urging boycotts of the offenders. And they are outraged OUTRAGED over all the runners not wearing masks. I am a huge fan of masks--because I have a weak jaw, an overbite, and chin acne--but I don't wear them when I run based on data that indicates it is extremely hard to catch the virus when briefly passing by others outdoors. Arlingtonians love data and research, but in this case, they like judging people even better.
The Neighborhood Watch keeps an eye on the distance between passers-by, whether those kids really are siblings or not, and, of course, anyone taking advantage of all the extra packages flying around. Porch robberies are likely to rise if we aren't vigilant. Another danger might be people impersonating UPS drivers. In fact, when you stop to think about it, ALL UPS drivers could be fake UPS drivers. And fake UPS drivers are trouble of some kind. They could join the fake utility workers and just move into your house.
Meanwhile the screams of the "My Child Deserves Better" crowd could be heard audibly when the school board announced that teachers would not be covering new curriculum via distance learning. Never mind that all the children would be similarly disadvantaged. Never mind that the Khan Academy and other online resources exist. Never mind that the teachers are having to revamp their entire jobs on the fly. Never mind that there are parents out there who aren't going to do any of it any way (I wonder who that could be???) This was an injustice on par with Halloween candy. They might as well have injected all the children with coronavirus.
The Environmental Activists are the only ones at peace. They are reporting daily on increased wildlife sightings and enjoying the drastically lowered emissions. They are still worried about the bees, however. People have more time to spray Round Up.
Now that I have no friends left in this town, let me end by saying, again--on the whole, Arlingtonians are very fine people. If they are busy bodies it's because they care, they really, really, really do.