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Wind Chime on Greenpoint Block Unleashes 'Wall of Passive Aggression'

By Gwynne Hogan | May 16, 2017 7:38am
 A wind chime became a flashpoint on a Greenpoint block.
A wind chime became a flashpoint on a Greenpoint block.
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Courtesy of Heather Letzkus

GREENPOINT — Disharmony has reverberated through a block of Kent Street ever since a resident hung a wind chime from a tree in memory of her recently deceased mother.

Several weeks ago, Christine Walczak, 28, decided to hang the tuneful tubes from a tree in front of her house as part of a shrine for her mom, Maria Mazur, 60, who passed away of a heart attack in October.

Some neighbors, however, found the sound less than soothing and the wind-powered instrument has become a flashpoint in the community.

Instead of a memorial to her mom, Walczak's shrine has turned into a pro-wind chime rallying point, a place to vent about estrangement between neighbors and a battleground for ordinances governing sign posting — especially on trees.

Nearly everyone on the block has chimed in.

Mazur grew up on Kent Street. She had lived there ever since she moved from Poland as a child and was a fixture of the block, always lingering on the stoop and chatting up the neighbors, her daughter said.

"Everyone knew her. She was the mayor of the block. She knew all the kids' names," Walczak said. "She knew everybody."

After her mom died, Walczak cleaned up the scruffy little plot around the tree and screwed the chime into the side of the tree. She thought nothing more of it, for a while.

But last week, after a particularly windy few days, Walczak found an anonymous note sent to her in the mail with no return address. 

"Dear neighbours [sic], the wind chime in front of your house is keeping us from sleeping as well as being at home with open windows. We kindly ask you to remove it to the inside of your house," the note read, signed only, "Your neighbours!"

The note infuriated Walczak, who was frustrated by the pettiness of the complaint and that they hadn't approached her in person.

"It's a wind chime. Like out of all the things ... the dog barking, the gate slamming, the bar on the corner, the cars racing down the block. There are so many things to complain about," she said.

In response, she tacked the neighbor's note onto the tree in front of her house, along with a sassy retort.

"Dear neighbor, the wind chime is in memory of my mom who recently passed away! Get over it you live in NYC! The kids on the block love it and I've spoken to other neighbors. They don't mind it! Sorry 'Not Sorry' Your neighbor."

The public exchange unleashed a slew of responses, with others posting notes in support of the chime. "It reminds me of home please do not remove it. This brings a smile to my face every day," one neighbor wrote. "Keep the wind chimes. We love them," another wrote.

Other neighbors on the block say they'd hang chimes in their windows and from the trees in front of their houses in defiance of the neighbor's anti-chime note, they told Walczak.

"What is upsetting is the impersonal way this letter was sent to Christine. There was no sense of community," said Christine Huk, 50, who also grew up on the block, and said she was considering putting a chime in front of her house. "I grew up here and we knew everyone and we used to speak to our neighbors. It was a community."

The chime debate signage was silenced Monday when Heather Letzkus, who lives a few blocks away, ripped out all of the signs over her worry for the tree's health. In their place she posted the city regulations that say it's illegal to hang notes or anything from trees, a move she admitted was rich with irony.

"I felt that there needed to be an intervention there [from] someone who is a totally disinterested party except for the welfare of that tree," she said, calling the signs a "wall of passive aggression."

"You can talk to each other," she said. "You don't need to deface a tree."

Walczak said she'd removed the screw from the tree trunk and secured the chime with a string from a branch, but she's determined that it stays up.

"Every time it chimes it makes me think of her and the memories we shared outside," she said, adding that she was happy that most people who'd weighed in were pro-wind chime. "It shows the community that one bad apple won't ruin the bunch."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story erroneously stated that the original note was slipped under Walczak's door. It was actually mailed with no return address.