Monday, May 30, 2005

A New Leaf

I grew up in an anti-social family uninterested in the social interaction important to other families in our suburban sprawl neighborhood. We were the ones -- you know them -- with the overgrown, weedy lawn and rusted lawn ornament left over from a past resident who gave a damn. Our neighbors were ghostly phantoms. We heard their noises and occasionally saw glimpses of them; but their world was not ours and we floated by each other silently and disconnectedly.

Then I moved out, and went to school, first in Chicago then in New York. While one of the beautiful things about urban life is the jammed-in shared existences residents plod through side-by-side, anonymity is a treasured and cultivated commodity. In my seven years in New York I lived in four different apartments and, setting aside three years of school, I never knew a single neighbor. I said the occasional "hi," perhaps. But mostly I just looked through my peephole to see if I could make it to the elevator without human contact. I never wanted to live in a doorman building because, jesus, you have to talk to those guys every fucking time you leave or enter the building. What's worse, every holiday season you have to pay them for stalking you and knowing your every coming and going. Screw that. Those perverts can scam someone else, thank you; walk-up living was fine with me.

Then I got married and we bought a house. It's a rowhouse physically connected to all the other houses on the block, so we don't have the suburban lawn buffer that I grew up with. Instead, our front door is literally 15 feet from the next front door, which is 15 feet from the next front door.

When we moved in about 10 months ago, I continued scurrying in and out of the house like a horseshoe crab. I still saw neighbors and apparitions. But now, something has changed. In the last two months, two rowhouses on our block have been purchased by people who are, well, exactly like us. And it turns out that a third rowhouse has been occupied this whole time by another couple exactly like us. Exactly. All are young couples, childless, either married or on the verge of it. Clueless about gardening. Worried about the decrepit state of our old houses and wondering how to pay for their upkeep. John Kerry stickers still on our bumpers. Committed to the city, but wondering where we will school our inevitable kids. Here we all are, on the same capsizing but persisting boat.

And I like it.

Suddenly, I'm not peering through the peephole hoping I can dash out without human interaction. Suddenly I'm walking the dog for 20 minutes instead of five. Suddenly the idea of a block party doesn't sound like an anesthetic-free root canal.

What's happening to me? Am I losing that urban steel that kept me insulated from the world for so many years? Or have I found a new kind of urban steel -- one based not on anxiety and fear but on community? Time will tell. Right now, I'm seeing if I can get my new friends to come de-weed the jungle that's sprung up in our backyard. That's what friends are for, right?


Blogger Chemical Billy said...

Hm. We haven't gotten there yet, not with the physical neighbors, not yet. Though our neighbors are not childless couples like us, like you. But I think there is an urge for community, and something tantalizingly luddite about finding one just outside your front door.

1:17 AM  

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