Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Howdy Neighbors

Mrs. Chatterbox and I live in a townhouse where we’re connected to neighbors on both sides. We’ve never had any trouble: the builder did a great job soundproofing our unit so we haven’t been subjected to loud noise. I never met our neighbors even though we’ve lived here four years. A month ago a POD was left at the curb next door, one of those metal containers you fill with your furniture. Our neighbors were moving, and I’d never bothered to knock on their door to introduce myself.

I have a fantasy about neighbors that comes from living happily in one place for most of my childhood. I remember mothers chatting while hanging wash on backyard clotheslines, borrowing cups of sugar or a few eggs, helping each other with jumper cables when car batteries died. And there were those great TV shows from the Fifties. I remember laughing while watching Lucy and Ethel squabble while fathoming the depths of friendship and neighborliness. I always assumed that neighbors, like sunny days, were an integral part of life. But, for me, this has not been the case. As an adult, I’ve been unlucky with neighbors.

I remember a time shortly after moving to Oregon when a little girl knocked on our door to tell me she was locked out. I happened to be home alone—an illustrator working out of my house—and I was the only adult available. I let her use our phone to call her mother at work, and when she hung up she informed me that her mom told her to stay with me until she came home from work. Aside from the imposition, this mother didn’t know me and had no idea whether or not I was a convicted child molester. (By the way, I’m not.) I expected the mother to drive home immediately to collect her child and thank me, but four hours later I was still playing jacks with this kid (winning by the way). Finally, her older sister arrived five hours later to fetch her home. I had no idea where she’d been all this time. In five years I never met the girls’ parents.

I’ve yet to have an altercation with a neighbor, although I came close when we moved into an older home and were promptly told by our new neighbors, who’d probably been living next door since the attack on Pearl Harbor, that if we knew what was good for us we wouldn’t spray chemicals in our backyard that might harm the precious birds they overfed. As an animal lover I didn’t resent this too much, until I saw these two septuagenarians aiming pellet rifles out of their windows to shoot squirrels too ignorant to realize the food left out wasn’t for them. When I spoke out against this, I was told the pellets didn’t hurt the squirrels and they offered to prove it if I’d move into range, which I refused to do.

Another time we moved next door to a widowed school teacher who was so jazzed about her grandson Jamie that she could work him into any conversation within three seconds. It happened like this:

“Are you enjoying Martin Luther King Day, Mrs. Jenson?”

One second…two—

“Yes. But it won’t be long before Jamie has a holiday named after him!”

Another time at a different location we held a family gathering after Mrs. C’s mother passed away. A neighbor we’d smiled at for years entered our home for the first time and helped herself to the catered food, even though she’d never invited us to her place or even spoken to us. She drove an expensive car and was nicely dressed so I don’t think she couldn’t afford to feed herself. She left without saying a word to us.

I know what you’re thinking: You and Mrs. C. must be doing something to alienate

your neighbors. If so I can’t imagine what it is. We don’t fly a swastika in front of our

house and we don’t have radical bumper stickers plastered on our cars—except for the

fish with evolutionary legs and DARWIN written on it. We tend our yards within reason and don’t live with a vicious attack dog.

But I remain an optimist and refuse to give up on the notion that one day someone will move next door and become my best friend. I think I’ll button up my red Mr. Rogers sweater and walk over to introduce myself to the nice couple unloading the POD next door. It’s a fine day, so join me for a walk through the neighborhood. Sing along with me; I know you want to: Won’t you be my neighbor?

Have you had any interesting experiences with neighbors?


  1. Pretty much all the apartments I've lived in haven't been soundproofed very well. So I can always hear when people turn up their TVs, or play loud music, or have sex. Sometimes on one side it would be a loud TV and on the other side would be having sex, so it was no surprise I had to move. In one place I did call the cops once with an anonymous complaint because it was 2am and they still had their music on.

  2. I've known people like your neighbor who couldn't keep her kid's name out of a conversation for more than 3 seconds. Very annoying.

    I'm more of a "smile and wave" kind of neighbor myself. I'll ask for help if I need it, and I'll help someone else if asked, but I'm pretty low maintenance. So are they. Good.


  3. I admit to being anti-social, hence I don't have a problem ignoring my neighbors or my neighbors ignoring me.

    There's probably something very wrong with me.


  4. It's your leggy fish. Has to be the leggy fish. LOL!

    I had some bad experiences with neighbors in my younger days. Learned it was better to import my company and just nod and smile at the neighbors. But I did grow up watching Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best and lived in a suburban neighborhood where the kids ran wild and I thought it should have been different, too. ;)

    Times have changed, I guess. Well, they were never quite as nice as TV life--but TV gave us something to aspire to back then. Not anymore. Not by a long shot.

  5. We live so far out in rural Texas that we don't have many neighbors within shouting distance. Sometimes I do miss that.

  6. "...yet to have an altercation with a neighbor..."
    Me, either. But some former neighbors had one with my ex.
    They waited until after I was moved out

  7. One of the very best friends I ever had was my downstairs neighbour. When he moved in within a few days there was a knock on the kitchen door, which was located at the top of the stairs leading down to his apartment. There before me was this large red-haired man with a deep and very jolly voice introducing himself and inviting me for a drink. David had a very warm and special way with people -- he really loved them, meeting them, entertaining them. Within a year or so he grew a great red beard and was pretty much a spitting image of Henry VIII. We were never boyfriend and girlfriend in the romantic sense, but he was a wonderful man. I even met my future English husband because he was having a party to introduce him to people. I've found that when I've got to know neighbours its usually because of particular people who have a quality which draws people close to them. It has been more difficult for me where I live now...

  8. We wave at ours and talk to them when we pass, but haven't had any in for dinner (or drinks)

  9. Love the photo! IMHO you're lucky if you never know who your next-door neighbor is. I had a guy next door who was very quiet, kept to himself. Then he moved. A woman with two kids and two dogs moved in. The kids were fine, but the dogs were hell on legs. They barked and clawed at the windows whenever anyone walked by her unit, and when she put them out back they barked and lunged at the end of their chains ... until finally she was forced to move out by the consensus of the condo association.

    Then there was a fellow who moved in upstairs. He took out the wall-to-wall carpeting and installed wooden floors. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. All night long. Had to move. Just the thought of it makes my blood pressure rise.

    Anyway, good luck with your new neighbor. May he or she truly be a friend!

  10. Oh, neighbors. I've had both kinds since we've lived here, and it's been 27 years. Right now, we just try to be civil and, like other commenters (and you), wave and "live and let live." Sadly, however, this has become a Dog Neighborhood, and most of the people are apparently deaf, never home, or simply discourteous. It has caused some...tension.

    Having said that, it's too bad, not having the Good Neighbor Experience. No one to leave a spare key with in case you left windows open and it pours down rain while you're at the grocery store; no one to take you to the ER if you have a household accident; no one to grab your mail if you go off on a jaunt for a weekend. It makes me sad the way things are now. It has definitely changed as the years have gone by.

  11. I am totally with you..I've always wanted to have a grandmotherly tupe living nexty to me, probably because I didn't really ever have a Grandma. You know the ones who are always cooking and baking, and who can tell you how to get a stain out of your new blouse or make a batch of jelly. I had one neighbor when I was a mere 20 years old, newly married, and living in a studio apartment in the Bay area. She was the most talented and creative women I have ever known, but alas, we lost touch. Laurel

  12. For the most part our neighborhood is awesome. The neighbor behind us was a slob and a clod but he moved a few days ago. He had two barking dogs that barked all day long while they were at work. They let their plants grow over our fence so hubby had to clean their mess up. They put in a trampoline and then all the neighborhood kids would scream all day long. They were just clods. I was thrilled to see them go.

    Have a terrific day. :)

  13. We are blessed with fabulous neighbors. We know everyone up and down the block, in fact. When neighbors need the house watched, or we need ours watched, we do that for each other. Run each other on errands if the car is down. Borrow some sugar or an egg. Maybe it has to do with being in the South.

  14. I would love to be your neighbor. And I wouldn't be weird at all. Well, not as weird as all your other neighbors, anyway. Mrs. Jensen cracked me up. We've had our share of unusual neighbors, too, but they've always been outnumbered by the nice ones. It never ceases to amaze me, though, when parents leave their kids with strangers. Man, that was WEIRD.

  15. I live in a human warehouse and don't know any of my neighbors. I know one of them by sight...a guy that's in the military that has a rockin' body across the hall from me. But he's got so many women in and out of there that it's kinda funny. But I have no idea what his name is...only that he is regularly serviced by women.

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  17. Ok, I'm moving in next door, you sound like a fun neighbor. I'd be all over that fish/Darwin bumper sticker, so cool! I've always found if you bring cookies or fudge you ALWAYS make friends. In fact, every time my family flies we go purchase a couple of pounds of fudge the day before and cut it into bite sized pieces. Offering fudge to the stewardesses and asking them to bring a few pieces to the captains seriously gets you goody points!! I can't count how many flying wings I got as a child because of this. Once I was given a tour up the stairs into the VIP lounge just for celebrities, so cool! I didn't even know planes had that kind of hiding place! So, go make friends with some of Mrs. Chatterbox's cookies, I bet they're totally friend-makingly delicious!
    Jenn of

    PS You're totally right about the light thing. It's one of the things I'm working on learning! Thanks for the encouragement.

  18. You sound like such a good neighbor that me and my heavy metal band, Satan's Black Dogs, are moving in next door to you. Feel free to come visit anytime although we may not be able to hear the doorbell or your knock. By the way, our friends..Anarchists on Airplane Glue..will be staying with us from March through August but just don't pay any attention. If the FBI and Interpol haven't been able to find them it ought to be cool.

  19. I've lived in 5 different apartment complexes over the past 5 years. I don't get to know my neighbors because in such close living quarters I have heard most of them- or at least those living in the four apartments that touch mine- having sex. I can't meet someone after hearing their sex noises, attaching faces to the things I've heard. I've tried but it is just too weird.

  20. First, I love the photo illustrating this post. Too funny. And how can you ask us for our experiences with neighbors after you've just topped every story we could possible tell? I smiled all the way through this. Still smiling, in fact.

  21. Our neighborhood has an Emergency Response plan and a coordinator who signs us up for a variety of potential tasks in case of an earthquake. There is a community email group if we need to ask for referrals for painters, plumbers etc. or complain about the local cement plant's plans to expand. No-one complained when one of the employees went on a shooting rampage several months ago. There have been pot-luck block parties during summer months with some very multi-cultural cuisine. My main connection to the neighbors is that they see me out and about with the dogs. We did hold an Open Studio/ Open House when we first moved in. That helped as well.

  22. Loved your post. Glad to hear we are not the only ones that don't know our neighbours.

  23. Neighbors??? You mean those houses on my street are not empty model homes?

  24. You've had some very odd experiences. I'm fortunate to mainly have had friendly neighbors. Once I called 911 when I overheard domestic abuse. The police took forever and left in a heartbeat after she said "We were just playing." I thought to carry a knife, I was scared he'd figure I'd made the call. Peacefulness resumed, though, and that was the worst of it.


  25. well, when the CEO of a big time company finally broke down and bought the house next to the lot we had just bought, he thought he was going to have a quiet life. Then mutual friends told him oh you are moving right next door to a family who is going to have their 8th baby....he almost had a heart attack from panic. Turns out he really is a great neighbor...we just try to keep all our kids friends off his land!!

  26. I have had mostly good luck with neighbors. Wow!! that lady was pretty rude to let you do her babysitting and not to even thank you. I think I would have had the little girl call her mother back and I would have had a few words with her. I think after I was finished with her, she would have left her job early to pick up her kid.

    Still can't comment on most of your new posts. I keep trying.

    Not sure if you are on twitter or not but I tweeted this for you. Here is the link if you want to Retweet.