My Living Room (2/20/2000) - I grew up in a fairly typical suburban community on Long Island. It wasn't one of those ridiculous places where people didn't lock their doors. We were mostly Jews. Jews always lock their doors. All in all, it was a rather dull neighborhood, neither scandalous nor idyllic. It was as far from Twin Peaks as it was from The Brady Bunch. Nevertheless, my block had a certain suburban friendliness that makes for fond reminiscing. It was decidedly different from where I live now. Back then we, at least, knew our neighbors if only because when you live next to someone for 20 years the occasional how do you do is inevitable.
We've lived in this apartment building for almost five years and we're the old-timers. People move in and out so frequently I've given serious consideration to opening a North American Van lines franchise in the lobby.
The other day I mumbled welcome to our newest neighbor, another in a series of aspiring actors. Turns out he was moving out. It seems he'd moved in, burned through his money, given up and headed back to Topeka all while I was doing my laundry. Actor dude, we hardly knew you. If those bath towels hadn't taken forever in the dryer, we would have invited you over for dinner.
I can't imagine inviting any of our neighbors over. You have to know someone's name before you can do that. My small talk never gets that far. I don't like to admit I live in an unfriendly building but I know for a fact that more than one guy has re-arranged his work schedule in order to avoid seeing anyone in the elevator when he leaves.
Elevator conversation, when it does occur, is limited to two subjects. "The mail got here late today" and "Boy that landlord sure is a cheap bastard, isn't he?" Like all good neighbors, even in our anonymity, we unite through the demonization of a common enemy.
I couldn't tell you the name of anyone living in this building other than my wife and my cat and it wouldn't completely surprise me to discover my cat had recently changed her name without informing me. My wife and I think of the residents of any given apartment as extensions of the most memorable person who lived there.
"What do you think of the people across the way?, she asked innocently the other day.
By this point in the conversation, I needed some fresh air so I grabbed the phone and headed for the patio. My wife was right. The Russian woman had moved out. I was fooled because her plant was still on the patio. She was either a hooker or a professional killer. Who else would leave a plant behind?
In the meantime, a new woman had moved in. Two bedrooms and a plant goes quickly in today's go-go real estate market. She was out on the patio trimming dead leaves from the poor plant which obviously couldn't afford the price of Comrade Nurski's affection. I was surprised to see her but that was nothing compared to my astonishment when I realized she was talking to me.
"Huh?", I mumbled. "Oh yeah. Thanks."
Damn. She likes looking in other people's apartments. That was going to make it that much harder for us to look in hers.
Aargh. I was panicking. I was out of small talk. It was too early to say the mail was late and even in this building there's a 5 day waiting period before you can call the landlord a cheap bastard. I shoved the phone to my ear and motioned weakly to her.
"Yeah, I see. It was nice meeting you."
I turned tail and ran back in the apartment. I think she may have mentioned her name as I slammed the sliding door. I couldn't make it out but it doesn't matter. I haven't been out on the patio since and I won't be out there again until the plant doctor moves out. The only thing worse than an unfriendly neighbor is a friendly one.Dave
Sign up for the Goop List and I'll send you an e-mail whenever a new Goop appears. I will not sell your address or give it away. Every now and then I may print out the list of addresses and hang it on the wall under a big banner that says these people like me. I'm funny that way. Well, not really funny but coming right out and saying I'm pathetic isn't likely to get you to sign up. Oops.