Having neighbors in the suburbs is entirely different from having neighbors in the city. I suppose that the time I spent growing up in the suburbs did not afford me the time or concern to draw conclusions about my neighbors – and, to be frank, most of my neighbors were related to me in one way or another for the large portion of my childhood.
On the other hand, most of my adulthood has been spent living in the city. In the city, your neighbors are most often eccentric characters who exist within their own little bubble. Sometimes you see them, sometimes you don’t. The proximity is close, but while you may know everything about their day-to-day functioning, you know surprisingly little about them as individuals. For instance, I have not lived in too many places in the great city of Philadelphia where I could not hear when my neighbors came and went, what type of music they listened to (or even sing along if it was loud enough and the insulation was on one of its seemingly perpetual periods of uselessness), when they had sex, how good it was, and smell what they were cooking.
It was not uncommon for me to come up with nicknames for my neighbors various lovers when I lived in apartment in North Philadelphia – there was the screamer, the quiet squeaky one, and the name-caller. When I lived in a row in Southwest my home inevitably smelled like whatever the neighbor was cooking, and one night when I was trying to hang pictures, I was startled out of my mind when someone banged back on the wall that until then, I hadn’t consciously realized was separating our spaces. And, outside of a few brief encounters, I knew none of these people. They were all nice enough, and we had brief conversations, but we all went about our subsequent lives without caring what the other did, without paying much attention, and without judgment (aside from the occasional comment over dinner or a burst of anger once when I discovered that a particular neighbor had stolen out trashcans).
The suburbs, I have discovered, are populated by an entirely different species of neighbor. These people care on the brink of obsession. I have, on several occasions, watched my friends, aunt, grandmother – even my own mother – peer incredulously through the curtains because a car they didn’t recognize drove by, or one of the neighbors was making a little too much of a scene outside of their home – as if it is strange for these people to have the right to move in public without the foreknowledge of those living clo0se by. Having lived for so long in the city, where countless unrecognizable cars drive by every day and people I have never seen before would walk past my home or even sit on my steps, this level of attentiveness amazes me.
Since having moved to the suburbs myself, I now have my very own set of suburban neighbors. They’re an interesting bunch (I am lucky enough to have a grass-tree infested lot on one side of my house, so only one set of neighbors to contend with). The day that I moved in, my grandfather – who only lives a few houses over – informed me that I was living next-door to the neighborhood whore. Yeah – my grandfather said whore. It was hilarious (and, the little blonde daughter of the family next-door does come and go quite a bit). Regardless, I was determined to make friends.
Five months of living in my house, and I have already given up. Every time I walk outside of my house – whether to grab the mail, try to sit on my porch, or even get in my car and leave – whichever of the neighbors is outside simply stares. They have ignored my attempts at normal-neighbor-small-talk and friendly waves. Their children stand in the windows and scream, I am convinced for no other reason than to be as annoying as possible. Their dogs bark incessantly and there are always people coming and going very loudly. The father mows his grass every three days or so (I’m sure it’s to get away from the insanity of the household), and the mother gives me more dirty looks than a jealous teenager in high school.
The third or fourth weekend that I lived in my current house, they had a festive little gathering in their yard. Four of them set up lawn chairs in the grass to the side of their house, complete with a cooler filled with beer and a radio. There they sat – for hours – in the side of their yard. Facing my well-windowed house. I eventually had to resort to closing all of the blinds on that side of my house.
I had only lived there two months when I well-observing neighbor across the way (who will remain unnamed) mentioned that my driveway was starting to look like a parking lot. He, of course, was referring to the number of cars that I often had there. What can I say? My social life is active. I enjoy people (unlike my neighbors), and like to have them around me. His off-handed comment was so heavy with hidden meaning that I was shocked. In the city, I could have had two hundred people in my house, and as long as no one was getting hurt and no public property was being destroyed no one would have cared.
In the meantime, I still have people over all the time. I suffer the dirty looks and the lawn-sitting window-watchers on the weekends, and I try to know people even less than I did in the city.