Wednesday, June 8, 2011
When we moved into our new place last year, we were thrilled to discover that our neighbours kicked ass. The only way they could be more perfect is if they paid our mortgage. They greeted us when we were moving, then left us alone to keep working. Over the next few days I had friendly chats with the people all across the block. They respected our privacy and need to get settled while at the same time made sure we were aware that our presence wasn’t looked on as an intrusion into their perfect sanctum. Sure, they’re all older than I am, but I see that as a bonus: I’ve often felt like an old man trapped in a young man’s body. My parents used to call me “Grandpa” back when I was only eleven (this had less to do with me being crotchety and more to do with my preference for sitting in a lawn chair with a blanket over my legs reading while the rest of the family cavorted on the beach).
Compare this to our last house. On moving day, the vagrant to our north leaned his sweating bulk on the (too low) fence between our properties, cigarette hanging from his lips, and made “helpful” comments the whole time, such as “wow, that looks heavy,” and “you sure have a lot of stuff there.” I didn’t want him to offer to help, but I sure wanted him to bugger off. The cherry on top of his pudgy sunday? He wore nothing more than a bathrobe the whole time, and wasn’t as concerned about keeping it cinched tight as I thought he should have been. They also had a cat that they allowed to freely roam the block to crap on lawns and eat flowers. It had been my dream to deliver its corpse back to them with a shrug and an insincere apology, but the thing was wily and my cold-blooded self was never put to the test.
Then to the south we had a gentleman we nicknamed “ADHD” because of his ridiculous amount of energy and willingness to use that energy at annoying times of the day or night. For instance, he would pound in fence posts at 10:45 at night. Or take his remote control car roaring along the street at 6:00 am. (Before you think “Oh, that can’t be so loud,” let me assure you it wasn’t the kind of RC car a nine year old might get for Christmas. This thing was super-charged. I’m sure it had its own eight-cylinder internal combustion engine.) He was friendly enough, but often forgot the bounds of societal convention. We built a fence around us for a reason, but he didn’t get it: instead he would just grab a stepladder and leap up to have a chin-wag with us over the boards.
All those old torments were gone now, though. No longer did we have to worry that exiting our door would result in a half hour conversation with Naked Smoker or ADHD. Now it was all good. The old proverb says that “good fences make good neighbours,” and I agree with that wholeheartedly. With our new batch, though, we don’t feel the pleading, “please-god-how-soon-can-we-get-this-thing-up” sort of feeling about our fence. So you can imagine it was with sinking hearts that we saw the house to our south had a “For Sale” sign on it.
The gentleman and his wife aren’t young and were having health issues serious enough that they couldn’t maintain a home anymore. Sad, and not just for obvious reasons. Now they’re in a retirement home, and we have to face the dangerous uncertainty of a New Neighbour. The house has changed hands. Anyone at all could be there. I’ve glimpsed many people moving in and out, but none of them have lingered long enough for me to engage them. Frankly, I’m desperate for the chance to have a not-so-casual chat to see what sort of people they are. Truthfully, so many bodies have come and gone I’m not even sure which of them actually live there. Vehicles seem to change daily. At least two different dogs have been seen on the premises. Curtains remain drawn. The lawn is mowed by a lawn service, denying me yet another opportunity to have a suburban “lean on your mower and rest” chat. The uncertainty of it is killing me. After all, I might be sharing a property line with these people for decades (a longer time than many marriages, for instance). It is vexing. My desire to respect their privacy is warring with my need to know.
If we were Oprah-rich, I know we would have bought the house the instant it went for sale just to enjoy a buffer between us and the world. Of course, with Oprah’s money, we could buy the whole town, move everyone out, and hire actors to play the roles of perfect and helpful townspeople. They would signal before turning, only run their power tools between the hours of 10 and 10, and never let their pets pee on my snowbanks. Ah, to live the dream.