Thursday, September 21, 2006

Who ARE the People in Your Neighborhood?

The first thing our neighbor Dennis ever said to us was, "hey, you wanna put a lock on that garage door?" And that was a fitting welcome to the neighborhood, given our experience since.

We met our neighbors "Betty" and "Josephine" (real names unknown--firstly because they never introduced themselves; I haven't seen "Betty" since and "Josephine" and her family moved away after we'd been living next door for about 3 months) when they came to our front door bearing a list of grievances.

The way they came to the door is almost as strange as the complaints they brought with them. I had just left the house and Sajid was in the bathroom. They banged on the door and he asked if they could hold on a minute because he was in the bathroom. They insisted, "it'll only take a minute." Sajid came to the door and these two elderly women launched into a tirade about the laundry I'd left hanging to dry on our front porch.

Sajid apologized, though he was then as confused and I still am about what is so offensive about hanging laundry (no underwear, no bras, just clothes). They also complained that we come home late at night and that Sajid parked his car in the driveway (of all places). Okay. We entertained their complaints for a while. No laundry hanging to dry, tiptoeing in at night, and no parking in the driveway until we realized everybody else was. Then we figured it was okay.

The second time "Josephine" came to our front door, she asked if we knew anything about her teenaged daughter's missing (read stolen) bicycle, which we did not, to the suspiscious disappointment of Josie.

We first met Rebecca when she came to our front door with a similar matter. Did we know anything, by chance, about her missing (stolen) laundry basket, which she'd left in the laundry room? No, again.

Doesn't anybody shake hands and introduce themselves anymore? Or is the default to meet when you have some bone to pick?

One afternoon, we were having a barbeque with some friends at the park across the street. Sajid found a plastic table in a storage maintenance area by the apartments and picked it up to use for our barbeque. He was halfway across the street when he heard Dennis's voice from the darkness beyond his closed screen door. "Amigo," the voice said, "that's my table."

So Sajid took that to mean, "That's my table and you can't use it," and he put it back. I'm wondering if Dennis thinks my husband is Mexican or Spanish-speaking of some other country origin, or if he just addresses everybody as "amigo," even when the rest of what he has to say is not the least bit friendly.

We pretty much resigned ourselves to the idea that we would not be friends with the neighbors. Except for Greg. Greg lived across the way, and he was very friendly. He used to volunteer to fix things and was generally helpful to everybody. He was a nice exception. We thought he got along with everyone until the night he knocked on our door as we were about to go to dinner. He told Sajid he was planning to kick Dennis's ass (or something like that, I don't know it was very strange). He handed Sajid a pair of plastic handcuffs and a sock, all the while saying something about how there would never be any marks (?). I don't know what all was going on between them, but Greg kept talking about how Dennis was drunk and about to drive and how it was his (our?) responsibility to stop him. We went to dinner while Greg took off after Dennis, plastic handcuffs and sock in hand. We have no idea what happened after that.

One day, after Josephine and family moved out, her husband, another nice but very quiet exception to the rudeness we'd encountered thus far, came back to the house to do a final clearing out. He had a conversation with Sajid that afternoon and ended up telling him a story about when he was growing up. He said an African-American family moved into the neighborhood when he was about 10-years-old, and that he always felt bad about the way people (all white until then) treated that family. Sajid took this as a kind of apology on behalf of his wife, and figured it might not have exactly been his imagination that the neighborhood was a little chilly.

Why do I bring all this stuff up now, here? I'd been okay with the not-so-friendly neighborhood, but it's on my mind again. A new couple moved in last month, young (younger than us, I believe), and friendly. We both met both of them on separate occasions, and they seemed pleasant enough. But last week I said "hi" to the girl, and she totally ignored me. The same day I was cleaning out the garage, and the guy took one step out of the house, saw me there, and went back inside. I don't get it. What happened? I haven't even seen these people enough to have the chance to offend them, and neither has Sajid.

Believe me, we are nice people. We are even friends with Rebecca now, now that she no longer thinks we stole her laundry basket. I don't know what the deal is with the rest of the neighborhood. I'll say that it's very patriotic, very much of the older demographic, and somewhat conservative (the first question "Betty" asked Greg when he moved in was (not if, but) where he went to church). Could it be that we just don't fit the profile when it comes to welcome neighbors? I don't know.

Part of me thinks that neighborliness just isn't what it used to be. When I was young, we lived with my grandparents. We knew the Guataramas next door, one-legged Bruce across the street, Pat from two doors down, a real Betty across the street from her, the Banuelos' a whole block away. We knew everyone in the neighborhood, and all their kids, too. The families had been there for generations.

Are there places in San Jose where this is the norm? I would like to find one and live there. There is this idea I have in my head that somewhere, neighbors still come over to borrow a cup of sugar, still have block parties, still acknowledge each other's existence.

Who are the people in your neighborhood? For your sake, I hope they are nicer than those in mine :(

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