Yeah, getting to know my neighbors means getting over myself
It’s funny, wanting to stand out. We desire individuality and to express ourselves uniquely, but we’re pleased when we discover we’re just like those we want to stand apart from. We enjoy learning that celebrities have wrinkles, blotchy skin, and one leg longer than the other. We gobble up captured private moments of public figures and we’re eager to learn how much in common we have with those whose fabulous lives we insist could never be ours. I can’t even imagine having anything in common with Paula Deen, but you get the idea…
Down here on earth and up the street on which my wife and I live, I smile when I hear my next-door neighbor drops his keys and mutters under his breath, still balancing things in his hands. I hear his daughter ask questions he either doesn’t have the answer to or has no patience to explain, and though I don’t have children myself, his impatience is gratifying. It’s not his exasperation that makes me root for him, but rather the certainty that I’d be likewise confounded. Soon the daughter will be older and bolder. Maybe she’ll hide his keys behind her back one afternoon and I’ll lean in to hear how it turns out.
In the meantime, like watching some vulgar, egomaniacal luminary who’s been stripped down to my level of hygiene and over-limit fees, overheard and superficial commonalities with my neighbors will have to do.
I think my neighbor once said he was Cuban, which intrigues me, but I won’t commit to inquiring about it in case I’m wrong, and he suddenly starts talking about how fitness is a journey. (I can’t risk that at this time.) I do know the wheel on his big blue recycling bin sticks just like mine does ‘cause I can hear him struggle with it up the driveway. I hope he’s never seen me pick mine up and throw it the fuck over the sidewalk.
While I wouldn’t reject the opportunity to know my neighbor better, I think I would miss knowing him the way I do now. His truck needs power steering fluid; the squeal wakes me up each morning a mere minute ahead of my own alarm. This means he gets an early start each day, and I compliment him silently for being a few minutes ahead of me. I respect him, but I do so on my own, isolated terms.
On our side of the hedge, my old Norelco shaver dispenses freshly mowed whiskers outward and everywhere, so I run the thing over my jaw outside, where the a.m. chill, and mug-of-coffee combo can’t be beat. I wonder if my neighbors know it’s an electric shaver I’m using. I hope no one’s turning toward their SUV with a shudder, thinking, OMG. I so don’t wanna know!
I was tempted once to stand on an upturned bucket and say hi while holding the thing to my chin. Would Cuban Neighbor Man be relieved? Would he even skip a beat? But I dropped the idea ‘cause the last time I tried something similar I succeeded only in weirding out his wife; our brief interactions are now awkward. But that’s what I get for the excuses I make in not taking the time to go beyond what I overhear.
And what if something bad happened one day, like a fire, an earthquake, or – NRA-God help us – a shooting? Do Cuba and I know enough about each other to bank on both being solution oriented rather than problematic panickers?
Pushing these considerations back into the wider world where celebrities live, had *Paula Deen ever taken the time to get to know and appreciate cultures other than her own, she wouldn’t be so easily written off as a whimpering racist dumb-ass today.
Trying to be funny by popping my head over the hedge is an embarrassment I can live with. So I’ll be making an effort again, because it’s a perfect excuse to fast track familiarity – and build from there.
* That wretched woman’s picture will not appear on this blog. She has allowed the world to interpret her choices at its whimsy. It’s the essence of “get character or become one.” Since Deen put her regional pride and cultural comfort zones before so much of her life, the public now gets to decide who and what she is. Harsh consequences, no doubt, but the ‘ol bag is very comfortably rich, so she’ll remembered as just another wealthy racist. YAWN.