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Learning to Live with People

So I just moved recently, to an outlying neighborhood of a large city. I am beginning to realize, as I spend much of my unemployed-loser time at home, that this is probably the first time I have ever felt that I lived in a real neighborhood.

Growing up, I lived in two different towns with the same general idea: dad (sometimes mom) goes to work in the big city while kids go to school, soccer practice, and playgrounds in relative bucolic bliss. Houses were organized into long streets, some with sidewalks and some without, and your friends were your classmates or immediate neighbors.

However, it seems like part of the suburban dream is to live near other people but to live in such a way that you never have to interact with anyone. Fences, trees, hedges – all blocking your precious backyard from view. The long driveway that makes you feel like you’ve “made it” preventing your neighbors from dropping by. An unexpected ring of the doorbell was usually met with a sigh.

This is what I grew up with. After college, I moved to an urban area and into a large high-rise building, where the contradiction is even stronger; that you literally live on top of other people but you know nothing about them, nor do you wish to know.

But now here I am, married and in my late twenties, living in an old, established neighborhood with no high rises, no long driveways. This neighborhood also has ethnic diversity and a cultural heritage that I personally have never experienced before. I live in a little row house that’s squished between other houses just like it. The low fences delineating the postage-stamp yards (front and back) do nothing to soften or deflect the words, sounds, or essence of my neighbors.

The first day I put my trashcan to the curb on the wrong day, a neighbor rang my bell to correct my mistake, and I hid my annoyance as I thanked him with a smile. One recent rainy afternoon I could hear the Irish neighbors in one direction from my house talking to each other, and after turning down my music, and putting down my resume edits, I learned a thing or two about Irish politics. I’ve listened to the kids learning to dance at Greek school. I’ve watched the elderly woman across the street sit out on the stoop every day, without fail, at 5 o’clock to hose off her concrete front yard and then to read the paper. I watched a meals on wheels truck pull up to the curb about four houses down.

I’m used to quiet. I’m used to anonymity. I’m used to so many unconscious tricks that help you completely ignore the people all around you that I’ve taken a lifetime to master. And now those tricks are slowly losing their grip. This neighborhood is interesting, and sometimes frustrating, but it’s alive. With people, with chaos, with shoppers and workers and pets husbands and wives, their lives bumping into each other over and over again. And I think I’m starting to like it.

Image Credit by THOR on Flickr

2 replies on “Learning to Live with People”

Um, are you me? I am totally just about to move into a similar situation. It’s going to be interesting moving to a weird mix of urban and suburban. I live in a high rise now and the only interaction I’ve ever had with anyone in my 35 story building was when I told some dude to fuck himself after he said it was ok for his dog to bite me. And I’ve already met one of my new neighbors.

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