I pour cold creamer into my second cup of coffee and set it in the microwave to heat, pushing in my usual 45 seconds. The beeps seem loud in the early morning quiet and I wonder if my neighbor can hear them through the windows that will stay open well into the fall.
I’m a respectable neighbor, but I won’t drink luke warm coffee for anyone. And at this time of year, I’m not closing my windows to keep our sounds of life from annoying a crank next door. I will try to muffle the sharp clacking my extra bold Italian Roast coffee beans make in the grinder, though. That’s not a pleasant sound at any time of the day, but at 6:30am, it’s something I wouldn’t appreciate — especially if I worked late each night.
If you were to walk down our street, you would notice that, like many other neighborhoods today, the houses look exactly like one another. Some are attached, others aren’t, and although they are reasonably sized, they’re lined up right next to one another. It’s quiet except for when the morning and evening commute begins, and other than an occasional dog walker, or nanny strolling a baby, it can seem as if no one lives here. Rarely do children play outside, or neighbors stand to talk between the perfectly manicured strips of lawn. Windows are shuttered in most homes. When a car passes to enter a driveway, the garage door glides open, allowing the car to pull in, and then closes behind it like it was never there.
In the six years we’ve lived here, the monotony of who does what and when is only rarely interrupted. We’ve learned most of our cul-de-sac neighbors’ names, and may hold up a hand in a salute of, “Hey,” and a single nod before heading for the mailbox, or pulling in the trash cans. But that isn’t the case with everyone.
There’s the older man who walks intently from one end of the community to the other, back and forth, quickly, one foot slightly scraping the surface of the asphalt, never acknowledging anyone. There’s the woman at the end of the cul-de-sac with the dark grey Mercedes who drives too fast, and doesn’t brake at the speed bumps, her small body comically bouncing upward each time she hits one. And the tiny woman who walks with her much larger friend, eyes darting from one open garage, or window to the next, watching, and listening. Always aware.
A year after we bought our home, a couple moved into the unit directly across the street and began renovations. Although they were never friendly to begin with, we were doomed after the woman knocked on our door one day to ask whether we’d sign a petition to prevent our homes from being painted. The MoH and I had taken the time to preview the proposed color scheme and liked the new rich tones which were quite an improvement over the pink we then tolerated. Yes, I said pink. Picture a flamingo, and you’d have the correct image. So, no, we wouldn’t be signing the petition. Since others in our area of the complex were against the new color scheme, evidently, there must have been quite a bit of gossip about those of us who wouldn’t help stall the work.
I can begrudgingly admit it’s impressive that after working each day, the man has come home for four years to work on that house. It must be beautiful inside. But considering that a kitchen and bath contractor took care of that aspect of his renovations, I wonder exactly what took four years. They seem to be very precise, so perhaps there has been a lot of detail work.
Each Sunday morning after I drag my ugly self out of bed, I can hear the couple already outside for their weekly car washing session. Same time. Same day. Every week. I don’t have to worry about going out to scrounge for our newspaper in my hag state, because after all these years, I know they won’t look at me. I could don my son’s Arnold Schwartzenegger mask and they wouldn’t acknowledge my existence. Instead, they remain bent over their task, rubbing intently at some microscopic mark on a window. I’ve been tempted to yell a chipper, “Good Morning,” to their backsides, and flippantly inquire about whether they’d be interested in wiping the week-old seagull crap off my windshield while they have the Windex out, but know the humor would be lost on them.
It’s funny what you learn about people you see regularly but never talk to. My dog barks when she hears the UPS man stop outside their house almost daily. That they spray the lids of their trashcans with Windex and wipe them more frequently than I clean my fridge. That in the five years they’ve lived here, only once have I ever seen anyone visit them. Or that the one time the woman actually spoke to me, it was to question why the gardeners had killed the grass in front of our house, and when I explained it to her, then ask what bermuda was, anyway? That she doesn’t like the color of the house next door to her because when the sun hits it, the reflection distorts the color of the inside of her house. That she stays up late at night to read our community by-laws. That you can, on more than one occasion, look directly at the man and say, “Hello,” and he does not respond.
I’ve thought more than once that somehow, this must be my fault, and that I might share a cake or some bread with them. That I’ve done something wrong or that I’m not friendly enough. That my dog leaves yellow spots on the grass where she pees even though I try to rinse it with water. That our cars aren’t as shiny as theirs. But at some point, I know that some people are just not capable of being friendly to those who don’t share their opinions — even if it’s about something as inane as paint.