Won’t you be my neighbor?

Note: This column appears in the 7/1 issue of The Glendale Star and the 7/2 issue of the Peoria Times

There was a guy who used to live next door to us. He never wore a shirt -– I literally saw him with a shirt on only once or twice –- and he always had a beer in his hand. Now, this would have been a hilariously endearing scenario were this a sitcom and not real life. Also, he stored his cement mixer (!) on our side of the front yard. Then one day he was gone. We later found out he had been arrested.

Before him, a family lived there. I never could quite figure out their infrastructure. The wife lived with her brother-in-law, and some cousins or something, and there were random children in and out. But everyone over the age of 12 smoked a pack a day, which they did in their backyard, and which delightfully wafted into our living room each evening.

Most recently a different family lived there. They avoided human contact at all cost, and would close their garage door before we could so much as wave to them. We saw them so infrequently that it took us the past two months to realize that they do not live there anymore. The other day my wife mentioned –- in all seriousness -– that we should be alert to any smells emanating from the house in case they are still inside.

On the other side of us lived a man and his father. They similarly avoided us, the son especially. I would say “Hi” and he would turn away. So that was fun. They left, too.

Now, nobody lives on either side of us. We are neighbor-less –- on an island in Arizona. Considering the previous occupants of those houses, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it’s not good, either. We live in between two vacant houses that do not get pest treatment. Or landscaping. Also, birds have moved in. Now whenever I take the recycling out, at least a dozen birds flutter out of an outdoor vent and I am forced to shield myself with cardboard and run for cover.

The economic circumstances that have created a high turnover of shirtless renters and those with no pride in ownership are beyond my control. I remain confident things will turn around in time. More disconcerting to me however, is the lack of community.

Forgive me if I am speaking only for my small block in northwest Peoria, but I get a sense that this persists throughout the Valley at large. Where I’m from neighbors had block parties, and pool parties, and you could go knock on their door when your mom ran out of eggs, and you all met in the street to talk on warm summer nights while the kids ran around. Here? Everyone seems to keep to themselves. Nobody comes out. Few even wave back. The only thing of note that has happened in our neighborhood in the past year is when we were attacked by dogs.

It’s sad that nobody lives on either side of us. It’s sadder that those who remain in the neighborhood remain inside. Maybe a recovering economy will result in more families moving in and searching for the same sense of community that we seek. But for now, it’s cold in this heat.

Because my yard's not big enough for a cement mixer, THAT'S WHY!


Bill said…
Great column. I have also noticed the differences between AZ and NJ as far as community goes. I hate to generalize entire states due to 5 or 6 neighborhoods I've lived in during my lifetime, but that's how I see it too.
Joe S. said…
Our community in southern California is like this, too. The houses are occupied, but our neighbors never wave or anything. Our OLD neighbors did, but they moved. It's weird. I thought entire streets and blocks were supposed to know each other and, at the very least, be friendly acquaintances?

I guess not so much any more. Next thing you know, baseball cards will be selling for $20,000.
andrewnamy said…
its like that in Florida also. our next door neighbors ignore us too! no sense of community. thats why i want to move back to NJ!
CMB said…
At least you do not have Mary and ALEX next to you - something to be proud of :) I'd love to be your neighbor and if I win the Jersey Cash 5, I'm bringing my shirtless beer drinking husband and kids to Peoria!