Our neighbor Pamela, who lives across the street from us, rang our front doorbell earlier this evening. I was a little embarrassed to answer the door as I was in my pajamas and robe, even though it was only 6:45.
I rarely see Pamela unless something traumatic is happening. The last time we visited, she came over to tell me her house had been burglarized. The time before that, she and I captured a runaway dog that was loping down our street and we hung out with it until its owner showed up. The time before that, she had just backed into Sean's car. Tonight, though, she simply came over to deliver a poinsettia and say thank you for being so nice about everything when she backed into Sean's car.
I think I am a rude neighbor because I never know what to do in these situations. Is the conversation going to last 20 seconds or 20 minutes? Should I invite the doorbell ringer inside or chat at the front door? Tonight I opted for the latter move even though it was chilly and raining, and Pamela must have felt the central heat pouring out the open door. Still, she chattered away on our front porch for about 15 minutes and didn't treat me like I was the world's worst neighbor.
I learned an amazing amount about this woman, whose last name I don't even know, during that quarter hour. Stuff like she works in marketing, she used to own a clay studio, and her husband, whom she met on match.com and married after two months, has a 27-year-old son who's an alcoholic. The son and his girlfriend, who's ten years older than he and a 20-year heroin addict, have a baby who will be one year old next week and is living with foster parents, who are a gay couple. Her husband's 12-year-old daughter just moved up to Washington with his ex-wife, who's "kind of a jerk." She said a lot of other things, too, but that's most of what I could retain from our brief exchange, which consisted mostly of her talking and me saying, "Uh huh. Really? Wow." Finally, as the conversation was winding down, she took a good look at me and my pajamas and asked, "Are you sick?" I told her I was just enjoying a rare evening alone with some old movies and my cross stitch.
I feel bad that I don't know most of my neighbors, but I don't feel highly motivated to become friends with them. Besides Pamela, the only other neighbor I really talk to is Steve, who lives next door and is our gardener; he's a very sweet guy. I am on nod-and-wave terms with Mary Jones, the old lady who lives across the street and has lived there since 1945, and Roz, who lives a couple of doors down from Pamela but who has snubbed me almost since we moved in because I didn't go to her barbecue because I'd had a fight with a friend and was upset, and another neighbor who I think is also named Steve and who has had some trouble with the police. I can't stand our next-door neighbors on the other side, who seem to think the world wakes up at 5 a.m. and thus it's okay to start using power tools at that hour; I think they also hate nature and are systematically turning their property into a giant concrete slab not only by chopping down nearly all the greenery in their own yard, but also by abusing our poor eucalyptus trees that grow along the property line. I also don't like the old couple who walk slooooowly around the neighborhood every day with mean expressions on their faces; every time I have come in contact with them, they have complained about something -- either us or other neighbors -- and they really wear me down. And finally, I loathe the unknown neighbor who reported us to the city a few years ago because he or she thought our yard was "too overgrown." The inspector from the city was pleasant and said he didn't think our yard was that bad and we weren't in any trouble, but I hate the anonymous coward who bitched about us. I don't know who you are, coward, but I have it in for you.
Hmmmm. Guess who's turning into the cranky old lady in the house on the corner?