Resolve to Meet Your Neighbors

I’ve always been obsessed with my neighbors. It’s not entirely in a Rear Window way — although I love that movie, and The Burbs is my most-watched-movie of all time. I grew up in the north end of Providence in one of “those” neighborhoods where you piled bikes on the neighbors’ lawns, your mom yelled from the front steps for you to come home, there was the requisite spooky house where a witch hypothetically (NOT HYPOTHETICALLY) lived, and you always wondered how many bodies were buried in Mr. Altieri’s basement next door. It was idyllic.

We stayed in that neighborhood until I was 19 and our relationships with our neighbors were deep. It wasn’t until I spent the next 10 years living at a total of 12 different addresses that I realized what happens when you don’t know your neighbors.

A non-exhaustive list of formal and informal crimes committed against me by neighbors.

My neighbors have:

  1. Interrupted a barbecue by walking into the backyard with a rifle, taking a knee, putting on a pair of goggles, yelling, “Fire in the hole!” and shooting my tree.
  2. Crashed into my stationary car, twice, while it was parked in the driveway.
  3. Plugged a karaoke machine into the side of the house and sang Journey songs like they were performing to my living room windows — just for me.
  4. Hijacked a yard sale by silently selling items of their own in a far corner of my yard.
  5. Dropped (threw?) an air conditioner out of a window onto our patio furniture moments after my husband stepped inside.
  6. Set the house on fire.

Today, I couldn’t tell you any of their names, save for Rick, who couldn’t install his AC to code. Their identities are marred, like the name of a hurricane you track for a week and later remember only for its consequence.

In no small way, my decision to buy a house was motivated by a desire to get out of my renters hellscape. People thought it was counterintuitive. I had terrible luck with neighbors. Why would I want to financially commit thousands? What if I was legally bound next door to another arsonist/karaoke enthusiast?

Still, I found a home I was excited about in the Elmhurst section of Providence. A family I knew who lived a block over told me it was a great neighborhood: “We even have our own Facebook page.”

To someone who used to draw topographic maps of their neighborhood as a kid, the idea of a ZIP code-exclusive Facebook group was tantalizing, to say the least. But it had been so long since I’d experienced anything close to loving thy neighbor that I worried “neighbors” was the sort of relationship you aged out of.

The day we closed on the house, my husband and I arrived, armed with a bottle of wine and plastic disposable glasses. A group of four or five adults stood in front of the house next door. Their heads whipped around as we pulled in the driveway.

“Oh no!” I said. “Pull up so they don’t see us! We’ll run in the backdoor!” Every bad neighbor began to flash before my eyes as I stepped out of the car. Would they try to sell us illegal sunglasses? Ask us to move a marble table? Try to coerce me into insurance fraud? Spill a plate of baked beans in June and leave it to fester until July on the patio, oh god —

“Hi there,” a man said. We turned around. Standing at the edge of the driveway were two neighbors, holding a six pack. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

They took us around and introduced us, one by one, to all our new neighbors. And then I went inside, drew a map of careful square homes, and wrote down everyone’s name.

A non-exhaustive list of ways knowing your neighbors can make your life easier and more fulfilling.

When you take the time to know your neighbor, they do things like:

  1. Use their communal snowblower to dig out your sidewalk and pathway.
  2. Invite you to the block party.
  3. Feed your pets when you leave town.
  4. Say, “Hey! Who are you?” if they see someone on your property when you aren’t home.
  5. Give you excess flowers from their garden. (Possibly selfishly motivated so they don’t have to look at your dried up weeds.)

I did end up joining the Facebook page. (See if your neighborhood has one, especially if you have a question about a city ordinance, need a local recommendation or enjoy watching people fight over grainy security footage and whether or not a post “REALLY BELONGS HERE!?”)

I asked Jim Rizzo, one of two administrators for the Elmhurst Citizens’ Group page, what drives him to stay involved and, from his perspective, why it’s important to know your neighbors. Jim remarked on the conveniences, like being able to borrow sugar and having someone next door with a key when you lock yourself out. But beyond the pleasantries Jim noted, there’s a community incentive — which also benefits you.

“It’s good to know the general views of the neighborhood when it comes to political issues that can affect the neighborhood,” Jim said. “All of that helps create a strong neighborhood and helps create pride in your space. I feel that when you know your neighbors, you’re less likely to be a nuisance, in part for fear of upsetting people you know personally, but mostly because it makes the area more like home. You’re also more likely to lend a hand in making the neighborhood a great place to live, whether it be simple things like picking up litter around your property, cleaning up leaves or lending a hand with shoveling snow, or larger things like joining in neighborhood and park cleanups beautification projects.”

Get to know your neighbor. I challenge you. It doesn’t matter if you own or if you rent. Make it your home. Make it your resolution. Be proud, and — maybe — your downstairs neighbor won’t steal your cell phone after they set a grease fire on the stove. Happy New Year!