Won’t you be my neighbor?

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This whole business of being neighbors turns out to be a bit dodgy.

Or so I’m told.

This past weekend, I took care of business. And by taking care of business, I mean I had my handymen here.

Honey-do lists do not go away simply because there is no “Honey” present.

Split rail fence in the countryI had a multitude of things on my list, but tops among them was to mend my ailing fence. Two split rails had pled exhaustion and had been lounging on my lawn for a few weeks. This did not bother me. But it did bother my older neighbor. Let’s call him Wally.

Wally got a stern look on his face every time he had to mow his lawn that I can only assume came from a Puritanical upbringing—or, possibly, my fallen rails. Since I plead ignorance to his formative years, I can only surmise that my fallen rails may have been giving him heartburn.

Plus, he told me they drove him nuts.

Well, yeah, there’s that.

For some reason, he felt the need to mow under my fence rails. And when he could not, he would tell me he was just going to get rid of these rails. To which I always responded, “Please, don’t touch my rails. My guys are coming.”

“My guys” being the handymen who ride in on white steeds and set my house right.

You might wonder why I did not just tell Wally to jump in a lake. Funny thing about neighbors. I’ve learned that if you tell them to go jump, the barbecue invitations go down astronomically.

Seriously, who wants to argue with someone who lives within throwing distance?

I mean really. Be practical, people.

Besides, Wally and I really do get along. It’s just that he’s a bit anal retentive about his lawn mowing.

Well, yeah, there’s that.

Anyway, said rails are fixed and Wally is beaming at me again from the other side of a sturdy, standing fence.

My brief annoyance with him got me to thinking of the long procession of previous neighbors throughout my lifetime.

There was the sweet, tiny Italian woman who lived next door while I was growing up. She called me “Dolly” and gave me windmill cookies. And when I came home from college having added the requisite 10 pounds, she said, oh so kindly: “Dolly, just do what I’m doing every day for about 20 minutes and you’ll stay tiny.”

Want to take a guess at what she was doing? She had encased her hips and legs in plastic wrap and was rolling back and forth on her dining room floor.

No, I’m not kidding. I can’t make this stuff up.

And no, I have not tried it. I may get desperate enough to in the next decade but not yet.

There was the downstairs neighbor in my Chicago graystone. Andy looked exactly like a brunette version of the elf who wants to be a dentist in one of the American Christmas specials I cut my teeth on as a child.

I hope you will not let his tiny frame and elfin features fool you. He had an evil streak, that one. Every time I stepped into the shower in my upstairs apartment, he would turn on the hot water in his downstairs apartment shower. And cackle evilly as I screamed from the blast of frigid water that ensued. In his defense, he and his roommate made me and my roommate dinner on occasion. And shared their cheap wine, which we appreciated at the time.Man with Mohawk

I met the punk rocker neighbor in my next abode. He had a Mohawk that was about 12 inches high and played in a band. His hair color changed more often than my outfits–or so it seemed. But he was perfectly lovely to me when we met in the laundry room. I used to laugh to myself at our conversations over what we were having for our respective dinners. You would never have guessed Mohawk had chicken and dumplings that often. He lived with his mother.

My next move brought a bit too much excitement. There was the single gal who used to fight with her boyfriend at a decibel level that could shatter glass. The elderly woman who knocked on all hallway doors at 2 a.m. one weekend evening yelling, “Let me in. I’m a girl, not a boy.” I’m not sure what this meant but when she almost burned her apartment down due to forgetting a pot on the stove, I was the responsible citizen who told the building manager. She was sweet and alone, but going to kill us all if someone did not look out for her. Her daughter moved in shortly thereafter.

Since then, I’ve met the minister and his wife (lovely people), the single mother with the neurotic dog (am trying so hard not to be her) and the bachelor who loved his Corvette more than most men love their mothers. Did I mention he watched our child during one harrowing late-night emergency room trip?

The odd thing is—I’ve had a connection with most of these people. I could have pre-judged or been too busy or put up the eight-foot privacy fence. But I didn’t.

I’m so glad I didn’t.  I would have missed out on cookies, cheap wine and laughter, a wealth of knowledge regarding punk rock, and the chance to help a sweet elderly woman who needed a caring eye.

I would have missed out on an opportunity to celebrate what can be an awfully messy humanity.

We may not always agree on the proper way to mow a lawn or lose that final 10 pounds, but having another friendly face appear to be sure all is fine when an ambulance is parked near my house is reassuring.

Fences may reduce the messiness of our interactions but they also reduce the interactions period.

Well, yeah, there’s that.