This morning, I threw the dog’s frisbee over the back fence, right into the yard of the couple that lives behind us. After work, I wander around the block and nervously climb the cement steps to their porch.
I’ve introduced myself to Henry countless times. He openly admits he can’t remember my name in between our encounters – “a terrible fate for an extrovert,” he says – but he launches into detailed accounts of his partner’s knee injuries or the intricacies of hanging holiday lights on the porch. As I nod and shiver, maintaining polite conversation while my dog tugs at her leash, I can’t help but wonder if he doesn’t even know who I am. Is it my name he forgets, or my whole being? It could be either; people who overshare tend to do so indiscriminately with no regard for who might be fielding their ramblings. I once sat down on a plane next to a woman who said, “Hi, I’m Michelle.” I said hello back – without sharing my name – and before I could slide my headphones on, she had told me the reason for her trip and shared that it was her first flight in nearly a decade. Now, anyone who’s ever run errands or gone to dinner with me knows exactly how much I enjoy getting to know others through small talk. However, an airplane seat is where I take exception. I prefer falling into a deep head-bobbing sleep to pass the time. So listen, I can completely understand not wanting to be bothered at times.
What I do have trouble envisioning is “at times” becoming “every moment I’m in my house.” This is why our neighbors’ front door signage is baffling to me. One reads “Absolutely NO solicitors,” and the other “friends, family, and neighbors welcome.” It would stand to reason, then, that I’d be more than welcome to swing by for a neighborly hello.
There are two doorbells aligned vertically. Which do I ring? I settle on neither, instead swinging the glass door open and reaching around the strongly worded signs. I knock three times, hard, on the wooden door. No one comes. I pause for what I think is the right amount of time before settling on the bottom doorbell. At the moment my finger mashes the button, the door flings open. I panic. Does Henry believe I – in a puffy winter coat, shin-length leggings, and slide-on shoes – am a solicitor? Does he know my name? Does he recognize me? I’ll remind him who I am, just in case. Instead, I blurt out an overly chipper, “Hi, how are you?”
Henry’s facial expression doesn’t change. “Oh, not bad, but you’re kind of interrupting,” he says.
“I’m so sorry,” I fumble over my words, “I’m Lindsay, from around the corner?” It comes out as a question.
“Yeah,” he says, nodding knowingly. “Like I said, you’re kind of interrupting. We were about to go to bed. How can I help you?”
“You’re going to bed at 5:30?” I want to blurt out. Instead, another log jam of words comes spilling out: “We threw our frisbee over the fence, and I didn’t want to just wander through your yard without asking. Is it okay if I go back there?” I gesture to the back yard.
“Oh sure,” he says, looking his version of laid back. “Go right ahead. Just watch out for the dog piles back there.”
“Yeah,” I say, digging for common ground, “we have lots of those at our house too!” He doesn’t smile back. The door begins to swing closed. “Sorry again for interrupting,” I say.
When the door slams and I’m alone again in the quiet dusk of the evening, I immediately regret not asking him how he’d like me to handle inevitable future frisbee mishaps. I have terrible aim. Are these guys more bothered by my random wandering through their back yard, or by my knocking on their door? Either way, I’m stepping through a minefield.
In our neighborhood, houses are tightly packed, and we wave hello daily to the same parade of dog walkers and maternity leave strollers. The former cop down the block maintains his retirement post on the front porch every morning from 7:00 to 9:00, coffee in one hand, book in another, his aging dog lying loyally at his feet. Most days, I can’t get off the front porch before being greeted by a neighbor who says, “I love your wreath,” or asks, “Did you happen to see who dumped that nasty couch in my side yard?”
Even inside our house, we are a part of this community. After sundown, our lit windows become portals to evening routines on display: washing dishes, folding laundry, and tuning into football games. The rhythm of the place is familiar and even if we don’t talk to our neighbors every day, we feel at peace with the predictability of it all.
With their blinds drawn tight and their mixed-message signage, I imagine Henry and his partner keep their own rhythm. I so badly want to know what makes them hunker down like this. Are their signs protecting them from the never-ending flow of the neighborhood, or are they protecting us from them?
We believe our little patches of perennials surrounded by cement are ours alone. But when a rogue frisbee sails over the fence, we show deference to property lines and closed front doors. Watch you put your kids to bed? No problem. But laying rightful claim to a frisbee that’s mine? That certainly crosses a line!
-January 2, 2019