Friday, August 20, 2010

This Is Not Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood (Oh, That It Were)

My next-door neighbor was just holding court in our shared hallway. I wasn’t in the hall with him, but I might as well have been. He likes it out there. For a while, he’s taken to treating that hallway as a place where he can peacefully smoke by the window or talk on the phone; lately, he’s been doing it more often. It’s almost like having a roommate; this floor of the building is our house. I’m now compelled to pull on more flesh-covering clothing when I head out into the hall to throw my trash out at night, just in case he’s futzing around out there, with or without a lit cigarette.

Earlier tonight he had a soft, impassioned, and lengthy hallway conversation with a woman who was not his wife. But not too soft because their insistent whispering eventually came close to interfering with my behind-closed-doors quiet time. They finally went back into his unit and now a big shouting match is underway between him and the wife herself. I’ve decided that the hallway woman was someone who had come over to mediate a grave dispute – or to try to, anyways. It sounds like it didn’t work.

This neighbor has always been beyond-the-call-of-duty nice to me. Over the course of our 3 years together, he’s offered to help me out of more than a couple of binds. He’s never remembered my name, so he always addresses me as “neighbor.” “Hi there neighbor,” he’ll say, somehow managing to make a term that’s technically so anonymous feel warm and welcoming. So how do I tell him I hate that he’s slowly turning our corridor into his lair? How do I know (especially now that I can hear what he’s like when he’s really pissed off about something) that he won’t misreact? Not only does he know precisely where I live - he’s also familiar with the step-by-step layout of my apartment, because he and the wife evidently once lived in my unit at one point in their past. Even if he doesn’t react violently or psychotically to a voiced complaint from me, what if his feelings get hurt? Who knows what kinds of cards he’s been dealt - those regular forays into the foyer could be the only joy he’s got.

He’s not alone. A few of the teenagers on our floor like to congregate in our level’s grimy stairwell every now and then. A lot of these middle- to lower-income, lifelong urban apartment dwellers are just so hard up for any extra space on their allotted premises. I don’t get how anyone could view that dark, cramped, dirty stairwell as some kind of tranquil oasis; or that narrow, barren hallway as a head-clearing retreat. But that’s only because I grew up with the luxury of unlimited breathing room. Whereas they don’t take things like a front yard, or a back yard, or a porch, or even just a few back-to-back spacious rooms of their own, for granted.

So, as long as they’re not really hurting anyone, why shouldn’t they be able to take whatever they can get?

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