I Didn’t Hump Anyone’s Leg. I Promise.

A good neighbor is a fellow who smiles at you over the back fence, but doesn’t climb over it. ~ Arthur Baer

Loving Husband and I are shopping for houses.

Well, we’re shopping for one house. It’s not like we’re thinking of buying one and a spare.

This is a pretty major development for us. An evolutionary milestone, if you will. It means that, for the first time ever, we are prepared to stay in one place for a long time.

By “a long time,” I mean at least ten years. Since we’ve never lived anywhere for more than four years, that’s pretty huge.

But, now that our time in the Navy is done (at least as active duty folks), LH has a good job that won’t make him move every few years, and we’re tired of renting. It’s expensive, and we can’t do things to a rental house (like make repairs, or paint, or whatever) that we could do to a house that we own.

So we’re shopping.

This brings up an issue, though. Neighbors.

I mean, we’ve had neighbors before, obviously. But when you’re renting, and you know that you’re not going to be there for long, you don’t have to be on really good terms with your neighbors. It’s not important. Which was good for us, because, for various reasons, I’m a rotten neighbor.

For starters, I grew up in New Jersey, where people are not especially outgoing. So that’s one strike against me — culturally, my expectation is to ignore and be ignored.

I also grew up in a family of people who are introverts. As a family, we just don’t know what to do with strangers, and we’re certainly not about to knock on someone’s door to introduce ourselves, even without taking into account my own personal struggles with social anxiety. Strike two.

Um … yeah, hi. I’m just going to stay behind this nice tree until you go away, and then I’m going to beat myself up with recriminations, okay? (Photo by bigevil600)

My biggest problem, though, is that I’m a trouble-maker (I like to call myself a ‘free-thinker’). Let me give you an example to show you what I mean.

At our last station just before we left active duty, we had to live on base. This broke my heart when I found out — we were going to Sicily, and we’d have to live surrounded by only Americans? Where’s the fun in that? But we didn’t have a choice at that time — it was policy that any service members with families had to live in on-base housing.

We arrive to find that, not only do we have a lawn (which, having come from a third-story apartment, we’d never had before) but we’re expected to maintain it ourselves. In addition to weeding the lawn and pruning shrubs, that meant watering the lawn. Every day. Twice a day.

They wanted this.

Now, I’m a research nerd. As soon as I learned that we were going to Sicily, I started doing research on it. In the course of that, I found that Sicily has a lot of water distribution problems. Some are due to changing agricultural practices, with a move toward more water-intensive crops and away from the traditionally Mediterranean olives and almonds. Others are due to corruption and the influence of organized criminal organizations. Either way, every summer there is some problem with water, and people frequently have to go without water in their homes for days at a time.

To me, this spelled out the word C-O-N-S-E-R-V-E. I thought, if there are water troubles, the responsible thing to do would be to conserve water. And a good way to start would be to eliminate uses that were purely aesthetic, like watering your lawn. Makes sense, right?

Wrong. I’m a damn hippie. No matter how much research I quoted, or how often I showed my findings to the maintenance folks and the chain of command, nobody wanted to hear anything about it.

On the contrary, it made people awfully angry. I know, I know, I was na├»ve to think that people would be willing to listen, to not realize that people would feel threatened and angry at some LT’s wife trying to save the world one lawn at a time. As an idealistic, I-can-make-the-world-a-better-place, twenty-something artistic type, it was a pretty rude awakening for me.

They got this.

What really shocked me, more than anything else, was the reaction of some of my neighbors. One in particular, a woman whose husband my husband happened to work closely with, was so angry about the state of our lawn (that state being mostly dead) that she confronted me about it. Angrily. If we had been men, I’m pretty sure that fists would have been involved. And after that, with very few exceptions, we never spoke to one another again.

(Can I tell you one of the exceptions? We were at a command dinner at a restaurant, a large group of Americans surrounded by Italians, who were studiously ignoring us. I was talking at my end of the table with one of Loving Husband’s colleagues, who asked me about my theater background and what sort of things I had done. When I mentioned that I had been involved in a production of The Vagina Monologues, this neighbor woman yells from the other end of the table, “Watch your mouth!” As if I was randomly shouting out the clinical names of lady-parts in public — VULVA! VAGINA! CLITORIS! I mean come on. Context, people! I think she really did expect me to pee on the floor, or start humping someone’s leg.)

I’m pretty sure that our neighborhood had a block party to celebrate our departure at the end of our tour. I can’t prove it, though, because when I left I was on speaking terms with so few of our neighbors.

Strike three. We’re out.

Buying a house, we’re going to be there for a long time. I want to be on good terms with the neighbors. I mean, we don’t have to become life-long friends, walking into each other’s houses without knocking, like in the old sitcoms. But I would like to be reasonably certain that they’re not going to leave flaming piles of poo on my doorstep.

With that in mind, we’re preferring houses that don’t have lawns, at least in front. And we’re automatically dismissing any houses that have Homeowner’s Associations.

I’d love to hear your crazy neighbor stories! Unless they’re about me, “That damn crazy hippie who moved in and crusaded against decent, hard-working lawns.” In which case you may keep it to yourself.

56 responses to “I Didn’t Hump Anyone’s Leg. I Promise.

  1. I am content with my neighbors. They are unique as anything, but in a way I can enjoy from my front porch. I look forward to hearing about where you are searching!

  2. I’ve actually had pretty good luck with neighbors, so I don’t know if I can be of any help.
    My mom had some of the best neighbors ever. She lived in a really run-down neighborhood in Tacoma, Washington with a lot of crime. However, for a long time, she didn’t have to worry about anything, because this military family (originally from Samoa) moved in next door, and really hit it off with my mom. If a friend of mine he didn’t recognize came by the house, the dad would bark, “Hey! What are you doing here?” Once he found out you were supposed to be there, he was the sweetest man. Great neighbor.
    Hey, maybe you’ll get someone like that–he never wanted to chit-chat, just liked being neighbors.

  3. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve lived in my home for 11 years and only know the name of one neighbor behind me, and only because our kids used to go to the same school. I don’t know who lives in any of the other houses around me, other than their gender and general body habitus from glimpes of them coming home. I blame my introversion. Then again, they must be introverts, too, because no one has come knocking on our door. Which is just how I like it. :)

    Good luck house hunting!

    • I feel like I really like the IDEA of a close-knit community of neighbors, but that in practice I would either find it creepy or confining, or maybe both. I don’t like living in a fishbowl.

  4. Fish Out of Water

    We’ve been here for 9 years. It’s mostly been good, but then we don’t have to take care of the yard. :-) There was the murder, and I’m not kidding about that, but otherwise all is well. We go through hurricanes here. The fear of needing one of my neighbors if my roof blows off is extra incentive to be nice to them year round.

  5. I live in a condo so my neighbor situation is different from yours, in that we share walls, floors and ceilings with these people. We have pretty good neighbors in that they’re quiet and generally well behaved (except our next-door neighbor, who we’re convinced goes out at night to cleanse the streets of dirty women), but when the condo board has to make decisions, I want to open fire on all of them.

  6. I grew up in a white trash neighborhood where you avoided most of your neighbors because you never knew if they were a sexual predator. After 10 years, I only knew the kids I went to school with. The neighborhood we live in now is pretty friendly and I am on pretty good terms with my neighbors but I think this is mostly due to the fact that when I moved here I had a cute baby and an outgoing husband. So I would recommend using Sausage liberally. People cut you a lot of slack when you have a cute kid. An outgoing husband helps too but the baby is key.

  7. Oh you wild free-thinker. I think you need neighbours (that be the Canadian way of spelling neighbors – because we like including “you”! ) that like big fences and hedges. If they have those then you can be sure you will never see those people :)
    I also find that if I move into a neighbourhood eventually my neighbours change for the better – usually because new ones move in that don’t know me yet!

    • I think if I can avoid having a Homeowner’s Association (aka, Lawn Nazis) we’ll all be okay. I like to think that my presence will improve the neighborhood. At least, it will certainly add a lot to the general personality, if not to the neatness of the hedges.

  8. Well, if it comes to a flaming-piles-of-poo war, I think you’ll win — if Sausage is anything like my twins.

  9. my husband and I dream of fencing in our entire yard or having tall shrubs block us in. I hate hate nosey neighbors. I feel like I live in a fishbowl. I caught one neighbor peaking in my bedroom window early one morning while I was in bed. She hid behind the tree. We are major introverts. I will gladly help anyone but i do like to be left alone and I love my privacy. Being a librarian in a very small town — a town that loves its library— is very stressful at times for me. They watch me out of curiousity…like what do I eat and if I garden..we are the trashiest lawn in the neighborhood.– and leave books and such on my porch! I also get nagged about malfunctioning library machines, returns, fines and requests. But I love our house– we just moved in a few years ago after saving for a very very long time. I just wish we could afford a moat or a fence. oh and I hate my neighbors dog– it shits on my front yard. Finally Having our very own space is worth all of my neighbor stress.
    Good luck and scope out your neighbors well!

    • ps sorry about my babbling ramble

    • Most of the houses we’re looking at have seriously fenced yards, if they have yards at all. Fortunately for introvert-me, we live in a very big city, so we’re unlikely to have to deal with the fishbowl phenomenon. Can’t count on lack of dogs, though.

      • unfetteredbs

        sometimes I long for the anonymity of a big city… that and something being open past 10pm
        small towns are wonderful– beautiful

      • I grew up in a small town, and then I spent four years living in a tiny ‘town’ in Sicily. I’m loving the city, with all its anonymity, and its open stores, and its culture, and its noise, and everything. I especially like that I still get to visit the country when I want some forests, though.

      • unfetteredbs

        well I live in a small town where alot of BIG CITY folk weekend….
        perhaps you’ll find yourself a weekender in my small town

      • Maybe. If so, I promise to be as obnoxious as humanly possible: I’ll drive like an idiot, act like I own the place, and let my kid run absolutely wild in restaurants while I complain about the menu selection. Sound good?

      • unfetteredbs

        and please, let your animals relieve themselves freely. And yes the tone around town is that of” me first and me now” but I love all the NYC’ers very much. If someone flips you off from a car– just give me a wave

  10. I wish you were my neighbour and we could yell things like ‘vagina’ across the street at one another. Also, it would be nice to have someone else who doesn’t do yard work on the same block. I let my husband meet the neighbours and then introduce us, he’s the extrovert. It’s worked out well in our current house. 5 months in and we know more neighbours than the people who have been there for 5 years.

    • We would be awesome neighbors! We’d mind our own business, except to occasionally cross the street with wine to get loud and tipsy in the front yard! And we could make uterus-shaped cookies for all the neighborhood children! It would be excellent.

  11. Well that’s good. Because take it from me, the leg-hump greeting is not as much of a crowd pleaser as I had thought it would be. Good luck on your house shopping and I hope you do get some nice neighbors. They make all the difference.

  12. I’m not sure where you’re looking but here in NoVa it’s almost impossible to find a neighborhood with out an HOA. Some care a lot more than others, ours is insane about having garbage cans out at the wrong time. We’re also not allowed to change the color of our front door. The HOA in my in-laws neighbor hood only cares if you let your grass get taller than a foot. Maintenance for our teeny tiny yard is covered by our condo fees or else everything would be dead like the plants on our deck.

    • HOAs are one reason we don’t want to ever move to the suburbs. I mean, there are lots of other reasons too, but that kind of mentality keeps us well away from the cul-de-sac set. We’re looking to buy in Baltimore, and it should be pretty easy to avoid that sort of thing here.

  13. I love this post. And we are exactly alike.
    At our last house, we lived next door to what we are pretty sure was a meth house. They left a full pizza box on our front lawn once. I don’t know if the two things are related, but I was mad.
    Anyway, when those folks sold up and left, some guys came in to flip it. One guy on the project told us that he breathed in some of the “red stuff” on the windows and was bed-ridden for days. FOR DAYS, Kathy.
    So……good luck in your home search! Watch out for meth!

    • Ewewewewewew. We’re not looking to flip any houses, so hopefully we won’t inadvertently buy anything with deadly “red stuff” on the windows. Ew. Ewewew. Note to self: have any place we buy professionally cleaned before moving in.

  14. When we finally found the house we wanted, with a small, easily managed yard and all that (still waiting to move in , different story), we later found out that the previous tenants are drug dealers, and probably were the ones who stole the copper recently. :( So glad the neighbors informed us of that after the fact. I’m the social one, but I’m not sure how much socializing I’ll be up for in this area >.< . Good luck on your hunt!

  15. I want you for my neighbor………………I think…..maybe..

  16. As I think you know, I rent in NYC. Through the nearly 30 years that I have resided in my humble air-condition-less abode, I have a shared wall. Most of my neighbors have had a handle on apartment etiquette i.e., no vacuuming or hammering in the wee hours, don’t aim the speakers at the wall, keep the tantric sex screaming on low volume past 10 pm, etc. My current neighbor didn’t get the memo so I had to teach him. He likes to sing. Loudly. At all hours. Also, songs that sound completely made up. One night around 1 AM he burst into song. I burst out of my door and pounded on his. He stopped singing but would not answer so I concluded, “Great. He sings naked.” I didn’t care, I pounded again. Finally, he spoke, “Who is it?” I said, “Your next door neighbor.” He asked, “What do you want?” I said, “I want to talk to you about the timing of your singing.” He said, “I’m an actor! I’m practicing! It’s my right!” I said, “I’m a writer and I hope you’re not planning to try out for any musical theater because you’re not getting the part. Sing about that.” His singing at all hours has since stopped.

    I hope when you find your house, you’ll have very nice neighbors.

    • AWESOME. You know, I’m an actor. I still manage to maintain some semblance of etiquette — at least, as regards to things that aren’t my lawn. In that sense, it’s every lawn for itself, if you know what I’m sayin’.

  17. Homeownership is a big deal. Congratulations. Try not to be the only hippie in your neighborhood (I have no idea how you can figure this out. They don’t make them register at the local PD, do they?) No lawn = great idea. I grew up in Jersey, too and have had to fight my inner recluse to meet our neighbors but the good thing is, you only have to do it once. Once they’re met, it’s done. Then you can wave and go about your business.

    • That was the problem on base — I was the only hippie for miles. Here it shouldn’t be such a big deal, since there are a lot of hipsters and art students living in this area, and I’m bound to appear stodgy compared to them just by merit of being old and having a kid. (They only make hippies register with the PD in the deep South. People there check the Hippie List almost as compulsively as the check the Sex Offender List.)

  18. You can be my neighbor. I’ll feed your baby if you forget.

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