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.
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.
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 naïve 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.
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.