Revisited: Being neighborly in the subdivision

They say that good fences make good neighbors. Since the restrictive covenants in our particular subdivision forbid the installation of “fences, barriers or similarly containing obstructions,” we have lousy neighbors.

Maybe I’m being a little harsh. I’m actually quite fond of the neighborhood we’ve lived in now for almost 15 years. It’s a collection of perhaps 60 or 70 upper-middle-class homes built in the pre-McMansion era, when floor plans were sensible and pre-existing plant life was respected by not being slashed and burned. In fact the name of our subdivision – I think it’s “Shady Creek,” but it could be “Shadow River” or “Dappled Brook” – reflects both the old hardwoods that canopy the main road and the shallow creek that, if you don’t look too closely, runs cleanly alongside the main road.

We live on that road, on the corner of one of about a dozen cul-de-sacs. We have a nice mixture of young families and retired couples, many of them academics from the college about two miles away. We’ve seen little of the housing market distress that haunts Subprime Village at the Township at Cityplace across the way, and even enough of a progressive streak that we sported a few Obama yard signs during the recent election season. I nod to the people I pass on my occasional walks and raise two fingers off the steering wheel  (three if I’m feeling friendly) as I drive past them, and am on good if anonymous terms with everybody. Most of them know me as the Stocky Guy that Runs and would probably describe me as the quiet type should I ever be charged with some gruesome crime.

I don’t really know my immediately adjacent neighbors at all. Some community-minded type down the street recently collected names, professions and other basic data for a small directory she published, but several families on our block declined to participate in the census. So they are known to me as follows.

The retired couple on our right (they’re either retired or simply don’t work very hard) have lived in their house for about two years now. I thought about approaching them and introducing myself when they first moved in, but after a few near-miss encounters it grew increasingly awkward to do so. Now I mostly see the husband as he walks his harnessed cat in the yard behind our shed. Why our property is better suited for the feline constitution than his is a mystery to me, but what’s even more curious is that he does this activity in full view of my wife and me. At least he has enough shame not to wave when he sees us. I’ve seen his wife only rarely when, for some reason, a different antique auto appears in front of their home every weekend and she engages in a long discussion with the driver. Maybe they’re running a stolen vintage car ring and the cat on a tether is meant to be a cover for their criminal enterprise.

The family on our left, across the cul-de-sac, consists of a young couple with two school-age daughters. They all seem nice enough from a distance, if balloons occasionally displayed on their mailbox is any indication. I have no problem with them, but I do have a concern with one of their visiting mothers. She recently pulled up to the side of their house to witness both me and her son hard at work in our respective yards. It seemed pretty obvious that both of us were herding leaves toward the curb, where the city’s vacuum truck would pick them up in a few days. Rather than park her car in front of his home, however, she chose instead to put it on my side of the street. I was stunned at first by this blatant show of preference for her own flesh and blood, especially since she did it right in front of me. After she went inside, I continued shepherding my leaves to the curb and put them exactly where I had originally intended, leaving a small space for her late-model sedan in the center of my pile. At least the vehicle was still largely visible from the door handles up.

Behind our house is an African-American family that I also know very little about. They’ve lived there about five years now but it’s been hard to watch their comings and goings because of how our respective homes are positioned. They probably know us a lot better than we do them, since the sliding glass double doors leading into our family room let them look out of one of their bedroom windows and directly into our lives. We had a good bit more privacy until they cleared a stand of shrubbery just inside their property line about six months ago; I’m not going to ascribe any voyeuristic motives to this questionable bit of landscaping, though I cut a pretty dashing figure as I clomp around the kitchen in my pajamas. The only other thing I know about them is that, for some unknown reason, they have their grass cut by the retired Southern gentleman on their other side. I’m guessing it’s some sort of Civil War reparations arrangement.

Finally, across the street there lives a cluster of several hundred people. It’s not an overcrowded group home but instead a development of townhouses just beyond the creek. Though not technically a part of the subdivision, the only way they can come and go is via our main road so I’ll consider them neighbors enough to grumble about. My primary beef is that they and their landscapers use the grassy area visible through our front window as a place to heap their trash, in direct violation of some municipal code or other we discovered when we called the city to complain. A guy came out and posted a “no dumping” sign, which they promptly ignored except for knocking it over. When we put it back up, someone stole the sign leaving only a post, which is nice as posts go but mentions very little about the ordinance. I bet the mostly retired community that lives in this development would sympathize with our concern and might even mention it to the landscapers, if any of them spoke English.

All in all, it’s really a pretty good place to live. We may not be neighborly when it comes to borrowing cups of sugar and checking each other’s pets while on vacation, we do have a Neighborhood Watch program. I know this because there’s a sign (not yet vandalized) and because the neighborhood coordinator stopped at my door one day to ask if she could have our stepping stones. I suppose they are desirable as stepping stones go – cement, circular, about 2-feet wide, truly exquisite – but I wasn’t quite ready to simply give them away to the crazy lady who yells at passing cars to “slow down!” Perhaps, for the betterment of the community I should have.

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2 Responses to “Revisited: Being neighborly in the subdivision”

  1. planetross Says:

    Everyone has neighbours … it’s just some are closer than others.

  2. fakename2 Says:

    I could speak volumes about this subject! Fortunately for all concerned, I will restrain myself. Living in suburbia is an exercise in isolation, not nearly the Leave It To Beaver scenario you imagine. I do it because I have dogs (i.e., I bought a house because it had a fenced in back yard. Otherwise, a hovel would do). The privacy seemed like a good idea, but more and more, I realize that when I lived in the center of a city, I had both privacy and friendliness. Living in proximity creates respect for others. You get the best of both possible worlds. Here in Pink House world, you get to know your neighbors when they call the City to complain about something you are inadvertently doing which pisses them off. (No offense intended. And your yard must be very inviting to the neighbor’s cat. I would never attempt to walk my cat on a halter, since I like having a face.) Minding your own business is an inner city quality.
    That said, I have had some interesting neighbors, perhaps chief among them was the Vietnamese family two doors down who kept ducks in a pen behind the house. How sweet! I thought. Until they started slaughtering them one day in broad daylight. There had to be some City Ordinance against that?

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