What Would The Neighbors Think

In the span of a 20-second conversation, a lot of information can be shared, either intentionally or not. Complete strangers suddenly reveal that their relative lost a limb, or they will casually drop that they own property in Europe. Even at the mailbox, a neighbor might say, “I’ve been waiting for a letter from the editor of The New Yorker.” It’s always something identifying, something they are either burdened with or proud of. Maybe it’s an unconscious habit. Or maybe it’s just what we do – a form of small talk. Whenever I pick up on these little slivers, I wonder what sort of stock phrases I drop around. Even if I never utter a word, how am I building up an image of myself to others? Our actions can declare who we are before our words. Like my neighbors. I have never met them in person, but I still know something about them: Meg and Dan.

Like many people, Meg and Dan eat. They have the first unit, next to entry door. The whole building can smell what’s cookin’ as we walk past their unit, down the hallway towards our own homes. On Sunday mornings, it smells like bacon. On weekday evenings, it smells like Italian – something cheesy and garlicky. On weekends, though they shouldn’t, they leave their recycling just outside their door, and the rest of us have to step around their empty pizza boxes and cardboard beer carriers. Always from brands that are trendy, innovative – old craft made new and cool.

Being in the first unit means that their windows are visible to the street. They use their windowsill as a bookshelf, and it is stuffed with titles like: Learn How To Trade Stocks, and A Path to Financial Freedom. 

Curious how the titles are all turned to face out. Why would they face their book spines out towards the street and not in towards themselves? Why make us take notice of their preferences? I suppose we all love displaying our personalities, from bumper stickers to pins. We like to announce our identities. Letting us see that they are interested in their building a secure financial future must somehow make them feel – smart, together, on track.

Last week, propped in their window is a banner with the word FINALLY. Like a triangle flag you’d hold up at a parade, the flag is made of felt with a wooden dowel as the handle. At the end of the triangle point, an illustration of a diamond ring is hanging on the branch of the Y. It is displayed for our benefit. Even if Meg put the news on blast on her social media, it wasn’t enough. She wants to blast it out to the street.

How long did Meg wait for Dan to say the words? How many Friday night pizzas and Sunday brunch pancakes did she chew through before saying YES. Seems to me like she’s happy with her new status, and yet a little bitter about the timeline. I thought they might move away, because we all had to walk around an old side table they had left in the hallway, as well as old IKEA lamps and other disposable-type furniture. I was a little hopeful that they would leave, so we wouldn’t have to step around the detritus of their happiness anymore. It’s pretty rude of them to treat the hallway as their personal garbage bin. What does THAT say about the kind of people they are? I imagined them discussing their future housing options over sushi, or some other yumminess, planning out how to invest their stock earnings into a nice piece of real estate, something that would give them a great return on their investment in 30 years.

But no luck. Today a large box from WayFair was tossed into the hallway. They have bought a new coffee table. The box wasn’t even folded and tied up. You could see footprints over it where my other neighbors have walked across, none of us willing to do Meg and Dan’s work of taking the box out to the recycling bin. I added my footprints to the mix, while breathing in the smell of some tomato-onion-garlic recipe. Meg and Dan were home, making dinner, maybe about to settle in over a dinner of spaghetti while propping their feet up on their new coffee table.

On my way to my unit, I stop and turn around. What does it reveal about me if I leave the box there? I pick up the box and fold it flat. It is as big as a sail. Very politely, I lean it against their door. The box covers it completely, and at some point when they exit their unit they will be faced with a wall of cardboard. Am I being petty? What would the neighbors think?

I don’t need to know their thoughts. There are more pressing things to think about, like what to make for my own dinner.

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