Meet the neighbors. No, really, meet the neighbors. As nearly any anthropologist, or person with common sense, will tell you, it is customary, upon moving to a new town, to introduce one’s self to the other people living nearby, AKA, neighbors.
So why am I giving this an entire blog post’s worth of analysis? Because, quite simply, I’ve been living in apartments for the last 19 years, and in DC for the last 6 years, and it just isn’t done under those circumstances. Somewhere along the road, I lost track of how to participate in what is a common and well-understood human interaction.
Our very first day in Frederick, while the moving van was still parked out front, happily blocking traffic, our neighbor from across the street came over to introduce himself. He shook our hands, asked where we were from and what brought us to Frederick – all the pleasantries that one exchanges upon meeting new people and then asked if we needed anything. I said something off-hand like, “oh, I’m sure we will as we try to get it all figured out – you know, like when trash day is,” and proceeded on with issuing directives about where various pieces of furniture should go. He said he’d let us get to it, and crossed the street back home, but returned just a few minutes later with a piece of paper upon which he’d written his full name, his phone number, and when the trash and recycling days were. I was so stunned I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the paper or what to say to him. I must have stood there clutching it like a kid who’d just won a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. And of course, because this was so unusual to me, it didn’t occur to me that I should respond in kind with our contact information. I don’t even remember if I said thank you, but suffice it to say, this was not the best first impression I have ever given.
I know, you’re reading this thinking that I’m a crazy person and that detailing the mundane aspects of meeting your neighbors makes for a very boring read. But let me explain. In the 2 years that we lived in our Dupont Circle apartment, I learned the real name of precisely one neighbor, Vern, and that was only because the man was our arch nemesis. In fact, I’m disclosing his first name because, unlike Mr. Shakespeare, I do think that there’s something in a name, and his might shed some light on our personality differences. Oh sure, there were people that I recognized, but I didn’t know their names, or which apartment they lived in, and most of those people I probably couldn’t have picked out of a police line-up because I’d only seen them while I was at our pool. That’s right, our otherwise uninteresting apartment had a postage stamp of pool on the roof – its true redeeming factor. There was “Bud Light Guy,” who got his nickname, not surprisingly, because anytime we saw him on the roof, or otherwise, he’d have a Bud Light can in his hand. And there was “Bud Light Guy’s Boyfriend,” who we later heard was actually his husband. There was “that one young couple that owns here,” who earned their nickname because most of the owners were significantly older than us. There was “Vin Diesel,” because, well, for a year that’s who I thought he looked exactly like until I realized that, actually, the actor whose name I was searching for was Jason Stratham, but once you pick a nickname, you should really stick with it.
Later on in our first week, while we were sitting huddled together on the couch, we heard a knock on our front door. We look at each other with puzzlement – a knock? What does that mean? What should we do? Should we answer the door? Again, the answers to all of these questions are entirely obvious to anyone with any common sense at all. However, it had been years since we’d had a surprise visit. We’d grown accustomed to having to buzz people up through the lobby door and neither of us could remember the last time someone knocked on our door who we weren’t expecting. Out of a completely irrational fear of who knows what, I made the hubs peak out the window to see who it could be before opening the door – “some guy carrying a basket” – he says. After a whispered debate on the pros and cons of how to proceed, we greeted the stranger at the door to discover that he, too, was one of our neighbors and had come over bearing a welcome basket. A welcome basket! Once we were alone again, we rifled through it with a glee that you normally reserve for Christmas morning. It had good bread and wine and beer and candy and was all beautifully packaged with a thoughtful note – the kind of thing I’m sure Martha Stewart would have given her seal of approval to. At least this time I knew that the proper response was a thank you note with our contact information in it.
So, there you have it, a 1000 word essay on the meeting habits of normal Americans and, specifically, those in Friendly Frederick. I can’t wait until we’re no longer the new kids on the block so that I can try my hand at this – with any luck at all, it’ll be another city transplant that I can utterly bewilder, confuse, but also, delight.