I was sitting on my front porch yesterday, reading a biography of Emma Goldman when I was distracted by the shouts of the man who lives across the street. He’s a gruff older man who kind of reminds me of Clay from Sons of Anarchy and he was yelling at some sort of government worker who was attempting to get questions answered. The questions I heard varied from “how old are you” to “what was your estimated income last year” and his responses ranged from “none of your damn business” to “none of your fucking business.” Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the man went on a rant, yelling to whoever could hear that he’s not some damn Democrat, he’s not entitled, and he doesn’t support those illegal Mexicans. After some more verbal abuse, the lady got back in her car and drove away, leaving me alone with my thoughts, trying not to make eye contact with the old man.
That evening over dinner, part of the conversation flowing between myself and my two tablemates involved Halloween and the lack of participation. We all remembered being children in the 80’s and the streets being packed with Trick-or-Treaters. Now, we live on a very main street in a city of 650,000 and our roommate says he doesn’t even go through one full bag of candy. I’m no holiday lover, but the staggering drop in children dressing up and having fun made me wonder what was happening. I thought of the yelling neighbor from earlier and tried to imagine myself as a parent. Would I bring my child to that man’s house? Would I be afraid that he’d yell at me to get off his porch? Would he be the one that finally proves that razor in the apple tale to be true?
As the others took the conversation in a different direction, I kept thinking about neighbors and Halloween. I see the Halloween problem as much bigger than just a single evening. Why was I allowed free range in the streets of New Jersey every year on October 31st, while today, in a safer city, most children aren’t. Was my mother irresponsible? Maybe, but that would also mean that the mother’s of all my friends also were. When I thought back to my candy collecting days I had a realization- I knew almost all my neighbors back then. And the neighbor’s I didn’t know directly were known by someone with me. If I knew the man across the street, there wouldn’t be the question of ‘would I let my child go there’.
I let these thoughts marinade in my head as I smoked a bowl of what Portland calls marijuana. Then they bumped into my thoughts from yesterday, which were quietly sitting in a corner somewhere. I wondered if maybe the reason most people cannot make connections is because they don’t talk to their neighbors. And by talk, I don’t just mean knowing their names and saying “what’s going on” when passing them, I mean talking about life. I don’t watch television, listen to commercial radio, or really read the corporate press, yet I’d be willing to bet that I know more about Jessica Simpson than I know about any of my neighbors.
My thoughts went back to the man across the street and his blanket hatred of so-called Democrats and people he considers Mexican (which I took to mean anyone with brown skin and/or an accent). Although I don’t know this man at all, in my head he became the average person. I imagined that his blind hate came from being ‘Merican; that’s the way we’re taught to think. If you keep your head down and bust your ass, you’ll be successful. Anyone who isn’t successful is that way because they’re lazy or stupid or had their job stolen by a Mexican. When something bad happens personally, it’s because of the Democrats/Republicans and of course, the Mexicans. Our boss is our boss not because the system is unfair or because her slave owning grandparents passed down their wealth, but because she is harder working (unless she’s actually a she or a Mexican, then they probably got the job because of affirmative action, which is the fault of the Democrats.) We look up to and respect our bosses more than we even know our neighbors.
So many people stay late at work without getting paid extra or go out with their workmates even if they don’t like them, just to get ahead. However, how many of these people, if asked to go to a meeting with their neighbors once a week, would bemoan their lack of time? What would happen if meeting with your neighbors and organizing block parties, group wireless, trash collection, skill sharing, or whatever else the block is in need of became a priority? Revolution is what would happen. We’d start to hear the stories of our neighbors and see that they are more like us than any celebrities or bosses. We would start to make connections between Jim’s inability to pay his mortgage since his sickness and Alice’s targeted persecution for her marijuana smoking. The man across the street would meet with and talk to actual Democrats and Mexicans. If we were figuring out ways to get our needs met that didn’t involve putting on a fake smile or pulling out our hair at work, we may start to question more, and we can’t have that.
This is what I mean when I say neighborly
Sometimes humor is the clearest way to be honest.