A beautiful day for a neighbour

February 11, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Anthony Carnovale

His name was Gurveer. I don’t know much about him. I knew he lived on our street, that he was a couple of years older than my son. I’d see him riding his bike or scooting up and down the street on a scooter. One day, he rang our doorbell, asked if he could play with my son. It was a proud ‘daddy’ moment for me: the first time my son went out to play with a friend. No play date, just a ring of the bell. Old school. 

We lived on a busy corner, so it was rare for this sort of thing to happen. Our front lawn was framed by an intersection, and one of the busier residential streets in town. Our house looked out at greenspace. There was plenty of passing cars, people walking dogs and loud motorcycles on Saturday mornings. We knew a couple of neighbours and got to know a few people that walked by the house on a regular basis. We got to see Roy and Betty so much they got to see our kids grow up. There were kids in the area, but our streets weren’t conducive to the type of play that I grew up with- ball hockey, hide-and-go- seek. If the kids did play outside, we had to check on them every few minutes. Despite all the traffic, in a weird way, we felt we had a lot of privacy.

Popular culture is replete with neighbors. Some of my favorite TV neighbours include: Mr. Firley, Larry and Mr. Roper (Three’s Company); Kramer (Seinfeld); Barney Rubble (The Flinstones); Ned Flanders (The Simpsons). Winnie Cooper (The Wonder Years); Mr. Rogers (everybody’s neighbour).

When we looked at buying our new home, we didn’t really think about the fact that we’d have neighbours (we’ve got green space in the back). My mom, knowing my disdain for small talk and all things trivial, asked “How are you going to handle living with neighbors?” 

Because of advances in mobility, and an increased participation in the workforce, we’re no longer as dependent on neighbours for friendship. Access to cars and phones makes it easier to contact a friend or family member in an emergency rather than a neighbor. Thanks to low cost imports we don’t need to borrow things like tools as much as people once did (even I own a drill). With stores open late, you no longer need to knock on your neighbour’s door for sugar, eggs or milk.

Truthfully, it’s been kind of nice having neighbours. We moved into a different house, but it’s like living on a different planet. Some weekends, our doorbell rings at 8: 30 am — the girls next door want to play with my daughter. My son sees friends walking past the house and makes plans with them. Our kids are always outside. Some days we’ll look at each other and realize that they’ve been outside for hours. We can hear the laughing, the screaming, the crying, the proverbial “I’m going to tell on you”. They climb trees, build forts and toboggan down the hill at the side of our house. Our neighbor across the street lets the kids skate on his backyard rink.  

While we haven’t spent too much time with neighbours (see COVID and freezing temperatures), we’ve still learned a few things about them. After a while you start to recognize their movements and routines. When going to school was a thing, we’d see my son’s teacher ride his bike home at lunch and after school. 

You can’t help being a wee bit more self-conscious when you’ve got neighbours. Growing up my father always talked about ‘pride of ownership’. My grandfather used to sweep his sidewalk and driveway. After a snowfall, I look at neighbors’ driveways and can always tell who’s retired and who doesn’t have kids (I swear, some of these people must have heated driveways). If the kids are outside and need a stern talking to, it comes out more like a growl, under my breath; I save the bawling for behind closed doors. 

There’s only so much that could be learned from observing others from a distance. People have different lives when their door is closed, curtains drawn. How many times has a crime story quoted a neighbour saying: “He was a nice man, kept to himself mostly. I never thought he could do something like that.” In Raymond Carver’s short story, ‘Neighbor’, Bill and Arlene Miller are left to take care of their neighbour’s apartment. Bill becomes obsessed with his neighbour’s possessions, almost as though he is living through them simply by eating their food, drinking their drinks, and trying on their clothes. He even takes time off of work to spend time in their apartment. After reading the story, you may never ask a neighbour to feed your cat again. 

The other morning, I happened to come across one of my favourite Leonard Cohen poems, ‘I Wonder How Many People in this City’. It reads: I wonder how many people in this city/live in furnished rooms./Late at night when I look out at the buildings/I swear I see a face in every window/looking back at me/and when I turn away/I wonder how many go back to their desks/and write this down. After closing the book, I knew I had an idea for this week’s column. Before I could even write the first word, the doorbell rang. 


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