Sarah Brady Stack
The idea of being neighbors in New York City is not quite the same as actually being neighbors anywhere else. The idea of being “neighbors” in NYC seems to mean that whoever happens to live next door, over, or under you is actually doing you a huge favor by suffering your existence. The only time your neighbors will talk to you is when they need to complain about something.
For instance, take my relationship with my downstairs neighbor. My downstairs neighbor hates me. My downstairs neighbor, who my roommate and I have affectionately named “Herman” because he’s never introduced himself, is a 60-ish-year-old man who speaks to us only to remind us that we don’t know how to be considerate upstairs neighbors. I’m not entirely sure why he thinks we are such horrible neighbors.
I will admit that the only time he feels the need to speak to us — and by “speak to” I mean “yell at” — is when he comes to complain about the noise during one of our parties. But to be clear, by “party,” I mean board game party, with no more than six people on a Friday or Saturday night before midnight. I’m not saying we don’t get rowdy, because we do — especially when it’s a trivia game. I’m saying that if I am Herman’s absolute worst nightmare of an upstairs neighbor, this man has had it pretty easy, especially for living in NYC.
Similarly, I’ve only spoken to our neighbors from across the hall twice: once when I moved in and once again when we happened to be coming home at the same time. Both times they seemed annoyed at the necessity I felt for niceties. They are also the only other neighbors in my entire building that I’ve spoken to.
Growing up, I had always watched those NYC crime TV shows and had never been able to fathom how the people being questioned didn’t know who their neighbors were. Recently I realized that I am now truly a part of that NYC culture. I could not pick out any of my neighbors in a police line-up, even if I wanted to — including Herman, and in Herman’s case, I’d really want to.
This revelation has me worried for two reasons. First, shouldn’t we be taking just a little bit of time to meet the people with whom we share so much space. In my opinion, it’s a great community support network that is being wasted. Secondly, when I come home and someone is standing by the front door waiting to get into the building, I have no idea if I should let them in or not. I wouldn’t know the difference between a burglar and a legitimate tenant and I feel rude refusing them entry if they assume the right to enter. This means that my inability (which I’m sure I share with most of the building) to identify my neighbors is a possible security issue.
As a result, I plan on doing my best to start being more neighborly. My plan to ignite the neighborly spirit is to throw a family-friendly, “getting to know your neighbors” board game party. But not to worry, Herman is not invited.
Sarah Brady Stack, a former Lonoke County resident living in Manhattan, works for a New York publishing house. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.