Don’t bring your Playboy to my block party

I got a Playboy magazine in the mail recently and it got me thinking.

No, I didn’t have busty ladies on my mind. I never made it past the magazine’s “discreet” black plastic wrapper, so my thoughts remained pure. I did, however, notice that my neighbor’s name and address were printed on the back.

Just a mailbox mix up.

Not really a big deal, but awkward all the same. Not only was it impossible for me to walk next door and simply hand over the mail to its rightful owner, but it made it awfully hard to even make eye contact with the neighbors in the yard. Now I know something personal about my neighbors. I didn’t ask, they didn’t tell. But there it is. Just because we’re neighbors.

I like the idea of neighbors and neighborhoods and communities. I like it in theory anyway. In college I lived in the dorms where I had not just neighbors, but roommates too. Sure it was a community – the kind of community where you have to shout down the hall at 2 A.M. to get some peace and quiet, and then curse your neighbors when they leave their hair in the shower the next morning. Once, my roommate even locked me out of my room and left a sign on the door that said “My roommate is a Ho” when I came back from a date later than expected. How’s that for community?

After college, I lived in a downtown apartment with a whole building and city of neighbors. It wasn’t the dorms anymore, but I could hear my neighbors fighting like cats and dogs into the wee hours of the night and some member of my community stole the seat off my bike just outside my front door. Ah yes, community.

But it’s different in the suburbs, right? Your neighbors are supposed to bring you muffins and invite you to block parties, or something like that. Well, here I am in my first house in a neighborhood in the suburbs. People have been friendly in a wave-hello-from-the-mailbox sort of way. And that’s fine. There’s still time for muffins and block parties. But, after contemplating the Playboy phenomenon, I’m wondering if the community I am imagining isn’t inherently flawed.

My good friend Janet’s philosophy is that because you live close to your neighbors, you shouldn’t be close to your neighbors. All is good and well as long as your friendship remains intact. But what if something goes wrong? What if your friendship ends and there they are, an unpleasant reminder right next door. Better to play it safe, wave from the driveway, and make friends across town.

Could my friend be right? Is it better not to get too personal with the people that live next door and down the street? Maybe. But even knowing my neighbor’s choice of reading material hasn’t entirely deterred me from wanting more out of my neighborhood and my local community. Maybe there’s a balance where you don’t need to get too personal but a community bond can still be formed, whether its in the dorms, in the city, in the country, or in the suburbs.

Playboy aside, I haven’t given up on the dream of a neighborhood where you can ask for help when you need it, where you can trade gardening tips over the back fence, where you can share a cup of sugar and maybe borrow an egg in return. I’ll just keep making an effort and pray my mail carrier is a little more careful from now on.  Time will tell.

What do you think? Is it possible to build a real community in today’s big world?

Do you have any funny/horror neighbor stories to share?  Give me your best story and I’ll send the five best story tellers a postcard copy of the lovely community poster pictured in today’s post.

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