Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

My neighbor in Nipomo has a rooster, which means I’m writing this at 4:30 in the morning.

I didn’t intend to become an early bird, but my sleeping pattern changed dramatically about two weeks ago when my neighbor decided to move his roosters from the rear of the property closer to the house—and right by our bedroom window.

My wife can doze through anything, but I’m a light sleeper. The slightest sound, whether the jingling of metal tags on a dog scratching himself, or the hum of the hot tub kicking on, is enough to open my eyes and have me shooting up in bed like Frankenstein’s monster.

Desperate for undisturbed sleep, I’ve even retreated into the living room and sought quiet behind the closed French doors. Still the rooster came a tapping, while I nodded, nearly napping, crowing at my chamber door. 

Quoth the weak and weary husband, “Nevermore!”

Charlotte was more practical. “Why don’t you just go talk to the neighbor?” my wife suggested. “Tell him about the noise.”

I shrugged in response. “What’s his name again? I don’t remember.”

And therein lies the larger problem, one that should be keeping me awake. Thirteen months in the new house and I still don’t know our neighbors. None of them. Oh, I’ve picked up a couple first names and even an occupation, or two, during the year, but the relationship with people on my street has gone little beyond a friendly wave.

We wear many hats in life. I’ve learned to be a pretty good Husband and I get along with people at work, so put a check next to me for Colleague. I’ve maintained strong relationships with people dating back to high school, which should give me high marks for Friend. My parents would attest to my goodness as Son.

But Neighbor? In that category, I fall short. Sure, I keep the front lawn mowed and sweep the driveway regularly. I drive slowly on the street in case an errant cat leaps out suddenly. I don’t play loud music or throw wild parties.

That’s as far as it goes. I know that you’re supposed to love thy neighbor, but I tend to agree with the fellow who said, “A good neighbor is someone who smiles at you over the back fence, but doesn’t climb over it.”

If you think I have a bad attitude, meet my neighbor on the other side, a woman who lives alone with one-two-three-four-five dogs. Our dogs and hers meet every morning across the fence and judging from the agitated barking, you’d think it was the Sharks versus the Jets from West Side Story.

I had to drive all the way to the post office one day to pick up a certified letter. It was a scribbled note from our neighbor urging us to build a new fence to separate the dogs. She had our phone number. She knew our names. But she wouldn’t talk to us directly.

Back in the ‘90s the SLO city council took up a quaint measure that put us briefly in the national spotlight. A measure was introduced that called for all new homes built in San Luis Obispo to have a front porch. Supporters argued that porches stimulated social interaction. We never saw our neighbors any more, the thinking went, because we were entering and leaving through the garage. 

Thankfully, the city council rejected this attempt at social engineering, wisely recognizing that government can’t force people to get along. That’s up to us, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I know people who have regular block parties and even take vacations with their neighbors

Not me. We ended up building that new side fence and then put up another one at the front of the house. Then we dropped in about a half dozen trees and tall bushes in the front yard and I can’t wait until they mature into one large Do Not Disturb sign. 

But privacy has its price. Which brings me back to my rooster friend. As Charlotte reminds me, sleeping in the living room is not a permanent solution. Nor is waking up daily at 4:30.  

I may just have to lower my drawbridge, march out the front gate and carry the white flag of surrender next door to meet my neighbors.

Perhaps that’s what the rooster has been trying to tell us all along. 

SLO City News (2007)

Published by Dave Congalton

Writer. Radio Host. Screenwriter. Enjoying the Good Life on California's Central Coast.

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