I’ve never been overly neighborly. I mean, I don’t ignore my neighbors; if I see them in their yard, I wave or say hi. But I’m not one to pop over for a cup of coffee, or to stand at the fence trading gossip.
I think it’s partly a generational thing. I’m a product of the era where to “reach out and touch someone” means to hold a telephone conversation. If I dial a number and connect with the intended person rather than their answering machine, FAX machine, or computer, I guess by comparison I have cause to feel that it’s a close and personal encounter.
My generation also coined the term “cocooning.” We insulate ourselves from the outside world so we can spend quality time at home. The quality time begins as soon as we have responded to the email on our personal computers and retrieved messages on our answering machine, and is, of course, subject to any unforeseen interruptions, such as being paged on our beepers.
I would probably never have gotten to know any of my neighbors if it weren’t for my cats. Cats haven’t caught on to all this electronic gadgetry yet; they’re still trying to figure out how that little round bell got inside their favorite catnip toy. So when a cat wants to reach out and touch someone, it doesn’t pick up the phone. It runs next door, sits on the porch and looks pathetic until your neighbor either shoos it away with a broom or invites it inside and feeds it. I’ve thought of trying that approach myself, but I’m afraid I couldn’t handle being swatted with a broom as tactfully as a cat can.
Sometimes cats can get too neighborly. Once, when my cat Bonnie turned up missing for two days, I finally spotted her peeping from behind the closed curtains of an apartment across the yard from mine. The tenant of that apartment unit, whom I had theretofore not had occasion to meet, was apparently gone for the weekend and the landlord refused to unlock the door and let Bonnie out. I wasn’t so much concerned about Bonnie surviving the three-day detainment. But I had all sorts of nightmarish visions of the havoc she could wreak during an unchaperoned weekend free-for-all. Cats can be such party animals.
My neighbor across-the-way returned home the following evening. Instead of popping over to introduce myself, I hid behind my kitchen window curtains, watching for the fireworks. I figured my neighbor might choose this opportunity to reach out and touch me, if not with a broom, then with a bill for damages incurred by my kitty. She apparently opted instead to “cocoon” after her weekend away. A most satisfactory anticlimax from my point of view.
Bonnie came home upon her release, and we agreed to never speak of the incident again, especially not to our neighbor across-the-way.
The incident didn’t impede Bonnie’s neighborliness in the least. In fact, when I moved from that apartment complex, my neighbor-next-door asked if Bonnie could remain there with her. I told her Bonnie could only stay as a package deal with her twin brother Clyde, and when the neighbor readily agreed to keep both cats, I let them stay. I was trying to cut back to a one cat household anyway, and my third cat Cricket’s fur was a much better match to the carpet in my new home than either Bonnie’s or Clyde’s. It was a perfect solution to a delicate dilemma.
Upon moving, my new neighbors Danny and Carol epitomized the very word, always bringing fresh cut flowers and helping out in so many ways. In return, I – um, let’s see – I guess I cocooned. Let it not be said, however, that mine was not a neighborly household. On a regular basis, Cricket hopped the fence to present Danny and Carol with a carefully selected mole or shrew carcass, laid with the utmost of care upon their back step.
I’ve been thinking of neighbors lately because my family will soon be moving to a new house. With this new beginning I see the option of either “cocooning” away from those who will live nearby, or of “reaching our and touching someone” like a true neighbor. I hope to achieve the latter option for a change.
But just to cover all the bases, I’ll probably get a cat.
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