Do neighbours really need to become good friends?
When one woman has a rake and the other loves to garden - that's when good neighbours become good friends. Or not.
My neighbours are skip-hoppers (i.e. bogan rappers), which means they have really great stereo speakers but terrible taste in music. You don’t know what frustration is ‘til you’re forced to listen to someone nasally rhyme things like “f**ken” and “muckin’” on a nightly basis. One evening while their bass-lines were rattling my writing desk, I even made a meme about it.
The ocker poetics aren’t even the worst of it, though. It seems my neighbours are also extremely popular, and there are often a bunch of people hanging in their backyard or on their front stoop, noisily clinking bottles and chatting excitedly about Macklemore.
One late Friday night, my girlfriend and I opened our rear-lane roller-door to reveal a mass of tipsy 20-somethings, sprawled wastefully amongst up-turned garbage bins and scattered milk crates and vodka bottles. Much like those familiar scenes in crappy comedies commonly punctuated by a record scratch, 500 or so faces turned towards us in unison as we backed away timidly and slowly lowered the roller-door again.
Still, we’re not yet too old to party so we wandered back around through the front door to partake in the wild festivities (but mainly to check if the inside of their house was prettier than ours). A quick walk through the premises revealed a cordoned-off kitchen filled with an array of professional amps and turntables and a long-haired DJ playing some ambient tune that must only sound like it changes if you’re on magical drugs. Today’s kids and their Ministry of Sound!
We were quietly sitting and observing the sights, when we overheard a rowdy reveller say to one of the hosts, “Dude, this is awesome. I can’t believe your neighbours haven’t called the cops yet!” To which he replied, “Yeah, those guys are really cool!”, pointing to the house on the other side. “But those guys…”, pointing to our house and tilting his hand back and forth in the universal sign of “Meh, I don’t know about them…”.
Obviously, my initial internal reaction was, “F**k you, we’re at your stupid party, idiot!” But on further reflection, I really don’t mind the indifference. People often decry today’s splintered communities and rampant isolation, where neighbours don’t even know each other’s names. But to me, that is the greatest thing about city-living, the ability to happily go about our business in self-serving anonymity.
I don’t want to have to fake-greet another person I don’t really know during the course of the day; we all go through enough of that in our office hallways. I’ll never need to borrow your sugar-cubes or screwdriver, and I don’t want you to borrow mine. This isn’t some outback hellhole, where the closest general store is 80-something kilometres away and closed after noon. There’s a 24-hour supermarket half-a-block down the street; go buy your own sugar, you disorganised jerk. Unless there’s a fire threatening our dividing wall, just leave me alone.
Clearly, I’m not the only one with such neighbourly niggles. Even the laziest amount of research unveils everything from official stats (eg: neighbourly disputes in Victoria rise 40% in the past two years!) to amusing online exposés on the rise of passive-aggressive wi-fi names (variations on “WeCanHearYouHavingSexPleaseStop” have become surprisingly common). With the population of our major cities constantly growing, these kinda complaints will surely become even more common.
So how do we reconcile our need for peace and privacy with the ever-increasing density of our living conditions? Who knows, but perhaps a bit of perspective can help.
Last month, I came across an odd news story about an ordinary street in the Northern Beaches, whose residents were shocked to learn that a neighbourhood couple had been lying deceased in their living room for almost three weeks. Guilt-ridden, the residents committed to organising future community events in order to keep in touch with each other and ensure such a tragedy never happened again. While the thought of having to attend a community event would immediately make me lock my doors, one resident interviewed for the piece offered a touching quote: “People come up here to be quiet and private, but there’s no reason why we can’t be on hand for each other if there’s a problem.”
I guess that’s a healthy way to look at these situations. My selfish neighbours may be incredibly annoying but, if nothing else, those midnight rhymes emanating through our paper-thin walls are at least a reassuring reminder that nobody’s dead and decomposing. I mean, imagine the stench!