October 18, 2006
Won't You Be My Neighbor?
Let me start by saying that I do not live on County Road 39. And yet, I awake every morning to the sight of a bright orange cone, right at the end of my driveway and directly across the lane.
While those orange cones are veritable harbingers of hope in Southampton Town, signaling the end of seemingly endless stretches of morning traffic that turn a 20-minute drive into a two-hour debacle, there is something about seeing that familiar shape right outside your house that is somewhat unsettling.
Perhaps it is because the cone has not been placed in its current location as a calming device, a traffic measure. No, it symbolizes the onset of out-and-out war, sounds the proverbial battle cry on my sleepy country road.
The cone made its first appearance about a month ago, when my best friend since middle school made the long trek from Staten Island to attend my son's pool party with her kids.
Unaware of what endless misery she was about to heap upon me, she unknowingly and innocently backed out of my long driveway and INTO MY NEIGHBOR'S driveway across the road.
Hailing from Staten Island, my friend is unaware of the neighbor situation out here in the Hamptons. When you buy your McMansion, it should come with a how-to manual on the manners of the nouveau riche who populate our hamlets and towns.
Because one thing's for certain: back in my Brooklyn neighborhood, we may have been populating cramped apartments and duking it out for parking spaces on the street, but we were neighbors, in the true sense of the word. When my son was born, our neighbor, an elderly gentleman, used to knock on our door every Easter with a giant chocolate bunny for the baby. He would invite us every Christmas for eggnog and give an ornament for our tree. He showed me, a struggling new cook, how to make gravy for my Thanksgiving bird.
Growing up on Brooklyn streets, we would gather outside on our stoops on hot summer nights to share stories and sodas under a star-studded sky. On the Fourth of July, we kids would light sparklers as the adults watched the fireworks illuminate the night.
When I moved to the Hamptons, I had a dream. A vision in which my neighbors would come to the door carrying homemade casseroles and car-pooling invitations.
Nice fantasy. The reality is, when I moved in, there may have been a few very warm neighbors, including new best friends around the corner and the lovely woman who always has a special Halloween treat for my son, but the majority hide behind closed doors, plotting their next outrageous move.
Take the Cone Lady. When I first moved in, I was eager to plant my first garden. No sooner were the tiny seedlings in the soil then she stomped over to inform me that the orange and yellow flowers I'd chosen were offensive to her sensibilities. A professional colorist, she'd prefer something subtler. Could I move the flowers to the BACK of the house, please?
Listening to the radio one blazingly sunny summer day, a song I love — "Breathless," by The Coors — came on the radio. Jumping to my feet, I raised the volume and began an impromptu dance of joy by the pool. Twenty minutes later, and I am not kidding here, the police pulled up in my driveway. By this time, the one song was over and the radio on low again; I was dozing on the deck. The officer had received a complaint from my neighbor about the loud music, he said. Could I please refrain in the future?
Have a noisy muffler? Your neighbor will let you know. Long after the muffler has been replaced, a litany of complaints live on.
Have a runaway dog? Your neighbor will chide that he should have been neutered long ago.
Nosy. Rude. And sometimes, downright mean. Welcome to my Hamptons neighborhood.
I know I'm not alone in my neighbor-induced nightmare. Code violations color the days of elected officials. But here's my plea — how about a little common courtesy, a little kindness? Where's the love? Certainly not on my lane.
In the words of the beloved Mr. Rogers, won't you be my neighbor?