Neighbors Are Far Apart

We moderns live in compartments not apartments. At least this was the conclusion some friends and I joked about the other night. We are certainly an isolated people.

I contend that there is something wrong with the way we interact with our neighbors. And we hardly see it as a problem anymore. It has nestled itself into our lives. The change has been rather slow and subtle but nonetheless dangerous. It is deadly. Our lack of interaction is not only killing ourselves but it is also killing our neighbors. Something in us will die if we ignore our neighbors . . . and something in our neighbors will die if they ignore us. I know you just met me but allow me to make a broad and general assessment . . . socially I think most of us are dead.

Why don’t we knowers know ourselves . . . and why don’t we knowers know our neighbors?

Something is wrong. And naturally if there’s something wrong with us then there’s something wrong with them. I think that means theirs something wrong with all of us. If we don’t know ourselves how are we going to know our neighbors? If you haven’t read it then you need to read Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book.

I’ve seen him several times. You can’t miss him with his bushy-white-Father-Christmas-beard. He lives down the hall. Imagine a cross between Allen Ginsberg, Karl Marx and Father Christmas. Mix them up and you have my neighbor Paul. If you've been following my Portland Chronicles (on facebook) then he’s the neighbor who “burnt his damn dinner” the night the fire alarm went off. I’ve seen him but I’ve never met him. And I don’t think we would have met if left to the apartment . . . to the elevator . . . to the mailbox. An outside force would have to bring us together. Kind of like the fire alarm but even that did not prove formidable enough.

Why is it that we live seven steps from each other but we’ve never spoken seven words to each other?

Recently my roommate put a photo display up at the Blue Sky Gallery downtown Portland. So I went down to check it out. The Blue Sky Gallery is a place that is staffed by volunteers. They have a couple of rooms that are lined with pieces of professional photographers and then they also have a space supporting local amateur artists. They give people like my roommate a chance to show off their stuff (
http://freetyler.tumblr.com/ ). So like I said, I went down there to check it out and who other than our neighbor Father-Christmas working the counter.

I say to him, “I think we are neighbors.” I knew full well that he lived down the hall from me but I said it anyway. I used “neighbor” as a word strictly connoting proximity, because we weren’t neighbors in any other way. We just happen to live close to each other that’s all.

As we were chewing the fat I found out that he is about to turn 80 and with that he is about to publish his first photography book. He said he’s been shooting for years. He shoots a little bit of everything; city life, nature, people . . . and yes even nudity? Now I can’t imagine either Father-Christmas or Karl Marx shooting nudity, but nonetheless, to-each-his-own. I mused that the nude fetish was Allen Ginsberg coming out.

He kept thanking me for speaking up. I nodded and said, “No problem.”

“Come over tonight, I have friends in from Seattle. I’ll show you my work and we can talk more.”

I said, “sure.” I mean, why not, I live right down the hall and all.

Who knows maybe in the future we can actually become neighbors. I wonder what it will be like.

I think I’ll knock on his door. But I’m sure you’ll understand if I don’t.


  1. Reminds me of an episode of "Seinfeld" in which Jerry begins chatting with his neighbors and then is ostracized from the community when he decides he no longer wants to give cheek kisses, or something like that. It's hard. We're all busy. The only time I'm in my hallway is when I'm rushing frantically from point A to point B. It's hard to stop and talk to people.

    And then there's that whole issue of whether or not they're psycho. I mean, what if Father Christmas decides he wants to photograph you in the nude. Against your will.

    It would be nice if all apartment complexes had some sort of common room, where you could interact with your neighbors over a game of pool or something.

  2. FYI, just posted this related story:::


  3. Stepanie, I just saw this and I'm flattered. Thanks.