If you ask my mom, there’s an ever-increasing problem in the world today—no one sits on the front porch anymore. Or hangs out on the stoop. In the Chicago neighborhood she grew up in—Bridgeport in the late ‘50’s—apparently that’s what everyone did. They sat on stoops. Sat there and smoked and waited for the iPhone to be invented. When my parents moved from Bridgeport to Mt. Greenwood in the 70’s, the first thing my mom did was to sit on the stoop and expect a neighborhood to form around her.
I don’t know all the ins and outs of stoop sitting. Did they fly flags to declare their intent? Did they shout their political beliefs with megaphones to lure the like-minded? Did they make elaborate decorative displays to attract stoop-mates? I don’t know their customs, but hers was a short adventure. No neighbors approached or sat on their stoops or waved at her from behind their curtains. We’re sure it had nothing to do with her resting bitch face. She had no choice but to retreat into her house where she would stay for the next 30 years.
I think things have only gotten worse since then. No one gets together anymore. What, with the twitter being where people gather to avoid people, the only eye contact we get is with selfies. But since all of society’s ills can be traced back to this breakdown in communal stoop-sitting, it’s vital that we solve it.
I stumbled onto the fix maybe two years ago, but due to the natural laws of procrastination I am only now sharing this with you.
I was standing outside my house in the middle of a Saturday, just staring back at my house. Because that’s what shocked, clueless people do.
My kids were running in and out through the front door. The lawn was just daring me to do something about the transfer of power to the weeds. There was a Frisbee on the roof. Somewhere in the distance a dog barked. That’s when my across-the-street neighbor came over and started talking to me. He’s a cop, so he’s used to approaching people who don’t want to talk to him. I wasn’t getting out of this small talk. He wore a big smile that made his eyes squint until they just about disappeared.
The first few moments, he just stared with me. Both of us, looking at that Frisbee and those weeds and my rotting storm door. I never saw a door rot before. I didn’t even know it was possible. But there it was. I was looking at it. And I had a witness.
“Yeah, it’s hard having three kids, huh?” was the first thing that cop-neighbor said.
“Sure is.” Out of all the words stampeding around in my head, like a startled herd of buffalo, those were the only two that made it out.
“Yeah, I remember when my kids were little, seemed like I had no time for anything.” He turned to look at me and suddenly he was wearing sunglasses. Big cop sunglasses. “No time to do the yard work I loved to do.”
“I hear that.”
“Oh, so you like to do yard work?” This was getting good.
“Well, who doesn’t?” The word buffalos were trampling each other to death. My skull sloshed with their meat slurry.
He was looking at me. You. You doesn’t. That’s who doesn’t.
“I mean, gee, I can’t take the way this place looks.” I offered. Gee?! Who the fuck says “gee”??!
Half of cop neighbor’s face cracked open in a grin, “You should try looking at it from my side of the street.”
Shit, did I miss my chance to ask for a lawyer? What have I said already??! Is this where I ask for a lawyer? No, demand one! Yes, I should demand a lawyer!!
“If you ever need any help, my wife likes kids, we raised two, after all. She’ll be happy to watch yours, you know, if you need to get some of the basic stuff done.” Suddenly his glasses were gone. He was just the across-the-street neighbor again. And I understood his frustration completely.
I told him I’d be happy to take him up on his offer of his wife. Though I worded it differently. He shuffled back across the way with his arms sticking out from his body. Walking the way that only police and bodybuilders seem to walk.
I stayed out later than normal pulling weeds and retrieving the Frisbee.
A week later, I went out there and put in a real effort. I cut the lawn, edged it, and pulled ALL the weeds. I even swept up the lawn clippings that blew out onto the sidewalk. I did it up real nice.
When I was about done, my across-the-street neighbor opened his front door, looked at me, did a slow clap, and went back inside.
I never talked to him again, but I thought it was a great way to meet the neighbors. Much better than sitting on the stoop.
So if you aren’t like me and feel that real human interaction isn’t something to avoid, then here is the actual DIY part of this post.
Here’s how to trick the neighbors into introducing themselves to you. All you have to do is:
Let stuff slide. Chances are, you’re already neglecting the things inside your home—now, take that inaction outside. Let your lawn do what it do. Weeds are a natural part of nature’s world. Who are you to stop them, murderer?
Find the balance. This is important because you want to have a lawn that screams “HELP!” but you don’t want it to be soooo bad that the neighbors reach for their phones to call whatever small-minded bureaucrat is in charge of abusing power in your town.
Slow down on replacing things! This is actually a repeat of my first point. That’s how lazy people write. When they paved our alley, they had to take down a section of our fence. A small price for a brand new alley. It was well over a year ago, but I still haven’t replaced that section of fence. Because that lets in the alley neighbors.
So cut the grass twice a month. Or less. Let your rain gutters become long filthy arboretums. Take inspiration in the valiant weeds as they triumph and thrive despite a world that hates them.
And maybe throw some frozen strawberries in the blender with some tequila. Your neighbors just might drop by for a word.