Have you ever felt like you could become great friends with someone you have never actually met? He might be a friend of a friend that you notice at a party, who speaks with a self-deprecating humour that penetrates your very soul. She might be that sad, lonesome girl who sits in front of you on the bus to work everyday, reading a collection of short stories by Isherwood. The feeling could come over you fast and fleeting, or it could repeated in an enduring loop of never-meetings.
This is how I feel about my new neighbours.
They are a young, friendly, heterosexual couple, both in their late twenties or early thirties. She is a sleek, toffee-skinned Asian woman, with and a warm, becoming smile. Her shoulders slouch – a care-free gait – yet she sports sleek, sharp, jet black bangs that hang just below her sparkling eyes. She dresses in slinky singlets and high-waisted denim shorts, flitting between Jesus-sandals and combat boots.
He is attractive like an English Bulldog: squat, muscular, with a smashed in face. He’s not a conventional pin-up, but has a raw attractiveness. He dresses in well-fitted t-shirts, shorts and thongs. And his bronzed skin is decorated by tattoo sleeves that perfectly match the markings on his girlfriend’s calf and shoulder blades. That’s not to say that they are the same tattoos. But together – him and her – appear as a set. Like a pepper grinder and its matching salt shaker; functional apart, but you wouldn’t want one without the other. They own two mongrel dogs, a motorbike and a ute, and they listen to Australian folk and Indie rock. They are almost always home. My unemployed compatriots.
My interactions with them have been minimal. A smile here. A wave there. I think we managed a “hello” once or twice. But we haven’t dared to venture to full sentences.
I have been living in apartments of various shapes and sizes since I was nineteen. Not once have I had a meaningful relationship with a neighbour over this eleven-year haphazard history of habitation. However, when I was a kid I was completely different. My brothers and sisters and I would always hang out with the kids on our block. There seemed to be endless ways to enjoy each others company, even if we had the most tenuous of shared interests. So I was the only one that read Goosebumps. It didn’t matter.If we were roughly the same age we could find some way to get along.
My earlier life with neighbourly friendships can’t be attributed to location longevity; my family moved houses just as many times when I was the ages of five to seventeen as I have on my own accord since I have lived in familial independence. But it can’t be attributed to our youthful innocence either, as my parents also made friends with our neighbours when I was growing up. For some, their relationships were contingent upon the unplanned synchronisation of checkings of letter-boxes or takings-out of rubbish bins. Out in front of our houses, they would complain about the weather, sigh about their jobs, compliment each others’ children, and be back inside in time to put the pasta in the pot before the boiling water over-flowed onto the stove. Sometimes they enjoyed their verge conversations so much that they would ask them over for dinner.
These days I don’t know many people who have become friends with their neighbours. No one in recent memory. It is a phenomena that seems to be dying out in our modern world. Either that or it says something about the company I keep. But I think it extends further than my own friends and family. Could it a product of an increasingly public world? Facebook. Twitter. WordPress. Instagram. Youtube. Vimeo. Soundwave. Mixcloud. There are so many ways to digitally connect with people, new and old. It is empowering, yet inescapable. We can’t watch television, read the news, or even shop without being asked to share our thoughts our online “families”. Has our mutated need to broadcast our thoughts conversely driven us into our homes? Are we afraid to communicate in person? Or are our homes our last bastions for just a little bit of privacy?
In 2010, I bought an apartment in a strata-complex with eight other apartments. I do not have conversations at my letter box. In fact, when I check the mail, I often pretend that I am talking on my mobile phone to aggressively prevent any chance of being trapped with one of my neighbours. And I wait for the dead of the night before I take the rubbish out to the street on Bin Night. I yearn for privacy. However, this is all because of my neighbours. These guys make Melrose Place look like a harmonious condominium paradise! I can describe my neighbours by lumping them into four broad categories: The Never-Seens, The Renters, The Intolerable Frenchman, and The Old Gays.
The Never-Seens are just as described. I have owned my place for three years and I have never met, heard, or even sighted the person or persons who live in Apartment 4. I have seen a car parked in his or hers or their parking bay frequently enough to imply someone lives in the apartment and infrequently enough to imply that this person has not choked to death on a chicken bone or those people have to fallen victim to a murder-suicide.
Serge, or The Intolerable Frenchman, is my delightful next-door neighbour. And by delightful I mean some kind of four letter word. And by some kind of four letter word I mean one starting with C. Choose whichever one you find more offensive. Serge is known as an incredibly civic-minded citizen, who is always willing to offer tips on better living. Some of Serge’s previous offerings include:
- leaving aggressive letters, capitalised in fractured English, to inform my visitors that the visitors parking bay is reserved for visitors;
- popping over on a Sunday afternoon, whilst my dad is visiting, to shout about my television being too loud (despite my protestations that the television had never been on in the first place); and
- pulling the fuses out of my fuse box because my house mate was playing his acoustic guitar too loudly.
Unfortunately, his rules exempt him from having Skype chats at a European volume at any time of the day he pleases. Despite his hypocrisy and uninvited candour, I met each of these accusations with soft, forced, friendly apologies. Maybe I was being unreasonable and I don’t want to have a neighbourly fued and he’s old and he’s alone and if I hold out long enough he will be dead soon.
Thankfully, things have cooled off. He didn’t die. But he did visit one night and abuse the unlucky friend who answered the door for me. My friend responded with wide eyes and an open mouth. TIF persisted. It was 10 o’clock on a Saturday night and I was throwing my boyfriend a party. After explaining to TIF that we were well within our rights to have a small party until midnight and that he had no cause to speak to my friend in such I manner, I suggested that he “call the mother-fucking PO-lice” if he still had a problem. Then I fucking dared him. He didn’t take up the dare. He also did not take up my suggestion to “move into a fucking retirement home” so that his “sixty-six year old arse” could enjoy the peace and quiet. But otherwise, he kinda stopped visiting.
Serge is a miserable prick, but the biggest contingent of sons-of-bitches are The Old Gays. Four of them, each in their late forties or fifties. I tried with these guys. I didn’t care that they were old. I didn’t care that they were gross. They seemed to be some nice gay men. People I could be myself unreservedly. People who I could count on being friendly. So I welcomed their covert advances. These smiling assassins were quick to try and take me as his own. They didn’t want me. At least I hope they didn’t! But they each welcomed me in to keep me onside, for themselves and against the rest.
You would think these four old queers would create a friendly little community, like an tragic version of Sex and the City. But no. No, no, no. These men hate each other and they all turned to me to one-up each other.
These men are in the Roald Dahl range of horrid. Think of those terrible gay stereotypes we all try to deny. The one who flies to Thailand to have sex with young boys. The ageing slut who works part-time sourcing new dirty torture toys for a local sex shop. The bitchy queen. The narcissistic bully. They are puerile. They are rank. They are lecherous scoundrels. And they keep voting to raise my quarterly strata levies!
Finally, there are The Renters. My other next-door neighbours. The Renters have taken many shapes and sizes since I have lived here, alternating every six months or so. Largely, they have been bogans. Chain-smokers and pre-mixed-rum drinkers, who would have the occasional party on school night. A mild annoyance, but otherwise harmless bogan fun. Their existence too transitory to ever form a lasting connection.
My new best friends that I haven’t yet met are the new renters. I know that they probably won’t be here for long, but still, I am excited. I am drawn to their aloof dignity. They are so unaffected. Dreamers, like rollin’ stones, blowin’ in the wind. Hippies or Hipsters. Cool people. I going to speak to them in sentences. At least I was going to. I wanted to. That was, until today, when I could hear them playing Alice Cooper. Their image destroyed, they are just another set of bogans. The Renters once again.
Maybe I am too judgmental because I get all of my interests met at the tap of my fingertips in this modern day world. Maybe I have been desensitised, stripped of empathy. Maybe I am looking for excuses to hate them because I know they won’t be around for long. Or maybe I’m just not meant to be friends with my rank neighbours.