Friends and Neighbours

“How come all your friends are so weird ?” I asked my wife that question,oh, more than twenty years ago now.
She thought about it for a minute or so.
“Your friends aren’t ?”
“Nope… completely normal.”
“I just think it’s because you don’t know them well enough. What do you talk about anyway ?” I don’t know whether she was just being defensive or whether she really wanted to know.

But she had me there. Most of the time I spent with my friends we were playing a sport, and after playing we would have a beer, rehash the game and cut each other up in a good- natured way. Sometimes we would have more than two beers and hope that we weren’t stopped by the police on the way home. If I was at work with my colleagues we would talk about work. To dig into what was going on in someone’s life, their home lives and thoughts about things, didn’t interest me a whit.
Yes… I really am that shallow.

So when my wife mentioned that she thought that one of her friends might be bulimic and that another one confided to her that she had been sexually assaulted by her stepfather I looked at her as if she had just been beamed down from the Starship Enterprise. Such confidences had never entered my sheltered eardrums. And if they had I probably wasn’t listening. And as isolated as I have been from the real world of the people’s lives that swirl around me I feel it is only getting worse.

As Don Cherry might say, “Listen up, you kids out there.” Growing up I not only knew everyone on my street but I knew of everyone in a radius of at least a kilometre from my house. We’d meet in the parks, walking to and from school and at the community events that always seemed to be happening during those baby boom years. Kids would be ringing our doorbell at all hours to come out and play and there was always a game of pickup road hockey, baseball or soccer going on somewhere nearby. And the only indoor diversions were game shows and soap operas on our black and white televisions. We’d always have some kid over for lunch without phoning his mother for permission, and as far as I remember she never worried about him getting sexually molested while eating his peanut butter and jam sandwich. Now I would be hardpressed to give you the first names of half the people on our block of less than twenty five houses. Some of the adults say hello to me as I walk by with my dog and others pretend not to see me as they text their children not to go out or answer the door while they’re home alone.

Which when I think about it doesn’t make me all that much different. No one rings our doorbell any more unless it’s the nice Portugese Jehova’s Witness lady who drops off the ‘Awake’ magazine every second Saturday morning that I pretend to read or else some student painting business solicitor who looks at our front verandah, shakes his head sadly and advises me to hire him before the city inspectors condemn the place.

Maybe it was ever thus. I’m probably like all the other old guys who used to annoy me with their stories about working for less than a dollar a day or starting up the wood stove before the teacher arrived in the morning at their one room country schoolhouse. Maybe Neanderthal men drew a line down the middle of their cave and threatened to club their neighbour Grok if he ever dared to set one foot over the boundary line. Or maybe cabin fever has driven me mad after another winter so cold even I can’t say it was nothing compared to what I used to endure on the outdoor rinks when my feet froze so badly that I would roll on the living room rug and holler until my father would blow cigarette smoke out his nose and tell me to stop acting like such an idiot.
I’m going to get off the keyboard right now and go across the street and ask my neighbour what his name is.

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