Over on List Addicts, stuff I know you’re supposed to do but, look guys, I’m just never going to. And at the charming Red Boots, I contribute to the Dear Sixteen Year Old Me letter-writing project with some advice I only wish I could have given myself back in the day.
NTKOG #241: The kind of obnoxiously chipper Suzy Homemaker who, of a quiet summer evening, knocks unbidden on a neighbor’s door with a tray of baked goods and an open heart.
I am: a pretty socially anxious dude. It takes me years of regular hangs and heart-to-hearts to upgrade someone from “acquaintance” to “friend” — to say nothing of that first leap from “stranger” to “acquaintance”.
I am not: even great about keeping social plans that I wanted to make. As The Ex will attest, 95% of my pre-going-out ritual consists of praying to Dionysus that I will get canceled on.
The Scene: The hallway of my apartment building, ungodly early one morning last week, bleary-eyed because the incessant baying of a neighbor’s hellhound had kept me up half the night. I’m a headache-prone dude, and when I first signed my lease, I only asked the landlord two questions: “Are there no-pet and no-instrument policies? Are they enforced?!” So you can imagine the virulent pre-7am torrent I was about to loose when the beast’s owner happened to open her door at the same time I headed out for my jog.
What the frig do you have in there? I wanted to ask. A great dane? A friggin’ coyote? But just as I caught the woman’s eye, she yanked on a leash, and out scampered a toy pomeranian half the size of my palm.
I don’t know what the national record is for an irate, sleep-deprived twenty-something melting to the floor and covering an entire dog with air kisses, but I’m willing to bet I beat it by a margin. Once I remembered there was a human in the hall, straightened up and introduced myself to said neighbor for the first time in my eleven months here.
To her credit, despite my blatant attempt at dog-poaching, she responded warmly and immediately told me that she and her husband love to meet people, and wouldn’t I drop by sometime to meet them properly? They’re home most nights!
Ha. Sweet gesture, but, c’mon, who in their right mind would ever take anyone up on that? As a compulsive maker of insincere plans (you’re the best dental hygienist ever! we should go see an opera together!), I flashed a big, fake smile and told her that maybe I would.
The thing is, I don’t even really spend time with people I like in Boston. I moved here in part to recuperate from flapping my social butterfly wings ragged. So when I set up shop in this city on the hill, I had one simple goal: don’t make any friends. Just don’t do it. And 95% of the time I’m totally thrilled with the decision to spend virtually all of my free time alone in my head, writing the literary zombie-pornos that pass as the building blocks of my fiction career and making conversation with my Roomba. And then there’s the five percent of the time I long for the old days of triple-booking brunch plans and non-stop hang-outs.
I’m not saying I lack for significant social contact. But I am saying that two nights ago I gave a birthday card to my favorite convenience store cashier. So there’s that.
Flash forward to yesterday evening. Heard the neighbors arrive home from dinner, bickering adorably, and thought to myself, “God, how awful would it be to force myself to actually go over there?!” And when I have a thought like that, dude, I just have to do it.
Loaded a Tupperware tray with half a batch of chocolate-orange dinosaur muffins (god bless insomnia baking) and nipped over to the door before the reasonable part of my brain could talk me out of it. Though it occurred to me just how weird the situation was when I knocked twice and then listened to them confer in alarm for a full twenty seconds before the door cracked open.
“Uh — hey. I met your, uh, wife the other day and I just made, like, too many muffins the other day, so I thought I’d drop some off? If you like muffins? Neighborly gesture?”
The dude was way less weirded out than I would be in the same situation. He waved me inside, called his wife to the door, and she bade me to sit down on their lumpy, pale blue couch.
We chatted briefly about the building and our mutual fear of the super, and just when I started to think, hey, maybe this wouldn’t be so bad — dreaded silence that we half-heartedly tried to chip away on all sides.
Weather? Humid! Sports? Sox! MBTA? MBTAre you friggin’ kidding me?!
The stilted ten-minute conversation sounded like a round of clues in the “Stuff Banal People Know About Boston” category of $25,000 Pyramid. Mercifully, we were all saved when the dog ran up to the couch and issued a tiny, perfect sneeze. We all gurgled adoringly over the palm pom, who ran around the coffee table in a display of manic friggin’ cuteness — after which, thankfully, enough time had passed that I could leave the museum of social anxiety once and for all.
As I waved goodbye, the wife called out: “You should come by again sometime!” Definitely, I smiled. Definitely.
The Verdict: Eeeeeek. Humans are underwhelming. I’m just going to glue some googly eyes on my Roomba and call it a day.
Do you guys ever hang out with neighbors? Can it actually be done? Should it?