The secret, I’m learning, is chat
by Maria Bellos
I’m not a friendly person. Not by Chesapeake standards, anyway. I’m from New York, and by Northern standards, I’m warm and fuzzy enough to be a star Wal-Mart greeter.
But here? I’m considered a regular grouch. I didn’t know how socially retarded I was until I saw my boyfriend, Matt, with our neighbors. We moved here from an Arlington apartment, which also poses a social problem.
Since moving to the D.C. area eight years ago, I’ve lived in three different apartment communities and met a total of one neighbor.
Just because I didn’t know neighbors, that doesn’t mean I’m not neighborly. I have an active social life and make friends at work easily, which is why I thought I was friendly. But once I saw Matt in action, chatting up the new neighbors, I knew I was out of my league.
Before we moved in we had our home inspection, and Matt saw some neighbors across the street. He told me, “Hey, I’m going to talk to the neighbors.” OK, I thought. He found out why the owners were selling the house, what broke up their marriage and what their profit margin was going to be when we bought it. Unbelievable.
The day we moved in, the nine-year-old kid across the street came over to watch. I was in rare form.
“Hi! What’s your name?” I asked.
See? I’m good with kids.
John followed the movers into the house and supervised all day. Matt, of course, found out what grade he was in, what he liked to do, how old he was and his dad’s name and profession.
I’ve got a lot to learn.
The other night, we heard an engine idling outside. It was 10pm and we didn’t think much of it, but we looked out the bedroom window and saw it was a fire truck. An ambulance sat farther down the street. In true New York style, we kept the lights off and looked through the blinds. Then Matt said, “I’m going out there to find out what’s going on.”
He put on pajama pants and ran out the front door before I had a chance to stop him. All the neighbors were outside too, which freaked me out. In New York you just do not do that. I emailed my New Yorker best friend the next day and told her what Matt did. She responded, “No, we’d watch out our windows and then talk about it over the fence the next day.”
In New York, it’s a matter of privacy when an ambulance comes to your neighbors’ house. Here, people come out “because in the South, we support each other,” Matt told me.
Matt’s a master. He can walk up to someone with a lawnmower and say, “Hey, cutting the grass? Yeah, grass is getting tall, good time to cut it. I have a lawnmower myself,” and talk to the guy for an hour.
I can’t do that yet, but I’m getting better at squeezing out a How are you? I’ve got a lot to learn, but I’m getting more comfortable with the basics, like what to say after Hi.
Maybe someday I’ll borrow a cup of sugar.
Maria Bellos has written for New York newspapers, Washington, D.C. magazines and trade journals. Her last story for Bay Weekly was “Wine Drinkers Have Two Reasons to Celebrate” (Vol. xiv, No 29: July 20).