Please, won’t you be my neighbor?

We moved into our place like a year and a half ago. The next door neighbors, I guess the woman is pretty nice. She’s always making small talk and stuff, so I appreciate that, trying to get along, peaceful coexistence. But the guy, he’s so standoffish. I don’t know how I should feel. I probably shouldn’t feel anything, but every time I see him I’m like, what do I do now? What do I say?

Because if I didn’t say anything, he wouldn’t say anything back. And so, while I don’t particularly mind having silence between us, that kind of a gap can get weird after a while, like after a month or two. And the weirdness is amplified, because it’s not like he’s never around. He’s always outside of his house, obsessively raking, like every time a leaf falls down, he’ll rake it up. There’s a lot of sweeping also.

And I feel bad, like maybe he doesn’t like me because I’m not into the whole raking or sweeping thing. Look, I’m sorry, but I don’t get offended by the presence of leaves in front of my stoop. It’s nature. What are you going stand at your window and wait for every single leaf to fall down? That’s crazy. If I had to make a list, ten things that I’m neglecting that I need to get done right now, and if I were to start tackling this list of stuff that should get done, the raking and the sweeping would still be ignored.

For a while nothing was said. But I couldn’t stand every day going outside, seeing this guy and not having even one pleasantry exchanged. So now I’ve fallen into the habit of just saying, “How’s it going?” very matter of factly. And even though I put a question mark at the end of that question, there’s no question about it. It’s just a no-nonsense way of acknowledging this guy’s presence.

And he’ll give me like a “Hey,” back. Whatever, I’m not super social, not with the neighbors. This is New York, everybody’s invisible, anonymous, but still, every single time. The other day I went outside and did the whole “How’s it going?” “Hey” routine when, right after we were done acknowledging each other’s presences, some other guy down the block called out my neighbor’s name, “Hey man! What’s going on?” “Hey buddy! How’ve ya been?” and I’m just standing right there, wondering how this guy went from so gruff to immediately amiable and friendly. And why not to me?

Because he is gruff. I’ve already mentioned this, but let me again emphasize, even though we always exchange that little hello, it’s always me who starts the hello. And I’ve gotten the feeling from having done this for a while now that it’s almost like a chore for him. Like he’d really rather not say hi, but since I’ve said something, he has to say something, so here you go buddy, here’s your forced hi.

Is it the leaves? The sweeping? Maybe if I swept as much as he swept, there’d be less stuff on my side of the sidewalk that could potentially blow over to his side. Is he bitter about that? Does he harbor expectations of me keeping my side as equally pristine as his side? Because that’s impossible.

The other night it snowed, like maybe eight inches. I’m guessing eight. I didn’t measure it and I’m not going to look it up. But it was enough that everybody had to shovel. I got home late that night from work, like one in the morning late, and the snow was dying down, so I figured I’d shovel before anything had a chance to freeze over.

And while I was at it, what the hell, I’d shovel the neighbor’s walk also. It only took like five minutes, a nice two-foot path across. But the next morning I got up and took a look outside. My neighbor had redone everything. What I mean is, he shoveled clean every square inch of his property, like the curb, the underside of the stoop, everywhere. And he did the same for our side.

Was this his way of saying thank you? Because it didn’t feel like that. It felt more like his way of telling me to fuck off, to not touch his side of the sidewalk, because obviously I don’t know how to do it right, and here’s how it’s supposed to be done, and here’s how you’re supposed to do it on your side.

And maybe that’s reading way too much into everything, but it’s all I’ve got, because the guy never talks to me, doesn’t look at me when I force him to say hi. Man, I don’t know. Maybe he’s crazy. Maybe I’m crazy. I hope they move away. I get along great with the guy who lives on the other side. He’s a Greek guy named Christos. (Seriously, when we moved in, he introduced himself, “I am Christos. I am Greek.”) He’s always telling me that my dog’s too fat, although I don’t see it. Still, a conversation’s a conversation, right?

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