Sunday, July 29, 2001

Flooding forces neighbors out of summer hibernation

        With the recent flood, blackout and mass carpet death in my subdivision came an even more miserable fate: There were people living around me, actual neighbors, and I had to talk to them.

        I don't need neighbors. I have a deck.

        Last Wednesday, I saw the guy next door, for the first time.

        “When'd you move in?” I asked.

        “Eight years ago.”

        We were all involved in the newest civic exercise, cutting up wet carpet so our houses didn't smell like sheep. The rains came, the electricity went. Sump pumps crashed with precision. Our basements looked like the wave pool at Surf Cincinnati.

        Trees were down everywhere. I had to rent a chainsaw to take down a dead hickory. I hate chainsaws. Naturally, the rental place only had one left when I got there. It was the biggest one they had. It looked like a machine gun you'd mount on a tank. A real Leatherface special.

        “Be careful with that,” the rental man had suggested. “It's a nasty little saw.”

        This is when I want to be rich. I could snap my fingers, whip out my checkbook and let somebody else turn himself into Captain Ahab. This was hard, scary work.

        It was nothing compared with having to small-talk to the neighbors and actually be, you know, hot.

        What, you want me to. . . go outside?

        It's summer, for God's sake.

        The only bad thing about summer is the weather. I can usually do a pretty good job avoiding that, too. When someone thinks to run the AC into the garage, I will be pretty much set.

        I was reminded by somebody old that, before central air conditioning, people had front porches, where everyone gathered to talk about how hot it was. Neighbors passed by on sidewalks where they actually walked from one place to the next. I am not making this up.

        From their front porches, people on porch swings would call to the people on the sidewalk, “Hot enough for ya?”

        They knew their neighbors. They might have even liked them.

        On a normal summer afternoon, my neighborhood is zipped up like leftover cantaloupe. Windows sealed, doors snug. The only thing you hear is the hissing of the AC boxes. There are no sidewalks. If someone is walking in my neighborhood, he is lost.

        So imagine the discomfort last Wednesday when, AC-less, we had to venture out and deal with each other. As a full member of the wired world, I don't talk with people; I “communicate.” Sometimes, I “interface.” When I'm feeling especially chipper, I “chat.”

        But talk? Er. . .

        “Haven't seen you in ages,” I said to one guy.

        “Just moved in,” he said.

        It was interesting.

        I helped the guy down the block take ruined furniture from his family room. The nice man next door helped me cart chopped-up hickory parts from the yard to the woodpile. I just met him. He moved in 12 years ago. These things take time.

        The next time the power goes out in July, we'll talk again. Think of the catching up we'll do.

        Contact Paul Daugherty by phone: 768-8454; fax: 768-8330; e-mail:


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