Sunday, April 21, 2013

Social Contracts

I'm sitting in my living room. My next-door neighbor is in his driveway, talking to his wife on the phone. They're bickering a little, over what to have for dinner. He sounds vaguely annoyed, and abruptly stops the conversation by saying, "Listen, I gotta go. Billy's gonna kill himself on his bike." Presumably, his wife calls bullshit, because he says, "No, really. He's trying some kind of stupid trick. I gotta go."

As he hangs up, I hear Billy say, "Well THAT was a total lie. I'm not even on my bike."

"Yeah, well," his dad says. "I can tell you were THINKING about doing something stupid." And they both laugh.

I'm laughing myself, though quietly, since they would obviously be able to hear me as well as I can hear them. I have half a mind to get up, go onto the porch, look at the dad with mock censure, and say, "Tsk, tsk, Frank. Lying to Lily. I may have to tell on you."

But I don't. Because there are rules around living in such close proximity to your neighbors, right? And one of them is that you don't talk about what you overhear due to that close proximity. You don't remind them that they have almost no real privacy, because then they'll feel like they always have to watch what they say--well, at least for a short while, until the embarrassment fades a bit.

Still, they don't have privacy. Nor do Baroy and I, when we have dinner out on our back patio and chat and laugh and gossip. Or when Em pulls back the curtains in her room, which is right next to the house on the other side of us. But we pretend we do. And we all silently agree not to use the information we gather--not to rib each other about the arguments we've overheard, not to comment on the new floor lamp we noticed in a living room we've never stood inside or the ankle-deep carpet of clothes strewn across a teenager's floor.

But we've heard, and we've seen, and we know. It's all just pretend, our privacy.

And I'm perfectly happy to keep it that way. As long as I can write about it in my blog.

An aside: N's friend B is over again today, and I have just one thing to say: The sound of boys giggling...really possibly the sweetest sound on earth. I dare you to listen and not to smile. It's absolutely impossible.

1 comment:

Green said...

My mother was so paranoid about our neighbors knowing anything. Our kitchen windows looked into our neighbor's bathroom/hallway windows and any time our kitchen windows were open and I raised my voice my mother was doing that whispered screeching to shush me. "Do you want the neighbors to hear?!" Well actually, yes. Because you're wrong, and I'd like witnesses to this unfair treatment.