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"Maybe we can't afford to know any different …"

In this neighborhood, almost everyone comes and goes through their garage door. As a car approaches home, the door opens via remote control, the car enters, and the inhabitant exits their car inside as the garage door slides back closed. This pattern limits opportunities for interacting with neighbors. Indeed, it limits one's ability to ever even meet a neighbor. We live adjacent but largely anonymously. I see the joggers and dog walkers without usually knowing which garage door they live behind. Once buttoned up at home, most people live looking out the back of their houses, where the hillsides provides views. The front yards, dominated by the driveway, might receive little but modest attention and even less traffic. Further, covenants limit the range of potential individuation allowed by each homeowner. Colors must conform to a narrow palate and even plantings, to consistent guidelines. I just this week, while out looking at the twilit sky, met a neighbor who lives just five doors up the street. She'd been living there since long before The Muse and I moved in five years ago. We'd never seen or met each other before.

This lifestyle seems like a form of SelfDeflection to me.
My authentic self might be glimpsed from behind our place, but other than my gardening out front, visible differences provide few clues as to who I might be living here. The cues seem awfully subtle, and the similar designs of the houses, all constructed at the same time by the same contractor, lends a definite homogeneity to the whole operation, a Stepford sort of place. Though I know the neighborhood's people represent all the usual variations, we seem awfully similar. We might all share a socio-economic status, with the wealthier living nearer the top of the grades and those of more modest means inhabiting the few multi-family condos along the bottom of the draws, but no hyper-obvious disparities appear. No derelict places and also no palaces, except further up the hill.

I demonstrate my uniqueness in little ways. I fly my American flag upside down, and will continue this practice until our current emergency ends. Our front garden, I confided to The Muse, is the best on the street with none taking second place. We've lined our back deck rail, visible from the lane below, with overflowing petunia pots. Our upstairs front window features a Families Belong Together poster, leftover from a protest The Muse and I attended two years ago. In accordance with the neighborhood covenant, we display no Yellow Dog Democrat Lives Here sign on the front of the place. I write and The Muse performs in back-to-back-to-back Zoom conferences with nobody on the outside any the wiser for what we do or who we are inside. Our authentic selves find little opportunity to demonstrate their presence except to ourselves. As far as almost everyone on our street knows, we're just another infrequently opening garage door.

We've lived in other places where who we were featured much more visibly. The housing stock seemed more quirky, the whole society exhibiting a sometimes unsettling variety: lavender Victorians and tumble-down bungalows. One could look at a place and garner a sense of who lived there. One could take a walk and feel as though they weren't simply watching an endlessly repeating background loop, but getting somewhere. Suburban developments seem like Nowhere's Ville, a form of SelfDeflection, awfully securely anonymous. But I wonder if anonymity might be any sort of purpose in life, if we might not have been born to crawl out from under our bushel baskets rather than cower beneath them. I find myself a little afraid of my neighbors, for they throw off so few clues, I cannot determine if they're conservative or liberal, if they're maintaining an arsenal in there or what. This mystery seems to keep us securely separated from each other, behind closed garage doors.

I'm uncertain if I want my neighbors to know very much about what I understand to be my authentic me. I cancelled my feed to the local ListServ after witnessing my umpteenth troll storm there. I decided that I'd be better off not knowing what absolute jerks some of my neighbors seem to authentically be, or to become when offended by some innocent or ignorant comment. I figure that the abiding anonymity here fuels a kind of quiet despair, perhaps a rage; the people who were here before the more recent development naturally at odds with us later-arriving carpet-baggers who cannot seem to comprehend the underlying culture. We do not demonstrate a culture here, other than to cloak it in a deliberately deceiving self-sameness. Maybe we can't afford to know any different or any better.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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