Monday, February 27, 2012

It Only Happens on Sitcoms

Picture it. New York, 1951. Ethel pokes her head into Lucy’s open window, and Lucy tells her to come right in. Ethel then sits down and finishes Ricky’s breakfast.

Picture it. New Rochelle, 1962. Millie just walks into Laura’s house without even knocking and starts yammering right away.

Picture it. Binley Woods, Warwickshire, a village east of Coventry, 1991. Hyacinth steps outside and insists Elizabeth pop in for a coffee at 10:15. As soon as the coffee is poured, Elizabeth drops a cup from the Royal Dalton with the hand-painted periwinkles on the floor.

Picture it. Chicago, 1975. There is a knock on Bob and Emily’s door and Howard just walks in and starts complaining.

Picture it. Jessup, 2012. There is a knock on my door, and Mrs. M comes in for a chat in the middle of the afternoon with Buddy, her beagle-basset hound mix, who proceeds to hide all of Esmeralda’s chew-bones, while she watches without a care in the world. They stay for more than an hour.

And you thought neighbors only dropped by unannounced on sitcoms.

I remember sitting at a party in West Palm Beach in 1992 (yes, I remember the year), and we were having a heated debate about whether Hazel was a sitcom or documentary. The thesis of one of the debater’s arguments was that the show was never funny. I had to agree. It was annoying, but never funny, but for some inexplicable reason, when I see a rerun of Hazel on TV, I have to stop flicking channels and watch it. I don’t laugh; I just observe and wait for a scene with one of their cool 1960s Fords. Mrs. B drove a Falcon at one time!

Anyway, in the middle of the argument, someone mentioned how Rosie (played by Maudie Prickett), Hazel's best friend, would drop by unannounced. Then we got into a discussion about how on sitcoms friends drop by all the time without so much as a phone call or an invite. All of us agreed that this was a violation of protocol, with one exception – the host, my partner, whose house was arranged like a sitcom set and who in the middle of conversations would turn to the nonexistent audience and wait for a reaction. I swear he got one once, then Marc Daniels yelled, “Cut.”

Seriously, how many of you just knock on your neighbor’s door to sit down and have a chat? I’ll bet none of you. The only time I knocked on a neighbor’s door was if he left his headlights on.

Once I saw a guy in a van ram into one of my neighbor’s cars. I called the police with the license plate number then knocked on the victim's door to tell her what happened. It turns out the van was stolen. A week later, she knocked on my door and yelled at me for giving the police the license plate number because if the driver had not been identified, she wouldn’t have had a deductible, but because of me, she had to pay $500. I vowed never to knock on someone’s door again.

Ceiling or wall yes, door, no.

In an apartment building, you never show up unannounced unless you are delivering a package that arrived in your mailbox by accident, but you never expected or accepted an invite for coffee. In a way, this is strange. Or isn’t it? Maybe we never did this in apartments because we can hear everything through the walls and showing up at someone’s door unannounced would get you sucked into their drama.

And who wants to be sucked into their drama? Oh right, every guy I ever dated.

Now, I haven’t lived in a stick house since 1985, but I don’t remember just knocking on someone’s door to come over and have a chat. Once in all the years we lived there, my mother went over to Mrs. Ruble’s and sat down to have a smoke with her and Mimi Smith. We were playing outside her house, and somehow, everyone ended up at Mrs. Ruble’s. But that was a very rare occurrence indeed.

Then, I saw The Long, Long Trailer, and in that movie, it turns out that in a trailer park showing up unannounced is a common occurrence, but wasn’t that a 1950s version of an RV park? Or did Marjorie Maine really live in a trailer park? Oh wouldn’t that be cool.

But that was a movie, and my life is more like a sitcom. So here I am, the Gay Jew in the Trailer Park. Just as I have in any neighborhood where I lived, I know everyone by name and most of their back stories, which helps when walking Esmeralda and saying hello, and we do stop to have a conversation on the sidewalk all the time, but that is not like showing up at someone’s house.

Soon after I moved in, I came back from a winery tour, and I wanted to give a bottle of wine to Mrs. M for walking Esmeralda while I was out for the afternoon. I called first. When I went over with Esmeralda, she asked me why I called, considering it too formal. She said just come over next time. And, Esmeralda and I sat and chatted with Mrs. and Mr. M for an hour about nothing in particular.

I should have realized this since Mrs. M stopped by a couple of times to watch me put together furniture soon after I moved in.

Two days after the wine delivery, Mrs. M knocked on my door and came in. I offered her a cup of coffee, and in the middle of the conversation, I mentioned how Mrs E’s next door neighbor was having some financial difficulty. Within seconds, she and I were knocking on Mrs. E’s door to get the 4-1-1. I asked if we should have called first, and Mrs. M looked at me as if I were insane. I know that look; I get it all the time. Mrs. E invited us in, and we had another cup of coffee and discussed how we could help her next-door neighbor.

Apparently, I was not well versed in Mobile Home Community Manners. In my new world, one does not call first. One just knocks on the door. I’ve tried to analyze this. Could it be that our homes are closer together than in gated or stick-built neighborhoods but not on top of each other as in apartment buildings? Our streets are wide enough to drive a house down one; they have to be. Maybe our lack of fenced-in yards has something to do with it? Could it be that the average age in my community is fifty-five, so we are of the same generation?

But that was my problem. I was analyzing too much. Face it, trailer park people are just friendlier and more like family. And there is a big reason why. No social ladders to climb. No one is A-list or D-list. We are all T-list. Even if you live in a single-wide as I do, you are just another trailer park queen enjoying life.

Hyacinth with her slim-line phone with automatic redial would never survive in my community.

So, if you want to live where your neighbors look out for you, and at times, watch your every move, then come on down and buy yourself a manufactured home in mobile home community.

And honey, once you move in, you better be sure to have a pot of coffee going at all times. After 5:00, make it decaf.

If you want to come in and sit a spell, follow me, join me, tell your friends.

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