Monday, August 21, 2006

The porch vs. the privy.

What is it about old folks, sitting on their porch and listening to AM radio, that causes such nostalgia and melancholy in me? It almost completely humanizes that cranky bastard that lives next door. Sometimes he will sit of an evening and listen to a ball game. Tonight it was "The Sound of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel. I smoked my cigarette just a little slower than usual. Invariably his wife will come out and join him, and if I sit quietly long enough... I will hear him clear his throat, cough, and emit his bass profundo complaint about whatever is currently bothering him. Of course, this quickly shatters the wistful feeling from before.

How many people of my generation sit outside on their porches, and while away the waning hours of the day? I don't see many. I see kids, escaping the watchful eyes of their parents and/or guardians, congregated in packs on the front stoops of my neighborhood. Sometimes I see folks after sundown, drinking beer and spreading gossip with their friends. But it seems that most are inside, watching television or doing whatever they do when they get to themselves.

I don't know if I long for the days before the many distractions that keep people from living a more public homelife. I bristle when I see the octogenarians poking their heads out of their front door, closely monitoring my activities... as if I were doing something illicit. Perhaps those people actually need more channels to fill their final days. Yet it is an interest in community that inspires such behavior. It was an activity that was just supposed to be done. More eyes always meant that everyone thought just a little bit harder about the way they appeared in public. Did it eliminate theft, domestic crime and vandalism altogether? Certainly not. But it did give a neighborhood a sense of active involvement, as if everyone truly was their brother's keeper.

Now everyone seems defiant about people staying out of their business. Of course there are benefits to this condition too. It is much more acceptable to pass by the people next door with a quick nod of recognition, or simply to ignore their presence altogether. You don't have to strain your mood or energy with the small talk that accompanies the acknowledgement that other people exist, and that they are part of your world. It is the freedom to not consider others, and it can feel quite liberating after a long, hard day at work. Somehow the balance between community and the need for privacy is struck, one way or another. Certain modes of living, and locations for doing it, tip that balance. The places people choose to call home say a lot about them.

2 Comments:

Blogger lee said...

I had to chuckle, because as I read your post, I am sitting on my front porch with feet kicked up and a glass (or two) of red wine. My dog's out here too looking pathetic because I won't share my corn chips. We're very friendly because we wave at all the joggers and dogs...well I wave and Bistro make this horrific crying noise like I'm killing him or something. Sometimes my roommate sits out here with me and we cackle like witches at our private amusements. We're not really that old, but all in all, I think we're as annoying as any octogenarians! ;)

8:05 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Well, the octogenarians on my block don't exactly wave at passersby. it's more like a low prolonged stare with these folk.

6:39 PM  

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