Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Get off my lawn!

A discussion on a baseball blog about the new MLB Network and the fact that I might actually have to buy a television and get cable to watch it started another discussion about how withdrawn Americans are from their society. The gist of the discussion was how Americans (and this is becoming a global problem) retreat to the confines of their homes to watch television after long days of work and forgo interaction with the communities that surround them. This is what I wrote:

When I was six years old, my parents divorced and my mother, my two sisters, and I moved in with my grandparents for almost two years. I can still name every one of the immediate neighbors around my grandparents’ house (they were in their late forties at that time). Eileen, the next door neighbor, cut my grandmother’s hair. Bud and Burkie Dunham lived two doors down. The Huffords and the Miningers lived across the street. The Joneses – the one black family in the neighborhood – lived a few doors down. Their oldest son played whiffle ball with us on occasion. (Sadly, Mr. Jones passed last year.) We had block parties that people looked forward to. People hung their Christmas decorations together and didn’t compete with each other for gaudiest house on the street. There was barely even cable, Atari still ruled, computers had green screens, and VCRs cost $800.

That was 25 years ago. Now, people not only do not know their neighbors’ names, they don’t even say hi to them. They grumble about them. People mow their yards at 8am on a Saturday morning with no thought that they may be disturbing their neighbors. They crank up their music and expect someone to come around and tell them if it is too loud rather than just having the courtesy to play it at a normal level. They don’t give a damn if their dogs bark all night long (and everyone has to have a dog) or if their car alarm goes off any time something gets within five feet of it (because someone’s going to steal their precious SUV!)

There are exceptions, of course. In DC, I lived by a tuba player in the National Symphony Orchestra, Steve. He introduced himself when he moved in and was very careful never to start practice before nine (ten on the weekends) or finish after nine pm. I once watched his house for him while he was auditioning for the Philly Symphony. He often grilled and since I was always outside, he would hand me plates of whatever he had grilled over the fence between our backyards. At another place I lived in DC, except for saying hi to the next door neighbors because we got home from work at the same time, I didn’t know anyone. Well, except for the people across the street who came to introduce themselves only because they wanted to tell us not to park our cars in front of their house since they have small children (who were ages 7 and 9) and he didn’t want them to have to walk very far (lazy) to get to the house.

The withdrawal is a symptom of the selfishness that has been brought on by the babyboomers and generation x as well as the ever increasing paranoia Americans have about everything (omg! there’s a ped on every corner! them muslins gonna get us!) It has resulted in the isolationism from which American society suffers. This has given rise to such things as exburbs and evangelicalism and television.

Life is better when you aren’t afraid of strangers, when you make strangers your friends. When the guy next door knows you have two small children, he is going to be more reluctant to start his lawnmower at dawn. When the woman across the street knows you love pie, she might bring one to you every now and then. When you all know each other, you might get together for drinks at a neighbor’s house rather than all holing yourselves up in your individual homes in front of the idiot box. Life is fuller, more enriched, when you are in the company of friends and not the shadows of strangers.

Those high school and college students are going to be shocked when they discover they are going to have to perform community service to receive government money for school under the Obama plan. Ew…community? Yucky!

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