Thursday, March 20, 2008

KateInLA::The Neighbors

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve been able to talk about “my neighbors.” Not because I haven’t had any. I’m certain people have lived next door to me over the past decade; I just haven’t known their names or anything about them. Manhattan just wasn’t like that for me. You see, I have some vague memories of an Italian couple with a small daughter who lived in the apartment next to mine when I lived on Lexington Avenue and 56th Street in Manhattan. But that’s just it — vague. I remember smelling the sweet scent of Sunday dinner emanating from 5D every week and hearing the father coaxing “Sasha” out the door to school in the morning — every now and then — but I never actually met any of them or mumbled anything other than “Hello.”

In Florida, my interactions with the neighbors became even more isolated and anonymous. After nearly four months of renting a townhouse on the beach just north of Fort Lauderdale, a retired couple moved into the unit next door. The only thing we ever discussed was on one occasion when we kvetched about the shoddy plumbing and whether or not we’d see a hurricane by the end of “the season.”

Camera pans forward to just three weeks ago, and I find myself surrounded in this big hug of an actual neighborhood. The ice cream truck lurks around blaring its tinkering music, kids play pick-up basketball in the street and there is a taco shack on the corner with the best fish burritos I have ever tasted.

Just a few hours after moving into my house on a little street off Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica, I met the godfather on the block. His name is Ricky, and his lust for life is only overshadowed by his love for animals. Less than a day after the now empty United Moving 18-wheeler pulled away from the curb, I was introduced to Ricky’s 9-foot snake. A few days later, I made the acquaintance of his 13 newborn Blue Tip pit bull puppies.

Ricky is the self-appointed “Neighborhood Watch;” he knows everyone and sees all. He’s helped me navigate from which taco shack to imbibe to where to get a parking permit — and how to parallel park on this narrow street! (“Girlfriend, get out!” he told me cheerfully on my second day. “Get out. If I stand here and instruct you on how to park that darn car, we’re going to one, be here all day, and two, get a darn ticket from the cops. Get out, girl. Get out. I’ll do it!”)

UP NEXT: Stay tuned for Saturday’s blog when I introduce you to the Bennetts down the block. After looking up one afternoon to see a strawberry blonde lady clutching the hand of her young son Elijah waving me over for a handshake and a smile, I found myself, the following morning, at the John Adams Middle School Jog-a-thon where I was able to watch her son Zack raise money for new LCD screens for the classrooms.

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