If you possess a healthy ability to create and maintain friendships and a natural curiosity about others, then you probably joined millions of Americans in celebrating the 23rd annual National Night Out last week. However, if you’ve succumbed to the trend of civilly ignoring your neighbors and publicly decrying the isolation of modern living while secretly thinking life might be better that way, then you probably had no idea National Night Out existed.
I’d never heard of it, until I found a flier in my mailbox inviting me to a Night Out block party with a barbecue potluck and a bounce house. The block in question was mine. In fact, the street would be closed directly in front of my door.
I was of two minds about the event. The first said, “Oh boy! I’ll finally get to meet my neighbors! We can be great friends, like Melrose Place without all the backstabbing!”
The second said, “Oh. Crap. What am I going to say to a bunch of strangers for four hours? What if they know I’m the one who watches Queer As Folk reruns way too loud in the middle of the night and makes all the dogs bark when I start my moped?”
It would be one thing to skip the party if I had other plans (which I didn’t), but quite another to hide in my house during the event. I pictured myself peering through the blinds with the lights off, so no one would know I was home. That kind of antisocial behavior seemed a sure ticket to becoming a bitter old lady with no friends and 75 cats, living in a run-down house the neighborhood kids dare each other to doorbell-ditch. I knew I had to make the Night Out effort.
On the morning of the event, I broke out my oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookie recipe. I wanted to present my neighbors with the yummiest food I knew how to conjure. I planned to leave work early and bake a couple of batches by 6 p.m.
By the time I actually got off work—after 5 p.m.—I decided my neighbors would have to settle for store-bought tabouli and chocolate cookies. Still wanting to make a good impression, I transferred both items into decorative bowls. Then I went to my front window to check on the party, where the bounce house was bouncing, the grill was smoking, and people were gathered throughout the street.
I ate a few cookies and watched The Simpsons. I checked on the party again. Two more cookies and half of Friends. More party checking. More cookies. Finally, I forced myself downstairs with a bowl in each hand. “75 cats!” I told myself, by way of motivation.
The first part of the evening went well. I shook hands with many smiling people, and we pointed to our respective dwellings. I loaded up a plate with potluck goodies and managed to strike up some small talk. I sat on the curb eating my treats and marveling at all the people I could call neighbors: children, just-marrieds, hippie artists, community activists, gay couples, transgender people, an entire improv comedy troupe, an elderly woman with a magnificent fringed scooter, a homeless man praying over the free food, and many who seemed like old friends to one another. I felt proud to be among them.
Meal finished, I resolved to go meet these fine people. And that’s where I got stuck. Everyone was already involved in seemingly fascinating conversations. I hovered just outside their circles, listening and wondering how to contribute. Whenever someone glanced at me as if to say, “Why are you just standing there?” I pretended to be very busy drinking from my water bottle.
An hour after I’d left my house, I was back inside with the lights off, so no one would know I was home. I called some friends—just to make sure I still existed. When I heard the party dying down, I scurried outside and grabbed my now-empty bowls off the potluck table.
Does anyone know where I can find 74 more cats?