Good Neighbors

Before the yuppies next door moved in, the backyard our apartment directly overlooked was empty and gone to seed. Still, we had green outside our window, and a bit of open space and sky–a rarity for New York. The older couple who lived in the house seldom went outside. So seldom, in fact, that when Holly, Steve and I built a refrigerator-box fort one February night and then pushed it off the roof of my building into the backyard next door, it sat there until spring, a fond and disintegrating cardboard memory. I once heard the older couple have a terrible fight in the yard, a fight full of shuddering curses and curdling screams. Other than that, I admired their weeds and rusting, mismatched patio furniture.

Then one day everything changed, as it always seems to be doing. There was youthful vigor bustling about the yard, there was a piercing, female voice ordering around a small army of Latin American yardworkers. There was a dog and a baby with complicated baby accessories. The infamous yuppies had moved in.

For Rebecca and I, the yuppies have been like two more roommates who live across a small garbage alley in a tantalizing paradise of high-end patio furniture and gravity-defying baby strollers. In the last year and a half, they’ve re-done their yard twice, and I’m happy to report that contrary to several articles I’ve read in the New York Times Real Estate section, these people are in fact using their outdoor space. (Perhaps I would not be so very jealous of and aggressive toward the yuppies if I wasn’t, to my great shame and chagrin, interested in New York real estate and aware of what a fantastic deal they got on a freestanding townhouse with so much outdoor space in a neighborhood in the process of skyrocketing.) From March until November, the yuppies are very much engaged in what many fine housewares catalogs call “outdoor living.”

In addition to constituting a third and fourth roommate (fifth and sixth if you count the baby and dog), the yuppies are also like a real-time reality television show we can’t turn off. In the course of the yuppies’ outdoor living, I’ve heard the yuppie couple have not a terrible fight like their predecessors, but a very serious marriage discussion of the kind I always suspected existed but never witnessed. (I can report, in my humble and eavesdropping estimation, that the yuppies’ marriage is actually pretty good.) I’ve been paranoid, as I’ve written before, that the yuppies have heard me having sex, and also possibly talking at the top of my lungs about all the illegal things I’ve done, and also perhaps yelling at the top of my lungs about how I am going to foment and lead an enormous global revolution and take away all the yuppies’ townhouses and fill them with absinthe and trampolines. If the yuppies have heard any of these things, they haven’t really let on. I’ve also been plagued, as I’ve written before, by the female yuppie’s unusually loud voice. All day she talks to her baby and dog in the yard, i.e., my bedroom. (I can also report, in my humble and eavesdropping estimation, that the female yuppie seems to be a loving and understanding mother.) I wake up almost every day to the words, “Don’t eat THAT! Don’t put that in your mouth!” being spoken at top volume to the toddler, or the dog, or both. It was quite literally not a peaceful coexistence, but I had come to accept it.

The second time the yuppies re-did their yard, we woke up one morning to see that they were putting up a big wooden fence that would separate our rent-controlled, freelance twentysomething depravity from their mortgaged, wedded, breeding domestic bliss. While this fence failed to reduce by one decibel the sound of the female yuppie’s incredibly loud voice, it immediately cut off our view of all things green the yuppies had cultivated, from the grass to the expensive shrubbery to all the lovely patio furniture. Our television show became a radio show, and we became like the men in an Orthodox shul, shielded by a barrier both real and symbolic from that which we would be profaned by–and might profane–if we gazed upon it. It was a sad day and the alley rang with our lamentations, as plank by plank the green world disappeared from vieww. Suddenly, outside our window was the usual New York vista of concrete, garbage cans, wall and sliver of sky.

But then things changed again, as they always seem to be doing. Over the summer, many of the plants the yuppies had planted found their way through the spaces in the wooden fence, just as the female yuppie’s voice so easily does. And they grew all over our side of the fence, covering it with leaves and flowers. And they met up with other vines coming from other yards, and they are forming a new green world, one just for us, in which our nakedness is hidden from the yuppies and the color of the yuppies’ weekend gardenwear is hidden from us. And it is a better world, and we are better neighbors, and the fence, as they say, is a good one.

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