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Not in Plain Sight

With the rescue of Amanda, Michelle, and Gina last week, the media are stressing the importance of "getting to know" your neighbors.

That's fine, but not always possible. Even if you do get to know them--and people knew Ariel Castro--it doesn't mean you'll discover them holding prisoners in their homes. What, exactly, were his neighbors supposed to do? Demand to search his house? Even his friends and family members, the few times they visited, never insisted on venturing past the designated areas. They respected his boundaries. This is what well-mannered people do.

Yes, I know what the media means: Keep an eye out. Report anything suspicious. Watch out for strangers.

That's all well and good--but, truthfully, I wouldn't know a stranger on my street if I tripped over him on the sidewalk.

Aside from the people who live on either side of us, I don't know my neighbors. It was different when my kids were small and they were playing outside all the time. I kind of knew the moms, and we'd chat a bit, though with one exception we never really became friends. But those kids have grown up and their families have moved away. Now I have no idea who lives in those houses. I am not home in the evening when others are out, if they are out. We have no front porches to sit and chat and watch the goings-on.

Growing up, I knew everyone, and I knew all their stories. My friend C lived two doors down. My grandparents lived next to her. An Italian family lived next to my grandparents; the mom, whose voice could be heard all over the neighborhood, ratted us out whenever C and I did something she didn't approve up. Next to them, a family with two boys: On of them, D, age 7, died a terrible death when a stationary tub fell off the basement wall and landed on his chest. Though I was not allowed to go to the funeral, my grandmother was happy to give me the details: "His chin was purple, all mooshed in..."

Beyond D's house was a bungalow where the neighborhood pedophile lived. Yes, he was. Yes, everyone knew it, most of us from first-hand experience. No, he was never (to my knowledge) arrested for anything. We were simply warned by our parents to stay away from the creep.* He had one eye. To avoid him, I would cross the street on my way home from school. Years later I ran into him at Big Boy. I know he recognized me.

Between my house and C's was A. a family with a bunch of kids, mostly boys, the bullies of the street and the bane of my existence, and B. a childless middle-aged couple who once invited my brother and me over to watch The Wizard of Oz in color (till then I thought the whole movie was in black and white--amazing!) They drove a Cadillac that was almost bigger than our garage. On the other side of us was an older couple with a dog named Fritz that I often played with. Beyond them, a family with two girls I never befriended because, frankly, there were a couple of bitches; I learned a bitter lesson from them, that A.A. isn't at all "anonymous" when one smartly informed me that one of my family members was an alcoholic (as if I didn't know)--something they learned from a family member of their own. When I replied "fuck you" her mother informed my mother. I took my punishment without ever explaining why I said what I'd said.

Those were only the neighbors on my side of the street. Others I knew by sight and often by name. In the days before the Internet and cable TV, people--kids and parents alike--were out there in the neighborhood, visible in their yards, on the sidewalks, visiting with others in the evenings and on weekends. Would any of them, us, have known if someone was being held captive in a basement?

I will always wonder.

*Pedo-guy definitely could've gotten away with it.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Patrick Dilloway
May. 14th, 2013 04:31 pm (UTC)
Most of the time my neighbors were corn, sugar beets, or soy beans in the fields around the house (none of those fields belonged to us though).
May. 14th, 2013 04:37 pm (UTC)
You were a child of the corn!
May. 14th, 2013 05:24 pm (UTC)
Ditto here. We knew everyone growing up. My mom was even friends with the mom of the guy in the Mexican Mafi who'd call and let us know whenever something would go down so we wouldn't get involved.

Ahh, the good old days.

Now, I also admit I only know a few of my neighbors. Most people out her in our nice Southern Ca neighborhood rent as it's too expensive to own a home. The few of us that do, including us, don't want to 'bother' knowing the stream of renters who come and go. My son doesn't play outside much either. There are hardly any kids who do go out and play. And it's like one mother told me, "The ones who do? You don't want your kid around them."

Very sad but true.
May. 14th, 2013 05:29 pm (UTC)
" My mom was even friends with the mom of the guy in the Mexican Mafi who'd call and let us know whenever something would go down so we wouldn't get involved."


Yes, times have changed...and I don't anticipate them changing back any time soon.
May. 15th, 2013 01:25 am (UTC)
Yes, I lived in a colorful neighborhood! Once, when I was 18, I was jogging with really short, shorts. This car drove behind me the whole way. I didn't think much of it. When you're 18 you think nothing will happen to you. Then when I got home my mother told me, "I just got a call from Maria. Her son(the guy in the gang) said he doesn't want you wearing such revealing clothes." He was the one driving behind me making sure no one messed with someone from his turf. Serious.
May. 15th, 2013 02:38 pm (UTC)
We could use more of these guys, don't you think?
May. 14th, 2013 08:49 pm (UTC)
I thought someone did report something once, but the police didn't check it out (as usual). Just like with Jaycee Dugard.
May. 15th, 2013 02:42 pm (UTC)
A neighbor said she saw a nude woman (or women) in the backyard, being led around on leashes, and that the police didn't take her seriously. She's sticking to that story. However, the women said they were outside twice in the yard, and were heavily disguised--NOT nude. They did not verify her story, nor is there any record of that neighbor's call. I'm guessing she's a nut who wants a piece of the action. People are also trying there best to make the police look bad in this, which I think is unfair.
May. 15th, 2013 07:16 pm (UTC)
Well, there have been times when people reported things, but the police didn't take it seriously and didn't investigate very thoroughly.
May. 16th, 2013 01:03 pm (UTC)
That's true--like the body on the side of the road the cops thought was a deer...ugh. But to make crap up like that...double ugh!
May. 15th, 2013 08:23 am (UTC)
I can't imagine knowing my neighbors. When I was younger, yeah, I sort of did, but most who used to live around here have long since moved, and everyone pretty much just keeps to themselves anymore...
May. 15th, 2013 02:43 pm (UTC)
Yep, same here...except for my next door neighbor who knows EVERYTHING that's going on. :) (and I'm happy that he does)
May. 16th, 2013 03:39 pm (UTC)
When I was a kid we mostly knew everyone on our street and then some, but like you said it was because we were outside all the time. Now I'm really only ever outside when I'm walking to and from my car or tending to the garden (neither of which allow enough time to "get to know" people).

I live in an apartment complex now though so I do have some idea about the people around me only because we're all basically on top of each other. Still, this leaves for even more radical ideas sometimes, for instance... the neighbor above me is a larger man so I've become immune to the sound of his heavy feet. But then there are days where it literally sounds like he's chopping up a body in the bathtub and since I rarely ever see him leave his house, but do see people visit on occasion, I can't help but wonder what the hell he is actually doing to make that much noise.

The problem with telling people to be more aware of their neighbors is that speculation is a dangerous thing. It's all well and good if we could become a society that was friendly to our neighbors, more like it was when we were young, but we don't live in a world like that anymore. And while conspiracizing about your neighbor may find an actual criminal on occasion, I suspect that it will cause more harm than help in the end.
May. 17th, 2013 03:50 pm (UTC)
"The problem with telling people to be more aware of their neighbors is that speculation is a dangerous thing."


(I'm dyin' to know what he's doing up there...) :)
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


Jeannine Garsee

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