April. Pat Boone sang about it; Yip Harburg wrote lyrics linking it with Paris; meteorologists point to its showers; fools are stymied every first day of it. But for me, April was when I found home--twice. The first time was April 1 1989 just after noon at 12:25 on a Saturday; that was when I crossed Lake Pontchartrain and claimed New Orleans as my chosen city, my new home. The second time was four years ago when Boyfriend and I moved to North Dupre Street.
I have written many times about the home we made inside this rambling shot-gun double but not about the delightfully small-town feel of having neighbors. Folks you can gossip with over the clothesline, fence, car, leashed dogs, and recycle bins. I enjoy the freedom to walk my dogs in the early AM or late PM in my pajamas and bathrobe and feel totally safe (certainly never in danger of winning “Best Dressed”) and accepted (well, at least not be run out of town). Hollering from my front porch to Judy, two doors down, to invite her over for wine; giving an “Evening” to Dallas, as he steps out his front door to welcome us home at night; practicing our Hindi with our Indian neighbors across the street—it just feels good to belong.
And I came to this neighborhood spoiled because I had the friendships of Kevin, Kathy and Lana, my apartment neighbors. We enjoyed our enclave, respected each other’s privacy and space, but camaraderie or a cup of sugar was just a knock on the door away. They had my back and I theirs. So moving away, albeit a mere two miles, felt wrong to which Kev said “What ever!” (Not. We all embarrassed ourselves blubbering.)
The point is, like the first day at a new job, you wonder if you’ll make new friends, be accepted. Well, short of the Quarter, I doubt there is any neighborhood more accepting—a requirement, as we are not your average couple. If you doubt that, just ask our friend next door neighbor. Fact is, he introduced us to our little dream house.
Unlike Boyfriend, I will feign paralysis to get out of helping someone move. It is a backbreaking tedium designed to create utter chaos and best left to the professionals. Just let me scrub your floors or clean the bathroom, but don’t make me responsible for breaking a box of china while unloading a U-Haul. By contrast, Boyfriend had volunteered his time to help move our friend (and soon-to-be neighbor). With no toilets needing a scrub and not willing to be out done by Boyfriend’s altruism, I broke my code and assisted our friend’s move. And for my rare unselfishness he presented me with a glass vase (he didn’t wanna pack it, I didn’t wanna break it) and a new lease on life.
Our friend’s new abode was a surprise. He had not mentioned that he was moving to the Holy Land, a neighborhood where thousands trek annually to visit the music Mecca—Jazz Fest. He was a mere three blocks from the fair grounds; the roofline of the Grand Stand visible from his front yard. The faint ghost of gospel music competed with Rebirth and lingered in the air. But wait there’s more.
The house he had rented was everything I wanted under a roof. “But you never mentioned how large…oh my god it goes on forever (I had lived in a one room flat for too many years)…wood floors…claw foot tub! Shit, Friend, I’m gonna have to kill you. I want this place.” He overlooked the threat, reminded me that this cottage was a double and that if I liked this apartment there was a mirror image of it on the other side for rent. We signed the lease eighteen hours later.
Funny how the best decisions can be made in 20 minutes and how the best of times can begin with something as mundane as loading crates into a van. As quickly as our friend emptied his moving boxes we filled them with our belongings. And our friend became our neighbor.
And now, this is where things can get dicey. Why? Because you never really know someone until you live with him or her, or share a common wall. In other words we were joined at the hip.
Well, the dice was rolled and we won (hope our friend feels the same). We never barge in on each other but we share and save money as roommates would. Co-owning a lawn mower, washer and dryer, and garden tools. He’s there for us if one of the dogs needs walking and I return the favor by borrowing more stuff from him. We share meals, haircuts, compost, Treme sofa soirees, and our fitness program of passing the mower over the fence.
My friend can be quite the curmudgeon until you are in need of help or a hug. He will never forget a birthday. Hospitalized? Plan on him to visit while other friends take a pass. Your dog or cat gets sick—you can expect a get well card. Despite all his grousing you can count on him to come through. And what more can you ask of a friend? For him to be your neighbor, that’s what!
Neighbors borrow, neighbors loan. Four years ago in April, my friend loaned us his moving boxes. Thank you Gallivan Burwell for being our neighbor—who else would want us.