My neighborhood can be defined mathematically. Eight houses on my side of the block. Another eight facing me across the street, and eight more behind me. Focussing down more closely, there are three neighbors with whom I share a fence, and a fourth across the street who’s front windows face mine. A traditional suburban arrangement for North America, dating back a century or more. So my neighborhood set consists of twenty-four, plus a few others on adjacent blocks that pass my house occasionally, and that I have come to know. My domestic set, the ones with which I share the pleasant friction of close contact, consists of eight. Three houses directly across the street; three houses with whom I share a fence, and two more with whom I share a fence corner. We eight share dog, cat, parking, party, landscaping and domestic dispute issues, along with the occasional pleasant interchange.

I have a traditional and somewhat romantic notion of neighborhoods, as places of familiarity, mutual support and the daily rhythm of casual contact, small disputes and small pleasures. I’m not sure where that notion came from, maybe a combination of idealized children’s books, and Jane Jacobs. I am reminded of Tom Waits’ wonderfully poignant song, In the Neighborhood. At any rate, the notion is eroding. Whether I take the larger set of twenty-four or the smaller set of eight, more than half of my neighborhood residents either don’t make any social contact, or actively discourage it. To the point that I wonder why they chose to live in a neighborhood at all, rather than on an isolated acreage somewhere, or in a highrise condo, where neighborly contact is not expected. If privacy or misanthropy is so important to them, why do they choose to live cheek by jowl?

I am beginning to see this neighborhood as an elaborate lie, as a collection of nervous couples and families camped uneasily on real estate investments. Dogs rule here. They have a neighborhood: we don’t.