Every New Year’s Day growing up, I would watch the “The Honeymooners” TV marathon. What struck me most was the relationship between the Cramdens and their upstairs neighbors, the Nortons.
I grew up in a house on Staten Island, so the idea of friends living upstairs (as opposed to a few blocks away) was exciting. When I was 20 and moved to my first Manhattan apartment building — a five-story walk-up — I expected to develop similar relationships with my building-mates.
That didn’t happen. At the Upper West Side building, nobody knew each other — and for good reason. Many tenants didn’t live in the building long because of skyrocketing rents. One exception: a rich heir who lived on the top floor.
I didn’t know the name of my next-door neighbor — in the only other apartment on the second floor. There was no interaction: I worked from home and I saw very little of my fellow dwellers. It’s hard. Juggling work, family and my own social circle left little time to get to know neighbors.
Maybe I was a bit naive to expect a “Honeymooners” dynamic. Still, I was disappointed.
A year later, I moved to Inwood (UWS became too expensive). The change was immediate: The building percolated with neighborliness. In fact, all the Inwood buildings I have lived in have had sociable tenants. The rents up here aren’t ridiculously high (yet), so could it be that neighbors are not stressed over whether they can stay and are not discouraged from getting to know one another? Even if you’re only living somewhere for a short while, isn’t getting to know the people around you worth it?
Next time you’re at the mailbox or in the laundry room, raise your head from your cellphone and say, “Hi.” Your neighbor could be a very lovely person. Even if he or she is absolutely dreadful (and many buildings have at least a few of those) at least you’ll know to avoid them.
Some of my best friendships started with small talk in the lobby. I don’t have any extended family members in the neighborhood, but I’ve built relationships as important as those I was born into.
You don’t have to love thy neighbor, but at least try to learn thy neighbor’s name.
Rachel Figueroa-Levin tweets as @Jewyorican and @ElBloombito.