Why Talking to Your Neighbors Is Just Awful

In New York, nobody talks to their neighbors. This is a transient place. People coming, people going. Where? Nobody knows. You live in a building for however many years, maybe you talk to the people on your floor once or twice. You can't remember anyone's name; you just remember what they look like.

I've lived in the same building for seven years, and while I like to lie to myself and pretend I'm a friendly guy, I barely know anyone that lives here. But don't weep for me: The last thing I typically want to do is talk to my neighbors. I can't think of a bigger waste of time.

Like, at the far end of the time-wasting scale, there is staring off into space for hours on end while reality television plays in the background and eating an entire pizza covered in ice cream. Then there's talking to your neighbors. So, yeah, that kind of puts it in perspective.

And yet lately I've thought how preposterous is it that I keep tabs on thousands of people through social media, a bunch of ridiculous miniature avatars who will probably never contribute much value to my life at all, and yet I don't even know the guy who lives right next door. This guy who is actually standing up, walking around, breathing and stuff, like an actual human being. I might know his name -- it's Paul too, oddly enough -- but it's not like we talk or anything. If I go on vacation, I'm not asking him to pick up my mail. Truthfully, I don't give a shit about Paul. If I woke up tomorrow and found out he died, I'd just be like, oh cool, well that happened.

But that doesn't sit right with me anymore. I think it's because what I've noticed is if I don't say anything to my neighbors, they'll never say anything to me. That seems ridiculous. The lack of ambition there, the lack of desire to get to know me... so strange. We practically live in the same space -- albeit, in different corners, with much nicer hardwood floors and bigger televisions, which I'm secretly jealous of -- but I don't care about them, and they don't care about me. What kind of weird republican "every man for himself" shit is that.

So I'm making changes. Big changes. I don't want to be that guy, the person who is so caught up in his cool and interesting life -- which is really just fucking around on the Internet and getting paid for it, if I'm being brutally honest -- that he can't talk to his well-meaning neighbors. All along, I'm sitting here thinking they're the ones at fault, so self-important that they can't say anything; the reality is that they just don't know how to talk. I don't mean that they're limited to "goo-goo, ga-ga" like a baby, but hey, talking to people you don't really know is scary. The person could potentially not like you. Then what do you do? Kill them? Probably not the best option.

In my quest to become more friendly and to know my neighbors better, I've started making small attempts at, ya'know, actually talking to these people. Some of them are older folks who live alone and probably aren't talking to very many people at all, and some are younger who are probably stuck on conference calls and talking all day that just the thought of having another pointless conversation makes them sick. Young or old, doesn't matter, everyone seems grumpy. I don't know. Could be the weather, could be America! But I figure, hey, maybe just a few words will ease that tension. That two seconds that I spare to ask them how they're doing in the hallway, that can brighten their day. Aww, isn't that sweet.

But man, nobody told me how stressful this was going to be. No wonder why I never did it before. Talking to neighbors about little inane bullshit like the weather is hard. You open things up with a little "Hey, isn't all this snow kind of crazy?" thinking they'll just say, "Sure is, man!" then get off the elevator. But it never goes that way. All of sudden, when all you really want to do is get upstairs and use the bathroom, you find yourself in a 20-minute conversation about building codes, snow plows and why Mayor Bill de Blasio -- a guy who took office, I dunno, three weeks ago? -- is a moron. Whoa, slow down buddy, I'm obviously not interested in all of that shit.

And the more I'm talking to my neighbors, the more I realize why nobody talks to their neighbors! It's because they either have nothing to say, or way too much. There is no happy medium. You'd love it if you could keep your interactions short and sweet, but really anything beyond "Hi" is just asking for trouble. The downside is that a simple "Hi" doesn't get you anywhere, doesn't tell you anything. You say "Hi." They say "Hi" back. The end. Beyond the simple act of acknowledgment, that exchange seems kind of pointless, no?

Meanwhile, back in the fake world (i.e. the Internet) the cool thing about having friends online is that you have the option of shutting them off like a light switch. Really, you never have to see these people if you don't want to. Just unfollow someone on Twitter, and it's like they never even existed. Hide a person's timeline on Facebook, and they're practically dead to you. You will forget you were even friends in the first place. You'll somehow come back to their page years later like, who the hell was this person?

It's not like that in real life, though. You start talking to your neighbors and, well, you're just stuck there, listening to them talk. Endlessly. About the weather. About the building. About their lives. Their kids. Whatever. And you can't just hide their feed, unfollow them or sign out of google chat. You have to actually stand there and smile and come up with witty replies to their bad jokes. Man, it's awful. And it's not like you can escape them either. They live in the same building as you. One day, they might even be brave enough to knock on your door. THEN WHAT???