EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay was originally written on January 22, 2015
I live in a two-story building that contains 19 studio apartments ranging from 200-400 square feet. The majority of the tenants are very young, lured by the inexpensive rent and proximity to downtown. They all seem like nice kids, and they spend a lot of time on the front porch. I don’t spend time on the front porch with them because most of them smoke, and I can’t be around smoke or I’ll get a skull-cracking migraine.
After several of their attempts to engage me in small talk, I began to realize that I am a bit hermit-like in my living habits. I am in my apartment most of the day sitting quietly in front of my laptop, slipping out now and then to ride my bike or meet up with someone for coffee. I also have a terrible time remembering faces and names.
Because I didn’t want my neighbors to think I was unfriendly, I decided to engage them indirectly by conducting social experiments on them. You know, in a fun way – not in a psychotic, secret serial killer kind of way.
I had some fun tear-off signs in my computer that I’d used in Rutland, Vermont, and I printed one off and hung it on the outside of my apartment door. My door is the first one you encounter as you enter the back door of the building, so I was pretty sure it would see some traffic. I waited nervously. There was such potential for rejection.
It took a few days, but eventually someone ripped off one of the tabs. Over the course of the next week, most all of the tabs were gone. I was overjoyed to see their participation as it gave me hope for humanity.
The week of Christmas, I was leaving to spend a few days with a girlfriend, and I posted a sign on my door entitled, “10 Ways to Tell if Your Neighbor is an Extra-Terrestrial.” It included a photo of a big-eyed alien pushing a lawnmower.
After about a month, I got braver. I put up a poster that required written interaction. It said “Finish this poem.” It included 7 spaces that said, “Rose are red. Violets are blue,” followed by a blank line. I also attached a wreath hanger to the outside of my door and clipped a ball-point pen over it. This would be the true test.
A few days passed. I think people were worried that I would open my door while they were writing. One morning after hearing some loud talking and giggling in the hallway the night before, I checked the sign to find two entries. Not enormously creative, but at least they were getting into the spirit of the game. The page ended up mostly filled by the time I took it down.
Another time, around Valentine’s Day, I asked for their secret Hollywood crushes.
The most complicated activity I hung out for engagement was a MadLib. I first hung out all the blanks I needed filled. It took a while, but eventually they were all filled in, and then I hung the completed MadLib next to the word sheet.
I don’t think my neighbors ever entirely warmed up to me, but this really kept them guessing and probably made it hard for them not to like me just a teeny bit for being so fucking weird.