Neighborliness in a high-rise

Recently I got on my building’s elevator with a man who pushed 9. I remarked that we live on the same floor and asked when he’d moved in. He’s been here more than two years! Why had we never met before — at the elevator, the trash room, the mailboxes? In my former 13-unit building, I ran into neighbors all the time. How is it that neighbors would open doors at the same time there but not here?

Anonymity in a high-rise is an all-too-true cliché. 

On top of that, there are not a lot of people my age. “It skews young,” a former building manager put it. I welcome friendships with people who could be my children — my best friends here are a young couple. But thinking that we outnumbered 65-plus-ers would appreciate some camaraderie with our own age group, I asked a few people this summer to meet for supper around the swimming pool. We’d each bring our own food and drinks. 

The eight of us decided to continue, meeting around the pool every few weeks. At first the conversation understandably focused on the building. Rita, an original resident and former board member, regaled us with stories from its 17-year history. 

As COVID restrictions lessened, we discussed our first steps back into theaters and museums and travel. The Bisa Butler exhibit at the Art Institute was a favorite. Marilynn and Jerry’s description of their camping trip sparked a lively conversation about fear of bears and snakes.

Gradually we’ve been talking more personally. Aging parents, grandchildren, and an adult child with chronic illness come up in conversation. At the last get-together, I felt comfortable enough to discuss my problems with the Catholic Church. 

As the weather cooled, we discussed how to continue. Our building lacks a community room. Couples with large dining tables offered to host get-togethers over the winter, and the rest of us gratefully accepted, provided that there was no fuss involved for them. Except for the space and the table, the arrangements would be the same as when we met outside.

When Marilynn and Jerry asked me to collect their mail during their last vacation, I felt gratified about how the group has evolved. If we’re not yet close friends, people are comfortable enough to ask for neighborly favors. 

Now I’m thinking that I’d like to know more people on my floor. When we finally can do without masks, perhaps the ninth floor could have a progressive snack party on a weekend afternoon, a simple BYOB affair with everyone welcome regardless of whether they host. Something to think about during the winter doldrums.


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  • Thank you. I'm in a five-floor building with only one first-floor apartment, but it's as anonymous as a high-rise at times. I was going to say quiet, but then I remembered last night's "music."
    I'm trying to watch for my fourth-floor neighbors in the elevator and kid about "All the best people go to four," but friendships are slow to form. Neighborships, if that's a word, will do!

  • I like "neighborships."

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