Living Back to Front

My brood – one bride plus one remaining brute equals a brood, for those of you who hate being told to “do the math!” – and I live in a three-bedroom attached house. Eco-bride emailed me the other day with the sales details for our (possibly fictitious) neighbours’ place a half-dozen houses down the row. (We’re not sure we’ve ever seen them.) What stood out to me was that the place apparently has four bathrooms, when it’s hard to imagine that as many as four people live there. My wife, meanwhile, was mock-offended that the ad “didn’t mention the friendly neighbours!” Ha. A sour little inside joke.

The whole point of places like this is to be free to ignore the neighbours. That’s why they’re all built backwards, as most suburban homes are. (Ours is more of a middle-class in-fill to what our real-estate agent thought of as a sketchy part of town – Vanier, for those who know Ottawa – but the same inversion principle applies.) The most prominent feature of our house is our garage, while the front door with its tiny front step is obviously something to pass through like a stealthy wind. That’s why our basketball goal off the drive is such an affront to our nearest neighbours.

We’re supposed to be invisible to each other. That’s why there are such tall and bland and ubiquitous fences. That’s why, ideally, one clicks the garage door opener and drives directly into the garage. That way, once you leave the hermetically sealed, climate-and-aural-environment-controlled ambience of your SUV, you can walk directly into the private foyer without having to risk the possibility of running into a human being not-of-your-same-address. That’s why most of us entertain only in the high-fenced micro-yards out the back patio doors.

And that’s why my wife is such an oddball when she throws a lawn chair out in our tiny front yard to read the newspaper on a warm spring morning. I like our little house, but I’m nostalgic for the old houses where I grew up, the ones with a rambling front porch where folks would drink their coffee, watch their kids, wave at passersby, jibe with the neighbours. And didn’t mind waiting for the bathroom to come free.

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