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It Takes a Hood

Lurking in my Yahoo mailbox between the onslaught of invasive Spam (poop du jour) and sensationalized news bits (scoop du jour), I discover a perky post from my neighbor, Roger.

A 60-year-old lawyer who resides in the boxy white San Francisco Twenties era home in grew up in, he jauntily wears a variety of hats in his neighborly correspondence; The dutiful watchman alerts me and others to the latest crime in the vicinity; the earnest gadfly shares positions on local ballot issues and sponsors coffees for candidates; the thoughtful gentleman offers a digital greeting on a Jewish holiday or birthday; the kindly citizen asks me to pick up his newspapers during his latest jaunt to Carmel.

Good ole Rodge! Good ole crime watching, apathy busting, holiday greeting Rodge.

"Of course, I'd be happy to help," I tell him. After all, he did a good turn for me a week earlier, clearing the porch of mail the lazy mail lady can't manage to cram through the door slot and taking out my trash while I was visiting family in Los Angeles and taking out my mother's trash. Roger is most appreciative as if I'm going out of my way to help out, and in some ways, I am. Don't we make it our business to avoid pesky neighbors these days as we slink into the comfortable isolation of our intentional virtual communities on Facebook or LinkedIn?

I recall a time when I valued the folks on my block, couples with young children who knew the ropes. They threw a welcome party for us when we moved in and rotated hosting annual Christmas parties where home baked goods and powerful eggnog made it enticing to mingle with relative strangers, including Roger, who balanced on his toes and gleefully blasted out carols by the piano with a cocktail in hand.

The pediatrician across the easement came over the morning my girls were born with hand crocheted beanies and boots and gave them their first check up at the house; The Murphy kids rang my bell when my first daughter was born. "Mrs. Bradley, can we pleathe see the baby?" asked one of the twin boys with a charming lisp. It made an impression: it was the first time anyone called me Mrs. Bradley and a young boy was entertained by the notion of seeing a newborn girl.

Cut to sixteen years later. Some people have moved in and out, yet the families I interacted with are all here, busy with their work and grown children and various communities they formed at the schools their kids attended over the years. No one ventures to the front porch except for Halloween night, exiting their caves in the early morning light and returning through the backdoor at night. The home has emerged the fort of the lost and the lonely. Only we don't realize it yet.

Those who work at home or don't work are lulled into a false sense of social richness, glued to the computer all day to perform tasks or to connect when not working out or running errands. Sure, there are always exceptions, hoods that go beyond the gesture of simply waving to truly bond, but my own American neighborhood is far from neighbor-centric - except perhaps for the tenacious Mr. Roger - reaching out to us web slugs in our hovels and asking us sweetly, "Won't you be my neighbor?"

Roger is not alone in his earnest effort to take back the hood as a way to prevent crime and connect citizens identified with addresses even more significant than those ending in dot net or dot com.

Just look at the example of Fairmont Park neighbors in Norfolk, Virginia. They will be singled out by the city on Tuesday for National Night Out, an annual anti-crime awareness event . Holding a parade , picnic and entertainment in the hood's honor, the city is taking stock in how the residents of Fairmont Park came together to bring down crime, reduce drugs, littering and noise and to beautify their district.

Fairmont Park serves as the example of what one neighborhood can accomplish through real connection, as unfamiliar as real connection might seem. Civic league meetings there took input from architects, business owners, parents and planners and took steps like adding brighter lights to prevent crime and flower beds to enhance their boulevards. Civic leaders say the changes have transformed the area and that the neighborhood as a united front serves as a hallmark of community activism. Meetings which once drew a handful of neighbors now draw a good 60 residents.

It all begs us to ask the question: Do we view our neighbors as a nuisance or a necessity?

We have been weaned off of our interaction with the people who surround us as we assume we have nothing in common besides living on the same street. But I miss the block parties and street junks sales and Christmas gatherings and can't remember the last time I sat out front on the steps to embrace my street. Perhaps it was to watch little ones play on the lawn - and now they are big ones who play at the malls.

I watch old sit-coms envious of Laura Petrie's Milly or Lucy's Ethyl - women of yore who bonded the old fashioned way: human interaction sans machines. Venture to the African village and you will witness the same phenomenon. Our hunter-and-gatherer ancestors knew the evolutionary benefits of being territorial. When it comes to survival, we are wired to be territorial. Don't let that Mac Book fool you. It won't do squat when resources diminish and you need water, oil, fresh food and that cliche cup of sugar.

I feel inspired to try on Roger's hats and see what happens. I have a feeling the notion of strength in numbers when it comes to eliminating guns and crime and the isolation and depression applies very much to our own micro cities within cities. As voting blocks - we can talk about the real issues that candidates aren't talking about after a couple of more mass shootings and teen suicides and running down of pedestrians by incompetent and impatient drivers.

So what are we waiting for? Go borrow that cup of Stevia, initiate a Labor Day block party, form a crime watch group that lets outsiders know they are messing with the wrong cul-de-sac. It could very well be that taking back the neighborhood is the answer to most of our woes, but requires logging off and linking in to the pulse of the sidewalk. Are we really prepared to ditch the smalltalk on the stoop or lemonade stands and kids throwing balls in the streets on summer nights? These are features of a thriving hood, yes, even in the metropolis.

Yet none of it happens without effort. It takes a village. It takes a neighborhood. It takes a Roger - even when a Roger is hard to take.

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