Neighbors are people you’d seldom get to know except for the fact they live right next to you. Like family, you don’t get to choose your neighbors directly. Good neighbors are ones who help by feeding the cat or helping cut up a downed tree.  

On the other hand, a good neighbor may not reflect the qualities that would make him or her a best friend. The qualities of a good neighbor go beyond those of a good friend, a go-to relative, or a coworker. In urban centers you live in close proximity, whether you reside in a high-rise apartment house or a small duplex. In those cases you are basically forced to live another person’s life a bit removed. You can smell the tomato sauce they’ll be having for dinner from your own kitchen. Those of us whose lives included moving around a lot got to know a lot of neighbors. 

Now I live in the woods where the nearest neighbor is “somewhere over there.” We are alone in the world. It’s those times when I’m in my woods wondering where all the people are that I remember, Neighbors I Have Lived Next To. 

In Bangkok, there was an entire CIA family next door who disappeared overnight, with no word of explanation. 

But the most memorable neighbor was back in Chicago, in a triplex on the Near North Side. Everyone was young then, and the couple who lived above us had a 4-month-old baby who was colicky and seemed to always be crying. The couple were nice enough and we enjoyed our after-dinner hangouts on the stoop. We got along well until New Year’s Eve 1979 

The plan for New Year’s Eve was that we’d splurge and cook lobster at our place then walk around nearby Old Town until the new year arrived. My friend had two small children and they hired a sitter because the mother said, “I don’t want to see or hear anyone under 20 years old.” It was a big deal to be free of children. 

While the lobsters boiled we had drinks and put Chet Baker on the hi-fi.  

Things were going well, the lobster was cooked perfectly, the neighborhood was quiet, the apartment full of Baker’s trumpet. 

Then came the knock on the door. It was our upstairs neighbor, holding a sleeping baby swaddled in cloth with a pacifier in her mouth. 

“Can we just leave her here for a couple of hours? She’s sleeping, she’ll be no bother,” the mother said. 

Before I could plan a resisting strategy the baby was thrust into my arms. And I watched my neighbors walk away through the hallway and out the door to freedom. 

“Who is it dear?” my fiancée asked from the dining room. 

“Our neighbors. Left a package with us.”

I carried the baby into the dining room as if it was a post office delivery. Soon after, the baby began to cry. And cry. Nothing seemed to help. Eventually, my friend’s wife started crying. By the time the neighbors returned from their dinner the ball had fallen in Times Square and the residents of Chicago were getting ready for their turn. 

We remained friends with our neighbors until we moved out of the country, but never contacted them after New Year’s Eve 1979. 

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