Sprawled beneath the crawlspace under my house, desperately trying to coax my loveable but dense cat to come out, it hit me: I need to know my neighbors better.
Two hours prior, my wife and I came home to a dark and cat-less house. We had been out attending an event at the Los Angeles Press Club — yes, we're such journalism dorks we do this during our free time — and it was fairly late.
The smarter of our two cats, Gracie, scurried inside the house as soon as my wife called for her, lured by the smell (gag) of the wet food. Ozzie, her brother, was nowhere to be found. None of the windows had been left open, the doors were all locked, and no gaping holes in the floor had suddenly appeared.
And then we saw it: the broken window. A manila envelope had been taped over the hole, secure enough to keep the wind out, but not for two cats intent on a jailbreak. We found our flashlights and began the search. Then I made my blunder, opening up the access port to the crawlspace. I wanted to see if Ozzie had somehow found his way under the house.
He hadn't. Not at that point, anyhow.
As we searched around the front, back and sides of the house, my neighbor came out. Kenny said he was to blame for the broken window, that he and his son had been playing soccer in our common front lawn. A kick went sideways, he explained, cracking the glass.
Kenny put the envelope over the hole and waited for us to get home so he could tell us what happened. I'm not sure he remembered we even had cats, and he certainly didn't know they were of the indoor-only, escape-artist variety.
Frankly, I probably wouldn't have thought of it either. On the extremely rare occasions Gracie or Ozzie have gotten outside, their faces turn to terror, and they run back inside as quickly as possible.
And then, a shout! Ozzie had been found, cowering underneath Kenny's car. The search party, which now included Kenny's wife Amber, rushed to the car. This, of course, caused the poor cat to run away, frightened by the flashlights and noise.
Away Ozzie ran to the backyard, and right into the nice cozy hiding place I had inadvertently left for him: the access door.
Which is how I found myself crawling beneath the house in suit pants and a dress shirt, kitty treats and flashlight in hand, attempting to coax a frightened animal back into the house.
All of this could have been avoided, I think, if Donna and I had known our neighbors a bit better. After all, our front lawns are partially joined, our gardener is the same (and a relative of Kenny's), and we've lived next to each other for years.
Yet, when I stopped by earlier this week, it was the first time I'd ever been in their house. Kenny had been in our place, once, but that was more than five years ago. Why? Not sure.
Kenny and Amber have young children, while Donna and I do not. That would certainly explain some things, but not all. It may just be a lack of effort on both our parts, though I would guess the majority of the blame falls on our shoulders.
Both of them, I discovered during a brief chat the other day, are far more aware of the happenings in our neighborhood than Donna or me. They have made efforts to know the people who share our space, while my interaction with our neighbors has been mostly limited to waving at familiar faces from my car, heading off to friends and family elsewhere.
Though a common affliction, it is still a problem. Part of the reason it's lasted so long is because I'd just never thought much about it. Since college, the places I've lived have not been much more than an address. Be it Oakland, San Francisco, New York or Long Beach, none really felt much like home.
But for the first time, really, in my adult life, my residence is truly stable. It's time for me to start acting like it.