Manners & Misdemeanors
On Being a Good Neighbor and How To Deal With Terrible Ones
Being a welcoming and tolerant neighbor isn't always easy.
IMAGE COLLAGE Yzabella Cruz
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I probably have taken more lessons in neighborliness than most neighbors. After all, I have changed neighborhoods ten times in the last fifty years.

The first move, and decidedly the most major, was to Houston, Texas, where in merely five years my family moved twice, although within Houston still.

The first lesson: To be neighborly is to be welcoming. Someone, a neighborhood delegate, came with a casserole dish in time for our first home-cooked Texan supper, and at the weekend another neighbor brought freshly baked cookies for the children. The signal I got was of friendliness at a respectable distance.

But some closeness was bound to develop in due course. Mine was with Jane in particular. She always came through in my moments of characteristic absent-mindedness, usually when I left my car keys locked inside the trunk after loading my groceries. One call had Jane packing up her two toddlers, collecting the duplicate car keys from my maid, at home herself watching my own kids, and driving to my rescue.

The first lesson: To be neighborly is to be welcoming.

Returning the gesture in an especially self-fulfilling way, I volunteered myself—along with, again, my maid of course—to watch my neighbors’ homes and children, who for one thing needed to be fed, while the moms took a break from their home chores to perform a larger civic and family duty picketing the supermarket to protest a steep and sudden rise in the price of dressed chicken.

Returning from the States, we settled in Dasmariñas Village, in Makati. There, neighborliness centered on the relationships between the children. Our three sons brought the count to a dozen boys of similar ages on our street alone, while our daughter became one of only two girls. The boys got along fabulously and kept to safe activities, within our homes, on our street, or at the nearby park. Never mind that our maids were endlessly retrieving balls from our pool to throw back next door, where the yard served as a football field that at times extended—thanks to an errant kick—to our territory or the street itself. Our own boys shared, after all, as much in the mischief as in the fun.

Across the street, on the other hand, lived a generous couple with an only child, a younger boy with a den full of toys and gadgets, a wonderland to which our boys were welcome.

But for meals, despite a ban on soft drinks, their favorite home was the Laurels’. Letty and Peping, whom I knew from my own childhood and through whom we met everyone else in the neighborhood, kept my boys satiated when mealtime caught them visiting. 

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When repeated complaints to the village office bore no fruit, I took a decisive hand.

It was, therefore, a surprise to find my boys passing up a treat on a play night when they usually ate dinner there. The two older boys were breathless and speechless, but the youngest could not contain himself, “They are eating mud!” It was a chicken-blood-based dish of pig cheek and innards they had not been initiated to—it was dinuguan. Letty and I had a good neighborly laugh about it.

Damariñas provided neighborly solutions to neighborly needs. We organized carpools for school days, and at weekends programmed play dates in each other’s homes, and we imposed common rules of child behavior. Bringing up children thus became lighter and happier than it might have been undertaken solitarily.

Most of the other villages we moved to as the children grew older were comparable, if not as nice. In fact, Wack Wack, in Mandaluyong, an older neighborhood, provided me, as the editor of the village paper, with a larger perspective of community living. There we rented close to my own paternal grandmother, who was living out her final days while building our own house in nearby Corinthian Gardens, where my marriage would end, but not my removals.

I next bought myself a lovely house in hilly White Plains, in Quezon City. Having many friends there helped me find my place in the community. I was in fact elected treasurer of the association. But a few years later came another reason to move. A water crisis hit the village, and some neighbors on the lower grounds threw neighborliness out their windows: On the rare days that water came, they hijacked the flowing water with powerful pumps and overstocked themselves, leaving many of us highlanders unserved and dependent on private rations at P500 per filled tank. I’m told that eventually the scarcity was solved. Anyway, I had moved on.

Indeed, here in our small community, we are all predisposed to be neighborly, whatever it takes.

In subdivisions with smaller lots, the problem is space, in particular, slots for parking cars. Their residents usually have more cars than their garages can fit and therefore appropriate the streets. But which part of the street belongs to whom? The question often leads to quarrels between neighbors, and an innocent visitor could get caught in the crossfire. These things happen, for instance, in San Lorenzo the subdivision, a part of our own similarly named barangay, in Makati, and in Valle Verde, in Pasig, where we had lived before our last transfer. The Valle Verde case appears to have been cleared up by notices painted on the curbs specifying which side of the street to park on which half of the month; violators are fined and their cars towed.

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I still rue having a prolific mango tree cut down, still in Valle Verde, to avoid un-neighborly disputes. Servants of foreign tenants next door would climb over the fence and up the tree in the night to harvest not only the fruits that hung in their airspace but all they could reach. Meanwhile, a van waited presumably to take the harvest away. When repeated complaints to the village office bore no fruit, I took a decisive hand.

From next door on the other side, it was dogs that yelped and howled all night that almost drove me batty. The office may have succeeded in doing something about it—the noise was minimized—or I somehow got used to it.  

From now on, it’s strictly condosno pets, just husband. It makes for a great yet simple life, notwithstanding the little irritants now and then provoked by the limited space.

The last 10 years have been the longest we’ve stayed in one place, a two-bedroom unit in a nine-story condominium in Makati. We have an Innova van, which sits in the one slot assigned us—it does more sitting than running since we’re just a five-minute walk to Greenbelt, which provides the all the requirements and amenities of our senior lives.

I really have had it with houses. From now on, it’s strictly condosno pets, just husband. It makes for a great yet simple life, notwithstanding the little irritants now and then provoked by the limited space. No garden, but I can still plant sweet-fruit pits and grow them in plastic bags and give them away to friends with their own gardens or replant them at the Arroceros Park, our family advocacy for the past twenty years.

There are only four units to a floor, so contact with neighbors are rare. If we meet it’s while waiting for one of two mirrored elevators, and the trip is quickly over. On our corridor, behind a thick door, which also leads to the fire exit, are labeled bins for garbage segregation and disposal. Once in a while wafts of unwelcome odors escape indicating improper disposal of wet garbage, but a quick call to the concierge settles it. The aroma from dried fish frying seems to offend some—and not always the foreigners—but only when it emanates from units other than their own. For that, in any case, I keep a supply of incense, which works like a dream. Admittedly, the exhaust system could be improved, and there are plans to do that.

Only once in all our ten years here did we get a knock on the door that, upon being answered, caused us some anxiety—an unannounced knock can only be from a neighbor or an administration person since visitors are required to be cleared by the resident with the concierge: a neighbor’s maid dropped by to borrow a small appliance. More often the knocks reveal a pleasant surprise: Helen, from next door, bearing food or bunches of rosal picked from a sister’s garden. They are childless and, like us, alone, having ourselves become independent of our children. It’s Helen and her husband Albert with whom we do barangay activities with. 

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The other two tenants on our floor are foreigners with Filipino wives and very young children. Being grandparents ourselves, we are predisposed to give these children not only maximum but also fond tolerance.

Indeed, here in our small community, we are all predisposed to be neighborly, whatever it takes.

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