March 25, 2002 10:29 AM

I walk to get my hair cut. The conveniences of my neighborhood include useful things in walking distance and that semi-urban attitude of neighbors who don't speak to each other. And the prevalence of stoops. We can walk to bars, restaurants, and an historic movie theatre with horribly uncomfortable seats, too. But we rarely do.

Not all of my neighbors don't speak to me (or anyone, and pardon the double negative). Across the street from the hair salon is what seems to be an elder-care facility for people of little income. On nice days, the residents sit out on the steps and watch people go by. Sometimes they shout things that don't make sense. I think they're shouting at me, and they seem friendly, so I wave.

Saturday I went to have my hair cut. My adorable, collaborative styling team (fabulous older woman cuts my hair, precious baby stylist dries and styles it) put shiny paint in my hair and made it wispy. Gave me fringey bangs [if you're British, I guess that's fringey fringe, isn't it?]. I felt like Punky Brewster and Pippi Longstocking together leaving the salon. Indomitable.

And when I stepped outside, there were these old men sitting out on the stoop across the street. They said hello and I waved. They said "looks good", referring of course to my revitalized hair, like they were all my dad. And I said thanks. Thinking sure does. Indomitable.

There used to be a woman who sat out on her porch and waved at all the passing cars. Some people waved at her and some didn't. She had one of those old wooden rocking chairs made for telling grandchildren the story of your life. I bet that's what she used it for. There were always people visiting, people who looked like family.

The family came back and moved everything out of the house. Left unwanted things on the sidewalk, where people who wanted them came and took the things away. I wonder if the old lady died, or if she just moved. I miss waving at her. I bet she told good stories.

I got a letter from my grandfather the other day. My father's father. I tend to refer to relatives by their relationship to someone else. My mother's mother. My father's sister's kid. I think it helps me stay happily distant from relatives I can't relate to.

It was just a letter. It said he wished he talked to me. It made me think about the old woman and the men on the stoop and how people get old and don't speak to each other. How the idea of neighbors isn't like it was when I was a kid, and you had to talk to your neighbors (having to talk to your neighbors, by the way, isn't exactly ideal), at least in my little military community.

And how maybe people should talk more. It's neighborly.

I'm going to write back.

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