Brendan Polmer: Take the time to be a good neighbor

While living just off-campus during the summer months in D.C. on the corner of H and New Hampshire, I took advantage of something I’d never had before: a front yard, complete with furniture for sitting or “chillin” as the kids say. On most days upon returning home from work, my roommates and I would pop open a beer out front, put our feet up on an adjacent chair and unwind one sip at a time.

With the Watergate and the Kennedy Center just around the corner, a hotel next door and another across the street, as well as the GW Hospital and the Metro down the block, there was a fair amount of foot traffic that passed in front of our house, especially at the end of the day as we sat outside.

Maybe it was because we’re such fine lookin’ lads, or maybe every individual that walked by was envious of our 5:30 p.m. cold one, but we got more stares from passers-by than a couple of lions humping at the zoo. Sitting behind a wooden picket fence, there should have been a sign that read, “Please don’t feed the college students.”

Most of the time people just kept walking, but on occasion the friendly Foggy Bottom-hood crack-heads would stop by to talk with us, ask us for a beer and continue on their merry way. You know, it’s strange that in such a busy city like Washington, nobody really stops to notice you until you’re not doing anything at all. It’s as if you’re expected to be moving and accomplishing something at all times – but as soon as you stop to sit and do nothing in a busy environment, you suddenly become the center of attention.

Since moving to the District three years ago, people-watching has become both a hobby and a fine-tuned skill of mine, which is why I found it strange to suddenly be thrown onto the other side of the game. People were watching me! Now, if you happen to be like me and enjoy snickering at the ridiculous individuals that surround you day to day, you probably already know what I’m talking about. I mean, I’m not one to judge people based solely upon appearance – but then again, I do go to GW.

It’s sick, I know, but somehow I get pleasure out of taking notice of other people’s faux pas or strange cultural norms that most of us don’t notice all the time. You start to see certain patterns in people after some time, especially with all the tourists that come to this city every day. You get fanny packs, bad haircuts, obesity, over-sized cameras, American-flag apparel, confused faces trying read a map – and that’s just on the Metro. Once you ride the escalator up out of the bowels of the earth and step onto campus, a whole other world unfolds before your very eyes. It’s a world filled with huge, bug-eyed sunglasses, backpacks, polo shirts and cargo shorts. There’s hipsters, preps and jocks. Hotties, cuties and fuglies.

Someone once told me that the average person living in the District is photographed hundreds of times a day just by surveillance cameras, from riding the Metro, walking down the street near federal buildings and police cameras. When you add that to the number of people that stare and check you out, whether their people-watching is intentional or not, that’s a lot of eyes peering at your every move, every gesture, every dig in your nose and every pick of your wedgie. How are we, as human beings living in a city like the District, expected to live our lives with any sense of normalcy, knowing all the while that we’re constantly being watched and watching each other, all day every day?

Here’s my idea. Stop acting like freakin’ robots and actually interact with people. Talk to one another, smile, say hello to a stranger. Too many times I have walked the streets of Foggy Bottom and made eye contact with someone I know or have met a few times, only to be snubbed off or ignored. I don’t care if you don’t remember my name as I probably don’t know yours either. Still, a simple “sup” and a little head-nod should always be in order.

So next time you pass a group of us chillin’ in a front yard somewhere and you walk by and stare, heed the way of the crack-heads and say “Hey.” We just may give you a cold brew and allow you into our zoo cage as we sit and watch the world go by, secretly ridiculing one lame tourist at a time that make our nation’s capital oh-so-very special.

The writer, a senior majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet columnist and arts editor.

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