Some women want diamonds for Christmas. Others want expensive clothes. I want a single-family house, with no neighbors on either side of me.
That is a rather unlikely wish for a Philly chick like me, considering I grew up in a twin and then a rowhouse in Tacony. For most of my adult life, I lived in apartments. Right now, my home is the middle unit of a "townhouse complex" which is just a fancy phrase for row houses.
But I've had enough of being connected to my neighbors, and I'll tell you why. It all goes back to 1977 when I was 10 and lived in a twin house on Wells Street in Northeast Philadelphia. Our next door neighbor was mentally ill, which was not a problem until he started lighting candles all over the house. Why? Dunno.
The candles caught the curtains on fire and his house went up in flames. Luckily, the fire department got there quickly, but not before his house was gutted. Our house was filled with smoke and my little sister, older brother and I had to stay with friends for days. We all remember two things from that time: "Roots" was on television and our house smelled like Lebanon bologna for a while.
After my parents divorced, we moved to a small row home on Greeby Street. Our neighbors on one side of the wall were a loud family whose alarm went off every morning at 5 a.m. We know that because we could hear it through the wall. As well as when the parents had sex. Good times.
In 1983, THEIR house caught on fire because of dryer lint in the vent. Again, there was smoke damage to our house but no structural damage. Flash forward to 1990 or 1991. Yes, the house next door caught on fire AGAIN — this time because they left food cooking in a pan.
I was on my own by then (in an apartment on Frankford Avenue where the neighbor below me shot his friend in a fight). My mom and sister soon moved to Florida — to a single family house. They were smart.
As a poor reporter and then professor for a state school, I continued to live in apartments. My neighbors continued to be weird. There was the lady downstairs in Maryland with a love of salsa music. She also broke up with her boyfriends in the hallway. The kids in the unit above me played a game that sounded like "jump on the dining room table." In Bucks County, my downstairs neighbors smoked pot, had sex and played Sinatra songs every Friday.
In 2008, just before the housing market collapsed, I bought a townhouse. It never occurred to me to buy a single-family house. I'm a Philly chick. We live next to people. Now, I am sick of people. I want NO people nearby. Or at least not connected to my walls.
The group home next door was the final straw. I am very liberal and tolerant but the young mentally handicapped lady took out her anger by kicking her closet wall — every evening, for hours. Sometimes she hit her caregivers and this caused the rescue squad, fire trucks and police cars to show up.
She's gone now, because the group home found a new location. My current neighbors on either side of me are lovely people, nice families. They don't kick the wall nor do they set their houses on fire.
But I still hear them and I am sure they hear me, especially at night when I yell ... I mean LOUDLY ENCOURAGE my little boy to "Get in bed! Stay in bed? Why are you out of bed???????"
It's time to move. I can't afford it just yet because my mortgage is under water, but I am saving up. Someday, I will own a house with no neighbors touching any of my walls — not upstairs, downstairs, on the left or on the right.
Until then, I have fire insurance and earplugs.
Kathryn Quigley is an associate professor of journalism at Rowan University and a Philadelphia native. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.