The door-knocking, neighbor-meeting campaign continues. I’ve been going out each day between 4:30 and 5:30, which is a time that works well for me since it falls before our supper time, and, therefore, I hope, before most everyone else’s supper time, too. I’ve been to 138 homes, which puts me past the halfway point in this project.
In the past week I’ve developed a growing fondness for the word “welcome,” especially when it’s printed on door mats or crafty signs that people use to make their porches more cozy-looking. It’s not that anyone has made me feel particularly unwelcome. A few neighbors have spoken to me through their doors, one told me he wasn’t interested and turned down my flier, and one opened the door, looked me up and down quickly, and told me it definitely wasn’t a good time. No one has been hostile, which I appreciate very much, and I sympathize with those who are reluctant to have a chat with a dude who just knocked on their door.
When I approach a home that has nothing on the porch–no mat, no cute signs, no pots, brooms, or chairs–it feels a little cold, as if the residents aren’t eager to have folks approaching their door. Occasionally I see a “no soliciting” sign, which does strike me with anxiety for fear of a confrontation; I don’t savor the idea of trying to be polite and neighborly to someone who thinks I’m soliciting them. So far, thankfully, I’ve not had to defend my campaign to anyone, and honestly I’m pleased and surprised that so few front porches greet you by saying, “No soliciting”.
The welcome mat, the “enter and be happy” or “god bless this home” signs, these make me feel all warm and friendly as I approach the door. It’s not that my will to knock on the door is affected by how welcoming it is; I just get a feeling of general reassurance that there plenty of people even here in isolated suburbia who make the effort to put a happy face on that threshold where one’s private space meets the great, wide, public world.
I have also been adjusting the way I talk to people on their doorsteps. Specifically, I had been getting bummed by the consistent expressions of polite bewilderment when I told my neighbors that I wanted to draw a picture of them. It seems that when a stranger at your door tells you, after about 15 seconds of conversation, that he would like to take a snapshot of the members of the household and make you a drawing as a gift is cause for alarm. There is no precedent in my own life for talking to a stranger on my own porch and feeling that he is there just to be friendly, and that whatever he may be saying or offering is part of no ulterior motive, but a sincere gesture of neighborliness.
So, I now introduce myself as James who lives a few streets over, who has lived in the ‘hood for about a year and is going around meeting people in an effort to get more familiar with the neighborhood. I say that I’m also doing a neighborhood project, and I hand over the flier and ask them to look it over and contact me if they’re interested, and then I continue to talk about living in the ‘hood and see if the conversation goes anywhere. This approach spares me the awkward feeling of having just startled someone who is polite enough to stand in their doorway with me for a minute. I would rather have a brief, neighborly conversation than make a pitch for what is turning out to be an offer that is being far less warmly received than I imagined it would be.
That’s the great thing about taking your ideas out the front door and into the world of people: you start to find out just how big the gap is between the drawing board of your ideas and the field of play where those ideas confront reality.