We all have our dirty little secrets, so let me bare mine: when a new neighbor moves in (and one is due this week), I roll out a fake welcome wagon. I don't bake anything bad into pies and, simply put, I'm just not an exploding cigar kind of guy.
But here's my deal, and it is an equally dastardly one: each time a new man moves onto my block, where houses are pressed close together and everyone is into everyone else's business, I lurk for a moment. The new blood is invariably scurrying about. I understand: he has belongings to move in and a house to set up.
The sight is unsettling.
See, the division of labor in suburban homes is complicated. There is work to do indoors and a separate but equal amount of work to do outdoors. If, in a tight neighborhood, one man is running around working like a hero, it makes the rest of us look bad.
The old blood—and I'm their self-appointed spokesman—must pounce. As a man, I've always been inspired by the Sloth, a wild animal that barely moves but has no natural predators. To me, it's king of the jungle.
"Guys around here," I'll say, while shaking his hand hello, "we don't move so fast. Wives start seeing competence and hard work on display and they are going to come to expect it. Don't make us look bad."
He'll laugh, sometimes heartily, once a touch uncertainly. But then something incredible happens, or at least sometimes happens: my words take hold. OK, OK—maybe, you say, the modern suburban male doesn't need encouragement to take a load off. And the tactics are smarmy, all in the service of unjust ends. You are not impressed.
But the personal is political, and that goes doubly in suburbia. In tight knit neighborhoods amid busy lives, you either grab any advantage you can get or risk getting subsumed by weed whacking.
The neighborhood work slowdown is now block party legend and an open secret. My wife, who doubles as a mental health professional, says it's proof positive of how much you can get away with if you dress it up in even a vestige of humor. (She thinks the practice is more pathetic than funny, though allows that the guys on the block are laughing all the way to the hammock.)
One neighbor, who requested anonymity to protect his guilty conscience, said I changed his life, giving him to freedom to loaf—a lost art in our world of antic multitasking. Of course, his wife is not as enthused.
But, alas, my plan is apparently not a total success. I approached Joanna Riseman's husband on move-in day, but she only wishes my admonition held. "He works 80 hours a week," she said, "then gets up on Saturday to vacuum."
As long as his work is not on public display, it's fine by me. I realize that my plan is not perfect. Not all take heed. Even if the transgression takes place behind closed doors, it's not good. It means the Sloth does not rule the animal kingdom, at least on my block. Perhaps, though, if I enlisted women to join my coalition of the unwilling...
Said Riseman, of her husband's amped-up effort: "It's humiliating. It makes me look bad."
Now that's the neighborly spirit.
Marek Fuchs is the author of "A Cold-Blooded Business," called "riveting" by Kirkus Reviews. He wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column about life in Westchester for six years and teaches non-fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville. When not writing or teaching, he serves as a volunteer firefighter. You can contact Marek through his website: www.marekfuchs.com or on Twitter: @MarekFuchs.