Marilyn Englander: Curbside Biographies

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 (Marilyn Englander)

Marilyn Englander has noticed that neighbors are getting to know each other better during the pandemic, in part by what they’re putting out for curbside pickup.

Before the pandemic hit, I thought I knew my neighbors pretty well. Maybe not  their full names, but chunks of their biographies who was a night owl or a runner or had little kids, the master gardeners or Amazon addicts. We all had notions of who was who.

But the pandemic has brought us to new levels of intimacy. Being stuck inside our homes for months inspired just about everyone to launch massive purges of garage and closets.  It all landed out on the curb in case, of course, someone wanted our erstwhile treasures. Oh, the tales those piles of junk tell!

That couple in the pink stucco house is done with having babies. There sat a charming old-fashioned rocking horse hitched up to a diaper table.

The kitty died two blocks over. A forlorn altar of cat tree and bowl was erected by the driveway. And the sad old dog bed at the curb on the next street!


I discovered a reader nearby whose taste would scandalize someone’s Little Free Library stand mounds of paperback bodice-rippers with lurid covers. Yet her next door neighbor’s discards included books on programming in Basic as well as eastern mysticism.  Up the street, a tower of bulky textbooks traced someone’s entire college education. And I see the kid next door has grown up; he doesn’t want all those baseball cards any more.

Across the street they’ve started dieting seriously: I restrained myself from adopting their fancy discarded cake and pie pans. But if they’d only walked two streets over, they could have snagged some unused exercise equipment for free. And I should get to know the older couple who live five doors up. Their cast-off Christmas-themed dinnerware and linens made me wistful for my childhood.

When we all finally get back to our busy out-of-the-house lives, our secrets will retreat once more to the privacy of garbage cans. But I’ll never look at my neighbors the same again. We’re like family now.

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.

Marilyn Englander lives in San Rafael.