I opened the front door this morning to the glorious, too-often-a-stranger sun, prepared to skip down my front steps and trot the half-block to my mailbox. In my neighborhood, our “car route” mailboxes are planted in groups of five or six along one side of the road, to make life easy for the local mail carrier, in her car with the steering wheel on the wrong side… Just as my foot was poised over the sidewalk, I looked up to see the neighbor from across the street heading down his driveway, apparently with the same postal objective in mind. Our mailboxes are right next to each other.

At the prospect of actually meeting and having to interact with another human being, I hit the brakes and veered left, to the gate that leads to my back yard. Surely I could find something with which to busy myself…until the coast was clear. Even as I chickened out and opted for solitude, I chided myself for being such an antisocial old fart.

But as I headed for my gate to refuge, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my neighbor suddenly make his own left turn, head for his car that was parked on the curb in front of his house, and appear to be very focused upon some aspect of his windshield. I slyly detected a kindred spirit. Once through the gate, from the vantage point of the step up into my back door, I could see over the fence just enough to catch Mr. Neighbor heading toward his mailbox as soon as I was safely otherwise occupied.

I was at first amused—that there was indeed at least one other person in the world as transparently allergic to casual social interaction as I am… And then, somewhat relieved—that maybe I am not quite the “old fart” I believe myself to be… But, in the end, disturbed—that the social reticence that I had until now taken as a personal quirk is, apparently, an increasingly common malady in middle class American neighborhoods.

It is sad, isn’t it?

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