Rowhome Life: Up Close and Extremely Personal

Welcome, neighbor!

When we moved two months back into a house on a tree-lined block of rowhomes, I was thrilled: One of my favorite things about this city are these charming little streets that feel like neighborhoods unto themselves. It’s always struck me as a very Philly thing, that sense that everyone in a rowhome block is in it together, for better or worse.

Our house, which is at the end of the street, isn’t connected to our neighbor’s, but it might as well be―if we both leaned out the windows directly facing one another, I think we could touch hands. And although we have yet to have a proper introduction, let me just say: We are definitely in it together. As far as the “for the better” goes, well, if my life becomes a Law & Order episode and someone breaks in and strangles me, then there will be witnesses who can, if not stop the crime, at least testify at the trial. And for the worse? I’m pretty sure that the neighbors would also be able to testify about what I wear to sleep in, the less-than-dignified screeching that accompanies the killing of the occasional spider, my tricep exercises that involve an equally undignified flapping of arms, and exactly how many times a night I creep to the freezer for a spoonful of ice cream.

The secret of rowhomes, I’ve learned, is that rowhomes hold no secrets.

“Curtains, girl!” That was my co-worker’s comment when I worried aloud that certain tops were too skimpy even to clean in, lest I lock eyes with a neighbor while dusting the bookshelves. We actually do have curtains on most windows, and I close them when absolutely necessary, but I’m a natural-light fiend―I can’t get enough. It sounds very diva-ish, but I really prefer sunlight to an alarm clock in the morning. The thought of opening and closing, opening and closing several times a day … well, it seems like less trouble to leave them open, and just continue sprinting past the window en route from the shower to the closet every morning. (“Yes, and in addition to flapping her arms like a bird and consuming mass quantities of peanut butter, we did sometimes see her racing around in her birthday suit, Your Honor,” they’ll say.)

Seriously, though, I don’t kid myself: Our life―Scrabble games and chicken dinners―is not so interesting as to inspire voyeurs. I actually assume the neighbors (who, by the way, don’t draw curtains either) do what I do―tactfully look away when a figure appears in the window. (Though that our supper table sits next to a window that overlooks their backyard, the site of their frequent dinner parties, does create the bizarre feeling that we’re merely a recurring, reclusive pair of wallflowers at their parties.)

Still, once you entertain the notion that someone could possibly see you, home can become something of a stage. Another work pal with a similar window situation told me that she’s made minor adjustments on the chance someone might catch a glimpse of her in her natural habitat: “I might not put clothes on,” she says, “but I do suck in while I brush my teeth.”

And since sucking in―plus maybe investing in a summer-weight robe―seems like a small concession to make to live on our fabulous street, I’m happy to adjust to life in this particular brand of Philly fishbowl. When in Rowhome …