Summer in the suburbs was sweet. On a half acre sheltered by towering oaks and dense shrubs we could perform whatever outrages we wanted and never see a neighbor without a formal invitation. Our daughter would sunbathe topless on the veranda roof with impunity, our errant son would hold drug-infested raves in the far back that the police pretended not to notice, and our artsy friends would commit abominations all over the lawns and porches free from public scrutiny.
When we moved to the city summer changed. Now we have a deck instead of gardens and terraces—a large deck, granted, but encroached on every side by other decks and porches and balconies, leaving us exposed and vulnerable. On one flank barely twenty feet away a sexy twentysomething sunbathes topless while her aging potbellied boyfriend wears an obscenely skimpy Speedo. On another side consultants from Chelsea Clinton’s firm host multinational MBAs with little in common but their True Religion jeans who chat with us across the void rather than face each other.
Deck etiquette challenges us daily. Do you greet your neighbors when they are relaxing five feet away, or respect their privacy and ignore them? Can you sit out in your pajama bottoms to read the morning paper? Is the bottom of a two-piece bikini adequate cover-up for women of a certain age? Do we introduce our guests, and do we need to muzzle our more outlandish ones? Do neighbors’ wind chimes assaulting our ear drums constitute a justifiable condo association grievance? Can I shoot my neighbors’ garrulous father-in-law, Cheney-style, when he peppers us with reminiscences of his life as a Houston orthodontist? Just because our deck offers the best views, does that mean the neighborhood kids are entitled to invade for every fireworks display and air show?
It’s trying for everyone. A fast-track young exec and his gorgeous girlfriend have to share an atrium patio with a family that includes two ADD boys under eight. A techie abandons his patio to his pugs, leaving angry neighbors retching. A misplaced social conservative across the alley emails me that we are all bound for hell.
I wish I could offer solutions, but there’s no Emily Post for decks. Navigating deck etiquette, like much else about summer in Chicago, seems just another trade-off for the excitement of living here: what you like most about it is also what you like least about it. (Burt Michaels)