Editor's Note: This is the second blog from Peter Lovenheim, author of "In the Neighborhood," which details his project of getting to know his neighbors better by going on a series of sleepovers. You can read his first blog here.
The first neighbor I approached to sleep over turned me down, but then I called another, a retired surgeon, Dr. Louis Guzzetta. He was eighty-one. His six children were grown and scattered around the country, and he lived alone, two doors down from me. He readily agreed.
"You can write about me," he said, "but it will be boring. I have nothing going on in my life--nothing. My life is zero. I don't do anything."
That turned out not to be true.
On a Sunday evening, I arrived with my overnight bag at about seven. He hung up my winter coat and showed me in. Lou had a heart ailment, but generally was in good health. With a full head of silver-gray hair, bright hazel-blue eyes, and a broad chest, he walked with the confident bearing of a man who had enjoyed a long and satisfying career as a surgeon. He took me upstairs to a room that two of his girls shared when they were little. There were twin beds and a blue shag carpet.
Back downstairs, we sat in the living room; Lou's little gray schnauzer, Heidi, sat near his feet.
Lou's wife, Edie, had died five years earlier. "When people learn you've lost your wife," he told me, "they all ask the same question. 'How long were you married?' And when you tell them fifty-two years, they say, 'Isn't that wonderful!' But I tell them no, it isn't. I was just getting to know her."
That first sleepover was a revelation to me. The intimacy of our conversation and the closeness I came to feel with Lou exceeded my expectations--and I think his, too. I know he enjoyed having company.
Later that evening, as I was in my room getting ready for bed, Lou knocked on the door.
"Wear this," he said, holding a grey- and blue-plaid nightshirt out to me.
I thanked him but said I'd brought pajamas.
"This is better than pajamas," he insisted.
I thanked him again, but said I'd be fine in pajamas.
"Wear the nightshirt!" he repeated. "You can take it home with you."
So I wore the nightshirt.
The next day, Lou and I shared breakfast and talked some more. Then I went with him to the YMCA for his regular Monday work-out with some of his retired friends. In the afternoon, we had lunch back at his home, he took a nap, and later made me a special dinner, which he insisted we eat in the dining room by candlelight. Over the meal, he talked about how it feels to be retired, his hopes and concerns for his children, and his thoughts about his own mortality.
It was a fascinating, revelatory experience: within just 24 hours of near-constant contact, Lou and I had come to know each other in a deeper, more meaningful way and I believe we both sensed we could count on each other for anything a neighbor might need. In fact, toward the end of dinner that Monday evening, Lou had told me of an incident not long before when he woke at two in the morning with a back spasm. He couldn't move, and called one of his daughters, who lived in a distant suburb, to come help. She did, but it took nearly an hour for her to get there.
"Lou," I'd said, "if you wake up at night again and can't move, I want you to call me."
"Now I can call you," he agreed, "and you can call me. We know each other." Then he added,
"Do you know how to get into my house?"
I didn't, so he told me which door he kept unlocked. And I gave him a copy of my house key.