Mr. Kerry's Neighborhood

It wasn't that many years ago, while on a publicity tour in Brazil, that I was reminded of the uniqueness of my neighborhood, Louisburg Square. There, on the front page of the International Herald Tribune, were a couple of articles about my neighbors, one of whom had become a billionaire overnight after a buyout and another whose nanny had just won almost $200 million in the lottery. So am I surprised that another of my neighbors may very well become president? Not particularly. John Kerry is a member of a rather eclectic cast of interesting, accomplished, and even lucky characters here on Louisburg Square.

Yet running for president is a serious business with implications that affect many more people than just the candidate himself, and that has caused me to reflect on my relationship with John. (It may sound overly familiar to call him by his first name, but here on the Square, titles are generally ignored. It doesn't matter if you once controlled most of the movie theaters in the country or if you run a huge company or a massive chunk of a large money-management fund—you're still John or Robin or whoever.)

Most people, however, and this includes John, take the shortest route from their doors to their waiting autos, a habit that allows for only brief and totally serendipitous contact. Adding to the isolation is a central 50-foot-wide stretch of anemic turf—surrounded by an intimidating wrought-iron fence—that is a formidable social barrier.

In recent years, I suppose I've had a half dozen interactions with John. There would be more if he ever came out to pick up windblown debris like a few of us do, or if he ever joined those of us who have little children to throw that football I've seen him toss around on the TV news, or if he ever attended the annual Louisburg Square Proprietors Association meeting, to which he has always preferred to send a representative. I can't fault him for this arrangement, since I've missed the last few meetings myself and did not send a representative. But I feel that by not attending in person, John has missed a golden opportunity to sharpen his skills in dealing with conservatives, who are certainly in the majority regarding the administration of the Square.

I do remember ringing the Kerrys' bell one day. With my abiding interest in architectural preservation, I wanted to inform them that they had a problem with aggressively peeling paint on the wooden muntins of their antique Gothic window facing Pinckney Street. To his credit, John opened the door himself, recognized me as a neighbor, and seemed appreciative of my gesture. “Curt” may be too strong an adjective to describe the exchange, but John certainly didn't seem inclined to extend the dialogue.

The longest conversation I've had with John was at the office of the internist we share at Charles River Park. The good doctor had agreed to see us both as a favor before his real day began. As John and I met in the office's narrow hall, I couldn't help but quip, “Hi, neighbor! Does this mean that if you become president I will have to go all the way down to the White House for my prostate exam?” I can't remember John's exact reply, but he genuinely laughed, so I know he has a sense of humor, a trait he's going to need in the coming months.