WHO ARE THE PEOPLE NEXT DOOR? NEW SITE LETS YOU MEET THEM ONLINE FIRST
By MAUREEN CALLAHAN
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December 16, 2004 -- BROOKE Kaiser really wants to meet the neighbors in her West Harlem building, but she'd never think to knock on someone's door. "I've lived in two buildings that were either above or below S&M clubs," said Kaiser, 25. "I had an upstairs neighbor I never wanted to meet because he played Justin Timberlake - just awful music - really loud, and I didn't want to put a face to that."
So instead, she joined MeetTheNeighbors.org, a two-month-old Web site where building residents can get to know one another - online.
"It's right in line with everything that's been happening in the past few years - Friendster, Tribe.net, Craigslist," says MeetTheNeighbors founder Jared Nissim.
Nissim, who's 31 and lives alone in the East Village, says it makes sense for New Yorkers to use the Web to meet, say, the person living next door.
"It's baby steps," he said, "getting people to knock on each other's doors, It goes against everything we've been conditioned to do."
Two nights ago, Nissim hosted a meet-and-greet sake night at Second and Second in the East Village. A gaggle of 20- and 30-somethings awkwardly mingled at the bar.
"I know no one here," said Jen Weidenbaum, the cheerful, springy-haired "primary contact" for all of Park Slope. (She listed as a neighborhood because she lives in a building with only three other tenants.)
"I definitely feel awkward and anxious walking into these things alone," she said.
Weidernbaum, 26, has lived in New York for nine years and has several close friends, but doesn't quite know how to make new ones.
"It's not like you're going to walk up to someone and say, 'Hey, you look like you're funny!'" she said.
The Park Slope group is one month old, and though her established friends don't quite get it - "They're like, 'Aren't we good enough?'" - she is thrilled by her new social circle.
"They aren't recluses or freaks!" she exclaimed. "At my last event, half the people had other stuff to do that night, or ran into people they knew on the street!"
"I just met Jen tonight," interjected Eric Zelermyer, who moved to Park Slope from Boston three months ago and has belonged to Weidenbaum's group for one week.
Zelermyer, a shy, 34-year-old in a black turtleneck and wire-rimmed glasses, found out about MeetTheNeighbors.org through Craigslist.org.
"It's always intimidating to move to a new city, especially as an adult," he said.
"But I heard it's much easier to meet people in New York because no matter how weird or unique your interests, there are going to be people you'll have something in common with."
As Zelermyer finished, a male party crasher who had effectively creeped out the women was doing laps around the bar while singing Billy Idol songs.
"I don't know who he is," said incredulous host Nissim. "I'm a lifelong New Yorker, and we don't talk to our neighbors," said a black-clad woman who declined to give her name (she tagged along with a friend for the free sake). "Unless your apartment gets robbed, there's just no reason."
That kind of cynicism deeply offended "clinical neuropsychologist/event planner" Terri Horowitz, who was checking people in at the door.
Horowitz, 32, registered her Hell's Kitchen address as soon as the site was launched and has 91 members - the most of any building in New York, she pointed out.
"I know there's the idea that there are so many people to meet and things to do here that it's, like, 'Why would you make friends with your neighbor?'" she said.
"But I'm sure there are plenty of people in my building who aren't from New York who are totally lonely."
Yet Horowitz - who is throwing a building holiday party in two weeks - admits that not all tenants are as eager as she is.
"I was talking to two guys in my laundry room the other night, and they didn't know who I was," she said. "They were making fun of it."
West Harlem's Kaiser encountered a similar reaction.
"I put up flyers in my building, to let everyone know about the site and how to join," said Kaiser, who is originally from Florida. "When I got home, the one I put on my door had been ripped in half."
Undaunted, she taped it back together. The next morning, she found it ripped to shreds.
"I was hurt," she said, "but not necessarily surprised."
Kaiser said she's still "waiting for more of a response," and that residents are so far only communicating online.
"There's a lot of useful information on our site," she enthused. "All the nearby restaurants, take-out, laundromats, banks. I also put crime stats up, because people asked for them. I was, like, 'Don't say I didn't warn you!'"
Yet site founder Nissim thinks that New Yorkers will come around to the idea that they should, in fact, meet their neighbors. (So far, 400 buildings are registered in New York and 700 nationwide.)
His other site, the 3-year-old LunchClub.net - where solitary New Yorkers log on to make group lunch dates, has been a raging success. "I charge $20-$30 a head for events. It's a self-sustaining, full-time job."
In fact, it's so much work that socializing with strangers has lost a lot of its allure for Nissim.
"When I'm not hosting events, I'm with my friends at someone's apartment," he said. "I don't like to go to bars filled with strange people I don't know and have nothing in common with. I did that in my 20s."
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