Sure, there's a misanthrope or two in every community

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A guy who lives not far from me used to post often on Nexdoor.com. No matter the subject that got him going — cars parked too long on his street, traffic, whatever — he wound up ranting about illegal immigrants. I hear this man has hit a hard patch in life that includes serious illness. But his last missive, a month or so ago, was so weird and vicious that the site took it down after readers flagged him.

My down-the-street neighbor also posts often and angrily. Don't get him started on a proposed development on Venice Blvd. or possible new city restrictions on short-term rentals.

I'm fascinated by Nextdoor.com, the social network for neighborhoods which seems to be turning us into so many Mr. Wilsons, the mustachioed curmudgeon who Dennis the Menace endlessly tormented.

Sure, there's a misanthrope or two in every community. And of course Facebook and Twitter--not to mention Trump's election--have further shred our norms of decorum. Still, it's particularly dispiriting to see the guy who yesterday flamed another neighbor on Nextdoor over her empathy for the homeless nonchalantly walk his dog past her house. Does he know that she lives just around the corner from him? Does he care?

Realtors promote my post-war Mar Vista tract as "neighborly," knowing that so many of us everywhere secretly hunger for a stucco version of Andy Griffith's Mayberry. They tout our annual block party and the large number of neighborhood kids in the local elementary school. Indeed, we neighbors chat as we walk our dogs, share our backyard oranges and go all in for Halloween and the Girl Scout cookie drive.

We're certainly sociable compared to the canyon community where my brother used to live. Each house on his block was invisible, barricaded behind serious fencing. Apparently John McEnroe lived down the street from my brother at one point but to my knowledge no cups of sugar were borrowed, no neighborhood gossip traded.

Many people move to the hills, or into large apartment complexes, for precisely this sort of privacy. But in the Mar Vista flats, we're up into each other's business. Family dog on the lamb? Need a handyman? We hop on Nextdoor to wish for the critter's speedy return and earnestly discuss which tradesman is most reliable.

Nextdoor.com says its mission is "to provide a trusted platform where neighbors work together to build stronger, safer, happier communities." And sometimes my neighbors do come together in tender and constructive ways, for instance, bringing food and blankets to a woman who has long lived on a bus bench along Centinela and trying to connect her with mental health care and housing.

But for its promise, Nextdoor also baits us, like Facebook and Twitter, into indulging the lesser angels of our nature. Some of my neighbors act like that guy who grabs the mic at a Congressional town hall and starts to bellow, every thought in all caps. No issue is too small and most every good intention is impugned: The LA City Council is a conspiracy of dunces, and our mail carrier incompetent or worse. Disagree and you'll get trolled.

I know some of these people. And their high dudgeon and state of perpetual threat makes me nervous. Yes, I learn about the latest consumer scams and I see the videos they post of guys casing driveways in the wee hours, looking for unlocked cars. I've also learned that some of my neighbors live on a hair trigger and harbor some seriously paranoid notions.

Yet Nextdoor is also where I learned about the hair salon that opened on Barrington a year ago. Longtime stylist Kris de la Vera lives in the Valley but chose Mar Vista for her new shop because she hoped my neighbors would make it worth her daily 405 commute. Old customers followed her from Brentwood and plenty of new ones have walked in, including many neighbors.

I heard a familiar voice on a recent visit; the woman getting shampooed was the wife of an older work colleague who lives a half-mile west. I hadn't seen her for years.

Perhaps the younger woman in the adjacent chair is a Nextdoor flamer late at night, but draped in our plastic barber capes, she and I mourned over a friend we discovered we knew in common, recently lost to cancer.

After a year in Mar Vista, Kris and her colleagues celebrated with a party, filling the shop with customers, laughter, music, a mountain of food, and raffling off beauty products.

We yearn for community in this gargantuan city. It is there, most often, it seems, when Nexdoor "neighbors" behave like real neighbors, when we come together, listen to one another, and release the "caps lock" button.

Molly Selvin was a longtime Los Angeles Times staff writer.


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