26 April 2006

Beware of your neighbors and all other humans

Yes, the listserv again. I really need to stop checking it, but how else will I know about the yard sales and lost cats to look out for? How else would I have learned about the Mother’s Day Peace Parade?

So, there is more on the “BREAK-ins” and the resulting “LOCK DOWN.” Apparently the deal was that this scruffy white guy would knock on your door, offer to wash your windows for $20, do the work, ask to use your bathroom, and then unlatch the bathroom window while he’s in there, only to return later and take things. And apparently he was ballsy (“DOGS DO NOT DETER THIS CRIMINAL”), operating in the daytime. And he also has apparently been caught. But the posts continue, letting the drama live on.

Actual quote: “I just think that we need to raise the level of aggression with these people. Attack dogs, pepper spray, tazers, and other weapons should be readily available and subject to liberal use.” WTF, man!? When did this turn into the “Start your own freaky militia” bulletin board? Attack dogs? Seriously?

The reason I’m writing about it here is so I don’t write about it there. The listserv may get bad, but picking fights will always make it worse. And apparently this guy is armed with pepper spray and maybe an “Attack Dog.”

I heard one of my favorite episodes from This American Life replayed a couple of weeks ago. I tried to get a link to it, but the TAL site doesn’t work that way—it’s an episode about Neighbors from 5/11/2001 that you can find here. Give it a listen, and I promise it will be an hour well spent.

In it, Davy Rothbart of Found Magazine talks with Fred Rogers (yes, as in Mister Rogers himself) about neighbors and the trouble he has with his. As you would expect, Mr. Rogers is so serene and so wise, and at one point, says something like “I would hope you could be brave enough to find another human being in your neighbor.” Those aren’t the exact words, but it’s profound to me without being dumb and preachy. And I’ve thought about it a lot since I heard it 5 years ago and more since I heard it recently.

My home, built in 1930 with all the charm you’d expect from a classic and all the weird quirks you wouldn’t expect as a homebuyer, faces a row of rental duplexes. And they are ugly. There is no off-street parking, and the front doors actually sit below street level, since there is a sharp drop-off from the street. Does that make sense? They’re in a ditch, basically. And I’ve always wanted them to go the hell away and make my street look better and feel safer. Call it what you will—revitalized, gentrified, urban, historic—we live in a neighborhood that, at one time, was pretty crappy. And it is much, much better now, but naturally, there are still patches of crappy.

We’ve had several shitty neighbors over there: Vernon The Creep (“I did eight years in prison for murder and I’ll do another eight standing on my head”), the Pod Children, The Young Totally Shady Gangsters, The Man-Child. I’ve heard for-real gunshots, and the police helicopters have lingered closer to my house than I’m comfortable with. So when I got a notice about a Zoning hearing to dramatically change the look and feel of my block, I was excited. It doesn’t address the duplexes specifically, but the 7-or-so acres of drainage ditch and weeds behind them will now be mixed-use residential and retail/ restaurant space. And that will undoubtedly lead to change, if not razing, of the duplexes. I met with the developer yesterday to get a better sense of what was up—“I want it to be like Portland”, he says. I freaking love Portland.

So when I drive into our little street yesterday after work, I see the couple with 3 big trucks that has been there since before we moved in 4 years ago planting two evergreen trees (bushes? Trees.) in front of their unit. They rent! But they still feel like it’s their own and they want to make it better. I saw the Rasta guy cross the street to talk to N. and L. next door to me about their beautiful irises. I saw Mrs. M. and the Rasta Lady looking at the abandoned car shoved up in the grass in front of N. and L’s house. I had just called codes yesterday morning for the 8th time to have it removed, so I went to talk to them about it.

And it was lovely. Mrs. M. cooed and giggled at Birdy, Rasta Lady and I talked about kids (she has many, the youngest is 1), and Wife of the Skinny Cadillac Guy came over and said he’s had that car since he was 16, and she laughed wished he would quit working on his old car and just get rid of it. They were all so kind, and I felt both proud of myself for being “Brave enough” (Thanks Mr. Rogers) and ashamed for not being friendlier sooner, and double ashamed of what I’d said about the shitty duplexes when I met with the developer.

Yeah, there’s still a bunch of totally shady guys hanging around every so often, and I DID hear gunshots that one time, and Vernon The Creep was mighty creepy, but at the same time, these are people’s homes and these people are a part of my community. And they would probably kick the alleged/ possible window-washer’s thieving ass if he tried anything in broad daylight.

I’ll still bitch about the activity over there, and the number of times I have to call Codes to get abandoned cars towed, but I needed the reality check. You can't really be a part of your community if you're always defending your family against it. And I sure as shit am not buying a fucking taser.

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