Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

I don’t live in the city, but I don’t live in the suburbs. This means I live in one of the forgotten middle tree rings: a blue collar neighborhood in a mid-sized Midwestern city famous for two things: baby overalls (despite the plant having been outsourced elsewhere years ago) and the weeklong descent upon our city by tens of thousands of middle managers clad in polo shirts, knaki shorts, fanny packs, and sensible walking shoes for an experimental aircraft fly-in.

My particular tree ring is quite family-friendly. Roughly 100 trick-or-treaters beg us for candy every Halloween, and whenever I walk Daisy around the block there is a great likelihood that I will either trip on a big wheel or be accosted by at least two small children attempting to weasel the leash right from my hand.

It’s a blended neighborhood with a perfect mix of elderly couples and those fresh from their honeymoons, looking for affordable starter homes. (Which they usually buy when the elderly couples leave for assisted living facilities on the west or north sides of town.) We have everything you look for in a neighborhood: a park with myriad recreational opportunities, easy access to schools and shopping, a corner supper club, a liquor store within convenient walking distance, a used car lot, a place to buy day-old Hostess brand baked goods. It’s a magical place where you are exposed on a daily basis to a cast of delightfully quirky characters. Some go so far as to call these unique people ‘crazy’ or ‘contagious,’ but without access to their medical records, it’s hard to say.

In my neighborhood, the homes cost what some cars in the suburbs cost. Take mine, for example. You could buy a new Honda Accord for what my husband paid for our abode those mumbletysome years ago. Also? One of my neighbors may be a pedophile. He lives with his mother and buys a case of Bud Light from the corner liquor store every day. Another of my neighbors is constantly inviting me to ‘parties’ so they can sell me marital aids or Mary Kay cosmetics, sometimes in the same week. The fire department is at their house wheeling someone out on a gurney every three months.

Other neighbors include several people with developmental disabilities who live in a group home a few blocks over. I’ve had lovely chats with two of them this spring. After asking me if I had a boyfriend and breathlessly hopscotching from topic to topic in the most amazing run-on sentence I’d ever heard, one generously promised to knit me a headband and make my dog a blanket, but I have yet to see either.

What a liar.

Across the street live three elderly women who never open their windows. Despite the fact that my husband places their age at roughly “older than dust,” they still drive a large maroon sedan. You can not see their heads above the dashboard—just a slight glint of sunlight reflecting off their plastic kerchiefs, so it’s a good idea to vacate the sidewalk when you see them leave the house with their giant purses.

Another neighbor, Bea, is similarly ancient and waves only at my dog when she sees us on our daily walks: “Hi Daisy! Hi puppy!” She goes to every open house whenever a home is for sale—last year she dragged me with her to another neighbor’s home when they put it on the market, so she wouldn’t have to walk through alone. Turned out another elderly couple was casing the joint, too. They shared a nearly twenty minute conversation about chicken dinners and parish bingo and “that retarded boy in the wheelchair who always wins, he’s just the cleverest thing.”

Earlier this summer, Bea pulled up in her gray Chevy Caprice while I was outside watering my roses. “Did you plant those?”

I nodded.

“All by yourself?”

“Yep!” I said, proudly.

“Well ain’t you a clever shit!”

Then she shifted gears: “You know, I been in all the houses around here …” She gave my house a considering, somewhat lecherous gaze. “Except yours.”

“Wow, that’s a loud airplane!”

One day, when we finally do move, I hope Bea’s still around so she can come inside during our open house and judge our bathroom fixtures and ultimately decide that sometimes, you’re maybe better off living in a Honda Accord.


Activities! If you're in the Wausau, Wisconsin area this Saturday (July 12), stop by the Barnes and Noble at 3400 Rib Mountain Drive...I'm doing a signing from 11-2, and I'd love to meet you and deface your book with some tasteful graffiti, if you'll let me. If you'll be at a computer this Friday, July 11, visit me at The Debs. I'm blogging about my personal time capsule, which may or may not include leg warmers and a Super Comb.


  1. My younger sister lives in the same city as you, but she doesn't make it sound nearly as charming. Perhaps she should explore other neighborhoods.

  2. No wonder you wrote such an awesome novel. Dude, you LIVE in a novel!

  3. At my house before this one, there was a very nice mentally disabled man who would walk past on his way to and from various places. If we were outside, he would stop to talk. He had a French/Israeli accent (from what we could figure), and he spoke with a great deal of passion. Based on initial impressions, you could easily mistake him for a European with a lot to talk about.

    For work, we once used my house as a location for a shoot. We'd rented a period car, and the guy who owned the car sat in his camp chair out front while we worked inside.

    At some point, our friend walked by and stopped to talk. Later, the guy told me about it. He completely hadn't picked up on the fact that the guy was disabled. He said, "He was really nice... but he sure liked to talk about sharks."

  4. I know exactly which neighborhood you live in! And I say that in the non-creepy weirdo way.:)

  5. I love this post. It's so John Cougar Middle America Little Pink Houses Jack and Diane all rolled up into one happy unique neighborhood that you describe beautifully.

    You are an artisian of words. (Go ahead, quote me: Manic Mommy calls Jess Riley an 'artisian of words.' ... did I spell artisian right?

  6. I know where you liii-ive. It's only about...40? minutes from where my folks live. And it sounds very much the kind of neighborhood I grew up in, and the kind of neighborhhod tp which I would like to relocate my family.

    Jealous much, BA? Yep. You betcha, dere.

  7. I used to live in a neighborhood that was so bohemian, when I went trick-or-treating in the 5th grade I was offered a joint in lieu of candy. Ah, good times...

  8. At one point, I lived in the southern part of your state, and I could see remnants of your neighborhood in mine. Of course, I think our town was polluted by the GM plant, so the neighborhood had more of an X-Files flavor, but it made for some interesting people watching!

  9. I miss neighborhoods like that sometimes. Here we all share one bond, the military. We even share similiar times in the military lifestyle because we are separated into housing areas based on rank. Yep so much for desegregation in America!

    The great thing is that we are all in the same sort of stages of live. Between 20-40 years old, children in elementary/middle school but other than that we come from all over the world really. Plenty of soldiers have wives from over seas or were originally from another country themselves and the rest of us well....I'm from Michigan my hubbys from Texas,we met in NY had both our boys in Alaska. We're pretty typical.

  10. Your neighbourhood sounds great to me, minus the pedophile.
    We live in a tiny working class town, which means that everybody knows my bizness. It's a good life if you don't snap.