Friday, January 15, 2016

People in my neighborhood

Dear You,

Much has changed since last I wrote, so much that I've almost forgotten them all. Not everything entirely, but big parts of everything.

It occurred to me, walking the dog this morning, I ought to write it down and let you see. And let me remember.

Change can get so you forgot something has changed at all. You forget why you were so upset about the change, or how it changed the way you felt, until all you can remember is the changed thing, and not how it was before.

Our son, home for the holidays, let out a surprising "Whoa!" when we passed by the elementary school around the corner, where they paved the paradise of a big soccer field and put up a big parking lot.

Maybe the parking lot is important. As parking lots go, it's nice. It's engineered; someone knew a thing or two about making it, and ringed it round with trees and creeping carpety landscape and woody mulch.

I doubt the parking lot was needed. More likely the school district had use-it-or-lose-it money. "Whadda we do?" Someone in the district probably asked. "I don't know," said someone else. "A parking lot?"

So the soccer field, the long yellow-green space, where  the tiniest children played in the recreational soccer leagues around here, is gone. Then I forgot all that, until our son said, "Whoa!"

It's one of so many changes like that, all the time, every day. Big, cataclysmic, life-altering things, and little relentless imperceptible grains of time moving imperceptible grains of sand.

I'm writing about the little things.

Our street — it's a funny thing — doesn't change all that much. It's a dog-leg cul-de-sac, mostly duplex rentals on one side, single family homes the other, some of them rented, probably more owned. The rentals at, I guess, the elbow and paw of the dog leg, change residents every six months or a year for reasons I can't make out.

It's been a while since new children moved into the neighborhood, and those that do are young teenagers whose lives are lived elsewhere, somewhere. Here is a place they proclaim as base, but life is lived out there. They don't hang out in front of homes or the street here much.

Neighbors are probably glad we had the house painted over the summer. Not that it was bad, but now it's nice — except where I scraped the new trim with the fender of my car trying to back into the garage. I keep thinking about looking for spare paint the painters might have left, and fixing that.

The lawn is another story, a battered rendition of tundra, left dead through the drought, trying to grow through the cold rain.

Out with my dog this morning, I am jarred, as I always am, by the unreal swath of green a neighbor put in front of his house on one of the main streets. Literally unreal, fake grass laid smooth as an eggshell over the sloping mass of dirt where his lawn used to be. The greenness doesn't throw me so much as the unblemished, edge-to-edge smoothness of it. No trees out front, either, just that curve of smoothness. The man who lives there has achieved homeowner nirvana, or stasis, the pinnacle of leisure, having nothing but free time, I suppose.

Two women who I suppose are his daughters drive their sports cars to his house and carry their dogs in the crook of their arms for visits, then carry them out to the car, where they stand on their owners' laps and look out the driver's side window as they drive away.

More and different dogs have appeared in the neighborhoodlately. The man who used to walk our dog's doppelganger has a new dog now, but is just as annoying, always walking with traffic, always on the side we're walking, against traffic, always setting my dog to barking fits, always forcing us to move to the other side of the road to let him pass and my dog to stop parking. He always waves and smiles. Annoying man.

Another woman walks two little dogs and one great big dog together. The big dog once tore loose of the woman's hold and ran across the main street on a very busy morning to check out my dog. Traffic halted, the woman shouted and I seethed. I could probably have said something more charitable to the woman when she stopped traffic to retrieve her big sniffing dog, but I had not the presence of mind.

Even the residents who irrigate their lawns defiantly in the drought have shut off during the rains, which is nice. Rain is easing the shared angst.

Someone is finally, finally doing something about the house at the other end of the street, the house it seemed someone should have been living in long ago. I didn't know the family who lived there; we don't know just about anybody on our street, except our immediate neighbors. They had adapted the front of the house to accommodate a child who used a wheelchair. Then they were gone. Someone kept the lawn cut while the house was empty, then kept it trim even when it had crisped and browned in the drought.

Someone was messing with the house in little ways, though, and slabs of plywood were nailed across part of the door and one window. Maybe someone was squatting in it, hard to tell. Other than that, the house looked ready to be lived in.

Some Tasmanian Devil of a house flipper has come in and changed out all the windows and put a big demolition bin in the driveway, filling up with the innards of the old house, and within a month, I expect, a new house will emerge. It will be a fine house. But it was a fine house before.

The county planning department has posted a sign in front of the Seventh-Day Adventist School on the main throughway. A cell phone company wants to install a "stealth monotree" on the school property. Stealth monotree. It'll be a cell tower, disguised as a tree. Stealth is an overreach, if they're talking about the disguise, because cell towers so disguised look like trees in the throes of the most horrible arboreal disease. They are very tall sticks with very few branches, and unwieldy bulbous galls which are really the doodads that relay the cell signals.

Schools and municipal parks like cell towers because the cell phone companies pay rent. The Adventist property is like a nature preserve into which a school is nestled. A pheasant or two lives on the property somewhere. I have never found a good way to describe their call. They are rusty hinges on a screen door, or tiny ah-oooga horns on tiny Model-Ts, or those metal noisemakers that you spin on a handle.

They remind me the neighborhood is not overbuilt, yet. I hope the stealth monotree gets lost deep in the nature preserve.

Not that developers aren't trying to overbuild. They're cramming more than a dozen homes, 10 feet apart from another, in a place where a fitness club used to be. The houses tower right next to an apartment complex — woe be to residents on both sides of that fence in the planned gated community.

What is it about gated communities? What faux sense of security and privilege does one get by living in a neighborhood with its own fortress to the outside? This one is called Something Something Oaks, "oaks" being a popular neighborhood name.

A gated community four miles away, I remember, was named "Twelve Oaks," "twelve" also being an attractive adjective for such places. It seemed like the developers felled all but 12 oaks to make the name true.

The little permanent farmer's produce stand is still not built, and no sign it ever will after it burned down last spring. The farmer kept selling, from folding tables tucked under trees farther in the property. Maybe he'll keep doing that. That corner of the main throughway seems so empty now.

The many, many cones of dirt from the Something Something Oaks development are starting to settle and flatten in the vast empty corner across the throughway from the empty produce stand property. A nice old house used to sit right in the middle, with forested property all around. Or so it seems. It's been so long that I've forgotten. It's a forlorn farm of dirt now, the gate smashed into the earth by the trucks that hauled all that dirt, and no one even seems interested in wandering in and looking around.

Now you're up to date. I'll let you know if anything changes.

All the best,


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