I complain a lot about my neighborhood, I’m aware of that. The funny thing is, that when I was complaining at work a while ago, everyone kept suggesting that I move. “There’s a nice place in such and such area, why don’t you move there?” I was shocked, certainly I get peeved with the minor annoyances– mail theft, people hanging out in my backyard, people driving by with the bass in the car turned up so loud that it makes my ears hurt even when inside my house with all the windows shut, people mowing down my fence, urban youths chasing turkeys, and the Laos Pride gang– but I would never consider moving because of them.
My neighborhood is low-income, to be sure. I too am low-income, it’s just that I’m white and no one else in my neighborhood besides me and my landlady can really say that. I’ve found, as well, that at least half a dozen people who haven’t heard me talk about my neighborhood just assume that I live on the East Side. The East Side is the fancy side, near Brown and RISD, and it is where white people live. I didn’t know about construction on I-195, and one of my co-workers was just baffled, “Don’t you go that way? You live on the East Side, don’t you?”
What I love about my neighborhood is it’s energetic, and full of character. I love driving home and having to negotiate around kids playing in the street while their parents sit on the steps, watch them, and socialize. It very much has the feeling of a neighborhood, and everyone on my street is very friendly.
Anthony Bourdain, who I really like and would love to be friends with, did a show a couple years back where he was in Belfast. There was a gourmet chef there who had taken traditional Irish food that most of the world deems disgusting– blood pudding, for example– and made it something people sought out. I watched him stuff a sheep’s bladder full of ground up bits of meat garbage, add some blood, pan fry it, serve it on a bed of mesculen greens, and then two foodies devoured it making smacking noises and gushing.
Then Anthony Bourdain said something that sums up how I feel about my neighborhood (I’m paraphrasing) “When you have very little and have to make the best of it, that’s when you wind up with the most delicious food, or best anything. It forces you to be creative.”
The kids in my neighborhood play in the street because they don’t have yards, or their yards are small. They play outside because it’s too hot in the house in the summer. They play with balls, and frisbees and sticks, they chase small animals, they play like kids should play, and they seem to have a kick-ass time of it. There’s a sense of comradery that comes from getting outside of your house and looking at people besides your family and the people on T.V.
A while ago, my next-door neighbors threw their frisbee over my fence and forgot it was there, or didn’t know it was there. I happened to be outside and heard then playing, “Is this your frisbee?” I asked, and held it up. This little boy who was probably about six yelled, “yeah!”
“There’s a ball over here too, that I think might be yours.” I told him. so he snuck around the fence and found the ball along with something else that they had lost (seriously, these kids could hang onto their toys better), but the thing that just killed me was how excited he was to get his own toys back. These were not new, or exciting objects, just some stuff he’d lost, but he acted as if my backyard was full of Christmas magic and I was Santa.
I love that these kids don’t need much to be happy, because kids really never need much to be happy. When I was little, I played in the woods behind my house, or on my swingset, or in my grandparent’s barn– and I was completely content. Sometimes I’m a little jealous I can’t play in the street too.