Saturday, March 31, 2007

I don't want to be thought of as a bad neighbor, but the rest of the block is starting to get to me today. Mom made me rake the gumballs and sticks and other assorted crap off our front lawn, and I just think that's the biggest bullshit job ever. I could see a point if we used our front lawn for anything, but as it is, the lawn's only purpose is to collect leaves and get mowed, and if I had my druthers, I'd pave over the whole damn thing. But I can't cause... what would the neighbors think? My family's been known to let the lawn grow into a mini-jungle, since our mower is petulant and we've got more important things going on, like porn and taxes, keeping us from fighting with it, but it's only the start of spring and so the debris can't be all that terrible. "Mom, the gumballs don't look that bad," I whined. "Why do we have to bother sweeping them up?"

And she explained, "Because we live in a neighborhood, and all our neighbors raked their lawns." I took a peek outside and all the neighbors did have pristine lawns; our suddenly looked a lot more feral. So I spent about an hour raking the lawn, grumbling the whole time about the Stepford robots who lived around me... stupid neighbors, cleaning their lawns. If they didn't waste their time raking, then I wouldn't have to waste mine.

The thing is that we have this deal where I reciprocate my neighbors' indifference, or maybe they reciprocate mine. I'm not sure who started it. I'm not very happy about it — I'd prefer to have a genuine human connection to my community, or at least the Stepford façade of one — but I've come to terms with what I've got. Anything more, like judging me because your lawn is manicured while I went for the all-natural look, is going to require something in return, more than us simply living on the same block.

I feel like there was a time when I had this attitude where there was this magical cycle of requited giving and happiness. Sure, I won't drive my car in front of yours, thirty miles below the speed limit, because I want to see you pleased. And then, because you're contented now, you won't tailgate me, and the world is in harmony. I wonder when that stopped, and not just between the random extras God throws into our lives, but between people who profess an honest relationship among each other. I know the spirit of communal giving was dead at Columbia, when they'd make me cheer along with some stupid-ass lion mascot before sending me wandering off into the cold, heartless maze of bureaucracy that was the soul of the institution. But before then?

People move in, means people move away, and it seems like the town was much less worked-on in my younger days. The park didn't have its child-safe playground and no benches (also child-safe) in front of the Corner Store on Martine Avenue. I don't want to fault the newcomers — being here a quarter of a century myself — but the more they add to the community, the more diffuse I feel, like Home is changing hands. Someday this place will be mine, and I'll rebel, tear up the landscaping, turn the front yard into a sand garden or something. I'll wrap the trees in enough Christmas lights to be seen from space, and in the summertime, I'll capture all the fireflies in glass jars and use them as lanterns. It'll be my formal introduction, and I might not be home, but at least home will have the opportunity to meet me.