"How do you like your neighborhood?"
A friend recently asked how I like my neighborhood. I said that because I was still in thrall to a new house, my “neighborhood” started and ended with my office/studio, my room, its renovations. “Eventually I will terraform the basement,” I said. “You’re going to build an Anne cave,” he said.
Wanting to prove I was in fact paying attention to my surroundings, I amended that there were some good restaurants, but couldn’t name a single one.
I got to thinking a little more carefully about my neighborhood the next day when a board member came over from down the street (“wow that only took me five minutes!”), for a back yard hang. This being the first time we’d seen each other outside of work, she welcomed me to what she said used to be a pleasantly boring neighborhood until last summer. The neighborhood was devoid of any high or low registers of whiteness. Neither the “too liberal” childish pride of a gentrifying white University City, nor the “too trashiness” of a Kensington; perfectly boring residential area where no one outperformed themselves. Having moved here from midtown Manhattan in the shadow of the Javits Center, I said I could really relate.
The board member shared recent developments that make it depressing to live in the area. Neighbors called her the N-word after a dispute over pest control, prompting her to install higher-than-regulation fencing around her backyard. Militia members paraded Oregon Avenue toting rifles in multiple rallies for Trump. We used the word depressing, a lot.
South Philly is an atemporal abyss of racist legacies. One prominent Black arts leader and colleague said he’d never be seen south of Washington, “shit is so racist in South Philly.” The failed school district’s response to riots at South Philly High in 2009, alt-right protests at Marconi Plaza to preserve Columbus, a Native American mascot for the East Passyunk business district.
We live here. But we live here.
Yesterday I saw a bicyclist get doored on 12th and Snyder but was surprised when he insisted on moving on without complaining at the vehicular passenger.
The other day, I saw an otherwise mentally sound-seeming middle aged white woman in a crossing guard’s uniform, slowly lick a wrought iron fence surrounding the church across from the school.
As I came home from work one evening, I saw a white woman lying unconscious on the stoop of my neighbor’s house, her shirt torn open at the chest, exposing her breasts. Albeit a tiny mercy, she was mercifully wearing a bra. Her curly hair was tied up in a small ponytail and she wore gold hoops, her skin was ruddy like a gardening enthusiast. A threadbare purse was spilling over with mundane detritus. In one hand was a half-finished bottle of soda. I panicked, first thinking this was my neighbor (who vaguely fit the physique), and though confirming it wasn’t, it of course didn’t matter because whoever this person was, was clearly OD-ing. Before calling 911, I noticed someone else nearby on the phone, and we made eye contact.
“Are you talking to paramedics?” I asked.
The woman in the car nodded, listening to the operator on the end of the line.
Moments later a box truck showed up, sirens blaring. The paramedics came out and brought the woman back to consciousness. A Jeep with an Eagles bumper sticker slowed to a halt behind the ambulance, as the driver appeared to sigh and pulled out her phone to text someone; possibly letting them know they’d be delayed.
Down the street, I saw another neighbor approach his house holding a pineapple and a bottle of liquor. He trained his focus on the scene before stopping to chat with someone else at his stoop. That’s the second pineapple I’ve seen him carry to his house this week.
When we purchased this house, we had ambitious plans to paint the walls something other than white. For the main bedroom which would be designated as my office/studio, we went with a color called burnt rose, but halfway through a coating, I said I was worried it looked too much like the inside of a vagina. But after seeing the full coat dry, I realized it looked more like the inside of a mouth, which was pleasing.
Pineapple has a way of tearing up the inside of my mouth. I have a cut in my mouth I can’t stop feeling with my tongue, hoping I can repair it with more attention. In this way, the mouth is the opposite of a neighborhood and exactly the same.