Readers Report Back From… Neighborhood

By

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There was a KFC and McDonald’s, of course. But then there was an Asian butcher shop where meats hung in a display case, at room temperature, whole roasted duck, fried chicken and slabs of roast pork. They would cut up the meat in front of you and serve it on a bed of white rice. There was a noodle shop whose specialty was fried oysters cooked on a grill and served in a Styrofoam container with hot sauce. In the mornings there were street vendors who hawked deep fried donuts, salty or sweet. In the mile radius where we lived there was a department store, an open-air market, a brothel which posed as a massage parlor, a monastery, a four-star Western hotel, a Catholic church, an Indian tailor who promised tailored suits in twenty-four hours, street touts who sold Folexes, pimps who promised a good time, taxi-cab stands, hole-in-the-wall noodle shops, a printing press, a Nike store, a hospital. We didn’t have much commerce with the rest of Bangkok. We were an island.

— Dan Moreau

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I grew up in New York City in a neighborhood called Greenwich Village. We had the top two floors of a brownstone three blocks from the Hudson River. This was the seventies when the only people who lived in the west village were artists and/or homosexuals.

I remember coming home at night in a cab with my parents, and knowing we were getting close, because we passed the life-sized plastic cow that hangs from the side of a building in the meat-packing district.  I like to think I’m tough because I grew up in New York, but as my wife pointed out to me, I grew up in a village near a river with a cow. So basically I’m a Hobbit.

After college I lived in the Mission District in San Francisco. The people were all of a certain type—people who wouldn’t be caught dead in Pacific Heights—but nobody knew their neighbors. You didn’t say hi to people or bring over a fruit cake at Christmas.

Now I live in Austin, Texas. I’m in the Travis Heights neighborhood.  I know everybody on my block. The lesbian couple next door threw a hell of a Christmas carol party and we all cooked meals for the guy on the other side when he was hit by a car and ended up with bolts in his spine.

I used to think a neighborhood was a place, but now it’s clear it’s people. It is the neighbor who pulls your garbage cans to the curb when you forget. It’s the hostess at the cafe who remembers your name. Who looks at your daughter and says “Wow.  She’s getting big.”  A good neighborhood is the difference between being lonely and feeling right at home. You stand together in groups talking about who’s moving in and who’s renovating. You say “I can’t believe they chose that color,” or “We want to redo our kitchen.”

When I go back to the west village now, I think this looks a lot like the neighborhood I grew up in, but it’s not. The buildings are the same. The playground is in the same spot, but now it’s full of millionaires. It’s full of supermodels and hedge fund managers. The cow is still there, as is the river, but the neighborhood is gone.

— Noah Hawley

***

I knew long before Thanksgiving that our apartment complex is not a “neighborhood” per se, but the Xeroxed notice in our door from management about the suicide brought home, so to speak, the truth.

In most instances, privacy would be kept, it said. With all the police activity and with the recent murder just a mile or so away on everyone’s minds, a brief message seemed necessary. “Sadly, one of our residents has taken their own life.”

Of course, I wanted to know gender and method and, if there was one, the contents of the farewell note. Alison in the front office let the cops in. She wouldn’t say much. “I’m surprised nobody heard it,” she said. Probably a gun, then. “They hadn’t lived here long,” she said. Still no gender pronoun.

About six months ago, to accommodate my girlfriend after a fire destroyed her place, I moved from a studio apartment into a one-bedroom unit several doors down. Same complex. Same building. Same level, the second floor.

The studio rented quickly, and sometimes when I’m returning from the coffee shop across the street or unloading groceries from the car, I look up to see the blinds drawn away from the sliding glass door.

A medium-sized dog often has his nose pressed against the glass.

“It’s a young woman,” my girlfriend said. “She looks nice.” I consider how I’ve gone pretty fast from a single-man lifestyle to coupled, and I wonder if the new tenant is enjoying her cave-like quiet or hating it. If her dog is enough. They say men prefer guns, women tend to use pills. One night her lights were on and she scooted around in there, most likely cooking; she was near the stove.

It’s my practice, when I travel on business to cities with residential neighborhoods—you know, real neighborhoods—to have a glass or two of wine in a restaurant at dusk and then walk around as the houses start illuminating from within. I catch as many glimpses of people as I can this way. The feeling is hard to describe. Wistful, ridiculous … a nostalgia for something that I never had. Then, typically, I’ll eat dinner in that same restaurant, with maybe another glass of wine, and get up in the morning and wait for the day when I go home.

— Randy Osborne