Readers Report Back From… Neighborhood

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All along the avenue the houses smiled like friendly baby castles. I was wearing my maroon corduroy college-student coat and listening to a mix a stranger had sent in the mail. The guitar parts sounded like autumn and there was a song about Romeo and Juliet. It was beginning to dawn on me that he thought we were still together. He knew about the new guy but he didn’t understand yet.  The new guy kept showing up just as the old one was calling. I didn’t know what to say to either one of them so I walked out into the light. I cried because I had to learn this street all alone. This was a street for families who had made good decisions. The remains of a pumpkin-carving contest lined the broad, grassy median. There was no sign of kids but there was a woman fussing with a garden. I said, “I like your flowers” and scurried away.

Later I learned other streets in the neighborhood and that one didn’t mean so much to me. I had set out to make it mine but I got pulled away—mostly by love, but also drugs and books and friendship. Accidentally I became enamored of a new little street not so far from the first. I tamed my new street like it was a skittish cat. I made it love me and even rely on me a little. I walked up and down several times a day, staking my claim with my boot prints.  It had everything I needed for survival and all tucked into little pretty brick buildings. The street gave me its beer and grilled-cheese sandwiches, its best haircuts and felt-tipped pens. The street preened while I sat watching it with my cup of coffee. The street began to positively adore me. It was not like the first street, laden with cheer and wisdom. Everyone on my new street was tied loose to the ground. We were a bunch of balloons. We were in this together.

I loved my favorite street so hard that there was nowhere else to go. The love was a hallway and I’d reached the end. I had no choice but to leave it. I’m still obsessed but I’m not jealous. The street is yours for now if you want it. I’ll come back for it when I’m able.

— Ashleigh Lambert

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I had this Filipino family as neighbors, they all were named Niki. There was Niki the father, Niki  the son, and Nicole, aka Niki, the mother. Niki the father was in his thirties, he was of Japanese mother and one of the handsomest guys I’d ever seen. We lived side by side, each of us in a tiny flat, the Nikis and my tiny family—my daughter and me. The Nikis used to invite other Pilipino families every Saturday to party together. The women cooked fish in every possible way, the men talked and drank beer and smoked outside the house, on the tiny common part we shared. My daughter went in and out the houses, playing with the many Pilipino kids and eating fried fish. While drinking and smoking and talking the men turned on a karaoke set and then everybody spent hours and hours singing. Once they invited me to sing and I sang very well because I’ve got a fine voice, a very Joan Baez voice and everybody was so impressed and they wanted me to stay and sing more. I said I couldn’t stay because I had things to do and went back home cursing those big noisy families with nothing to do but take care of our elders, clean our house and sit our children, with that firm sense of family. My mother never kissed me or gave me a hug. My parents never kissed or had a quiet talk before, say, a glass of wine. I never heard them singing. I can remember that at age 8 I accompanied my mother to the hospital. My pajamas was around her wrists, which she had cut after another quarrel with my father. He had beaten her. When she came back from the hospital he gave her a little diamond cross, a pendant for her necklace.
Damned be my Pilipino neighbors, I can’t wait for them to stop singing, for the fried fish odor to go away, for their bird-like voices to be silent. I don’t want any neighbors.

— Anna Albano

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I moved to this neighborhood three years ago to be close to Sac State. Been trying to leave recently since all my friends and the town’s hipsters live in midtown, but I can’t leave here, I’ve reluctantly come to love this place.

I live between the American River and Howe Avenue in Sacramento in a weirdly named area called the Arden Arcade, yeah it does sound like an amusement park or something. On one side of me is the American River and on the other side is a six lane major artery of Sacramento, which feeds directly into the behemoth Arden Mall, about four blocks away.

It doesn’t feel like a comfy place. The sprawl that starts at Howe goes east nonstop all the way to Roseville. Yet somehow, over time and space, I created a zone of comfort here between the river and the random businesses that make up my weekly routines.

There’s the Sushi place half a block away that I go at least two times a week. I meet all my Craigslist dates there but when I go alone I sit at the bar and watch sports with the sushi chefs. Panera’s with their couches, my yoga place is up the street, with my favorite task-master teacher, a lean sultry goddess with long dark hair, tattoos all over her arms who plays rock and roll during class. There’s the local liquor store run by an elderly Armenian couple. I do go to the dreaded mall to try on shoes at Macy’s or look at books at the corporate bookstore.

My balcony faces the river, the levee and the bike trail. I run or ride my bike on it every day. It’s like having a front porch. I eavesdrop on people’s conversations as they walk by—the Russians, the bike commuters, the homeless rants, the overachieving runners. I see coyotes doing their stealthy stride, looking like very handsome, sleek dogs.

There’s a wide open space between the bike trail and the river, with a 400-foot power line easement that’s a field of brush and trees and homeless encampments. Last summer on a hot and windy day there was a fire in the easement. I cried because it reminded me of how much I miss smelling smoke, seeing flames, hearing vegetation burn up and doing something urgent where mistakes were of some consequence.

— Louise Hogerheide

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When my kids are away, I will walk up to Anderson Lane, the main street near my house. The La Chica grocery is there. It’s the kind of place where I can find late-night necessities like toilet paper or Cherry Garcia.

Most nights, the taco truck in the parking lot is open. The menu is in Spanish, most of it stuff I don’t understand. I order the al pastor, or sometimes the carnitas, because I know I like those. The cook doesn’t really speak English, but I can manage a little Spanish and a lot of pointing and get two tacos al pastor and a Coke. “Coke” doesn’t translate, but “cola” does.

There’s usually a kid there, he wears an apron and sits at the picnic table doing his homework. When I have trouble asking for napkins, he says something in Spanish and the cook gives me napkins.

I sit with the kid while I eat. He’s doing calculus homework. He says he likes math because it’s logical, because there’s always a right answer. I tell him, yeah, I always hated classes like English where the right answer was a matter of opinion, and if your opinion was different from the teacher’s you were screwed. I know, he says, right? He wants to be an engineer. I tell him about stuff I learned in college, about vector calculus and linear systems.

Anderson Lane is one of those “edge” streets. Where I live, on the south side, the neighborhood is mostly white. It’s been blue collar since the 1950’s but lately middle-class professionals are moving in because central Austin is too expensive. The people on the north side, on the other side of the La Chica, are mostly working-class Latinos.

When the weather is nice, the men hang around the taco truck and drink beer, children play in the parking lot, teenagers wander back and forth thumbing their phones. They all speak Spanish. They’re all from the north side of Anderson.

I’ve never been past the La Chica. It’s not a neighborhood I avoid, it’s just that it’s all houses and apartment buildings and I don’t know anybody who lives there. I only go to the edge, to the taco truck. I wish I spoke Spanish. I wish I could hang around and drink beer, talk to the men, while my children play in the parking lot. It feels nice.

I finish my food, say goodbye to the kid, and walk back south to my empty house. My daughter calls. She’s at her mother’s house, on the other side of town. She needs help with her trigonometry.

— Ray Shea