Readers Report Back From… Neighborhood

By

***

Back, back, back.

Take him back through innocence, take him back to his mom. “Shut your fucking mouth.” He looks at her, drool dribbling, eyes dry, wider as he’s pulled. “I’m tired of your fuckin noise.” She yanks him onto the seat, up up up, and he sits next to her. She’s cute enough, for a bitch. He winks at her and looks away. Looks to Marcus. “Don’t be a pussy, nigga.” So he hits him again, hard as fuck. Spits on his neck before he turns back.

What a fucking waste.

And fucking wasted. Just like that, just like always. Put him down down down, put him to sleep, it’s never easy, but it’s the easiest. He slides off the barrel like a chump and even if he’d missed you would’ve shook your head at the sorrow, at the crying shame. And you watch his mother wail, snot dripping, drool slipping.

“Shut your fucking mouth.”

— Andrew Fatato

***

Noe Valley. I lived there once, on the hill, on the street that cleaves Twin Peaks, in a house with a window that pictured the world—the bay, the Dutch Boy sign with the child mechanically waving a paint brush, cargo ships resting like logs by the docks. The city’s roar and diesel fumes roiled through my grandmother’s open front window. We watched TV, black and white Crusader Rabbit cartoons, played on ratty oriental carpets, broke the faux Chippendale furniture, ignored the framed prints from Sears, and relied on the house’s skylights to illuminate the gloom. When someone asks “Where are you from?” images of growing up in the 1950s in Noe Valley rush in before I answer, tell the truth.

My Great Aunt Eva was dying of old age and despair in the back bedroom, my father lay drunk on the bedstead in the basement, while next door, Mr. Anderson, the neighborhood bachelor, pruned shrubs in his front garden. He had a hot house in the back, propagated cuttings from the nursery in Golden Gate Park where he worked, shared the strongest ones with my grandmother. Our side of the hothouse—a fence divided our yards, but the hothouse was there first—served as a playroom. We invited the neighbor kids back there to play, we climbed on the roof, careful not to get pricked by the climbing rose that provided pink bouquets for our little yellow tea table. Mr. Anderson, his watery blue eye trained on us through the crack in the boards, knocked on the wood when we said bad words or socked each other.

My first crush, Michael Esterbrook, came over in his coonskin cap and we’d play saloon, Davey Crockett and Daniel Boone. I’d try to trick him into a kiss, but my brothers were always there, lifting butterfly cocoons from the Shasta daisies or prying quartz rocks from the birdbath to use as ammo. Michael never kissed me, never lay down with me in my little doll’s bed. My grandmother would call from a back window and we’d trudge, all four of us kids, to the grocery store at 24th and Castro. She’d buy lamb chops at the butcher shop, chat with the neighbors. We’d get free slices of baloney, wait for the 11 Hoffman bus to take us back up the hill with our sacks, back to where I’m from.

— Kate Campbell

***

There’s a bridge that dips and turns into Glendale Blvd., the main vein that runs through Atwater. The east side of the vein houses young hipster parents that go to Bikram yoga and drink a green milky beverage called Pirates Chai over at the cafe.  The west side of the vein markets at the discount bulk store Costco and eats dinner at Sizzler.

The street is lined with nail shops, Latin food, a dance school, a children’s crafting station. The local wine shop arranges food trucks to serve tapas. There’s medicinal marijuana storefronts and a quaint bookstore. This is Atwater Village, where me and my girlfriend and at least another couple that live along the L.A. River lay kissing into the night.

The L.A. River isn’t really a river but rather an aqueduct. There are little pockets on the sides.  One of these pockets is lined with potted flowers.  I went running with a friend here who was depressed because of a man.  We saw the potted plants and clothes hanging to dry and called the couple that lived there the lovers. My friend wanted so badly to be like these lovers.  She didn’t care that they were homeless, she wanted someone to love her like that. With all of their nothing. I ran down to them, “Hello? Anyone there?” A tiny man climbed out.

“Hey you want some sweaters and a meal?”

He took it and jumped back into his hole.

That’s a good spot the runaway in me thought.

What you don’t know is that as a teenager I came to this river with my brother and his friends.  We did graffiti.  We joked the water was so tainted whoever got wet would come out with an extra eyeball growing on their calves.  My brother died from the disease of “more.”  In the end it was more heroin.

I have a pit bull. She loves really hard but bucks around like a bull in a pen when she needs to move her legs.  When I got her I took her here. I felt defeated. Walking along the river I saw one of my brother’s old pieces.  Nothing gets buffed because no one wants to walk in the water to paint over it.  I looked at the dog and realized it’s more complicated than that. We were both beaten as kids, both misunderstood.  We just want to run free.

— Melissa Chadburn

***

Piney Acres, for comfortable living.  That’s true, if one’s idea of comfortable living is a place where all the houses are the same color and same shape, give or take a gable. Everything is mint green with white trim. The only exceptions being the occasional American flag or inflatable Santa.

And not a soul to be seen nor heard.  No music, no laughter, not even the sound of the neighbor’s television.

I am lost in the wilds of Florida. Not a bar within miles when I need one the most.

Outside the walls lies a vast jungle of strip malls and numbered roads. No St. Peter, Toulouse, or Tchoupitoulous.  It’s like being in the camp in The Bridge on the River Kwai, only air conditioned. Where is Colonel Saito? Down at the clubhouse playing cards.

It is my mother’s birthday and I am here to surprise her. I find her house by following the numbers. No other way. I park and walk up the perfectly crack-free walk to the front door. I knock. No answer. Mom’s not home. It’s been a long flight and a long drive so I go for a walk.

As I round the first bend, I become aware of a strange sensation. I am being watched. I can almost hear the whir of hidden cameras tracking my movements. A squirrel spies from an oak. Unnerved, I return to my car and go in search of a bar. After five miles I find one at the intersection of 47 and 58. I am the only patron. Décor by NASCAR. A weary barmaid approaches.

“Hi hon, What can I getcha?”

“I’ll have an Abita.”

“A what?”

“A Budweiser.”

One more and it’s back to the car. I find the house again and knock on the door.

“Happy Birthday, mom!” She is breathless with surprise. She gives me a hug and I am surprised by her lightness. I can feel the bones of her shoulders, her back.

I stay for four days. I leave for the airport three hours early. I want to go home. Home to crooked sidewalks. Home to the sounds of trains, trucks and people. Home to old houses of every shape and color. Home to music and noisy corner bars. Home to silver people, jugglers and clowns on bicycles. Home to New Orleans.  My plane is late.

— David Kern

***

I had been feeling like South Kolkata was it—the real deal. A gentle mix of sidewalk-crowding markets and uppity high-rise buildings with names like “Anando,” which means content, or happy. My street gathers shady-looking men at its corners in various tea stalls and food stands, but my gym across the street is full of middle-aged ladies being trained by nubile boys. No one really looks at me if I walk down the street without a scarf pleated demurely across my breasts. There is anonymity and character, both. Next to the compound of Buddhadeb Guha, one of Kolkata’s most prominent writers, there is a trash heap where last week I saw a coven of crows kill one of their own over what looked like a plastic bag.

This is gritty, I thought. And then I met a poet who told me that where I was wasn’t the real Kolkata—that here the streets are paved too smoothly, the coffee shops too brightly lit. I didn’t want to believe him.

North Kolkata’s buildings are grand old dames and, though toothless and half bald, still manage to somehow steal my heart. In its twisting alleys, I almost had my foot run over by a motorcycle or a bicycle cart carrying freshly-printed textbooks. At dusk, outside of the metro station, I looked up and tried to understand the delirious pattern of decay on a building then noticed two women laughing on a balcony, the last of the sun glinting on one’s teeth. Then glanced even higher to the roof where a dark-skinned man had become a collection of black sinews and angles. I wanted to watch until he faded into the night, but there was so much more to see.

— Neelanjana Banerjee

***

The idling double-parked cars chirp like loitering city crickets.

The smooth glass windows of restaurants look like fish tanks in the dark. Their oxidized steel and chrome fixtures act as their communal filters, filling the din with sameness.

My friend Lizzie, she works in a gallery in Manhattan. She get’s tired after just one glass of Willamette red, she says laughing.

Me, mostly I just get drunk.

An old movie theater’s been turned into an American Apparel. I read today someone’s gone and converted a church into a Borders. I’m not religious. But it still seems funny. My feet are cracking the surface of the Flatbush snow like the most delicate of crème brûlée crusts. This could be anyone’s neighborhood instead of just mine—less the American Apparel, I guess.

I’m walking fast now. I wish the people in front of me would go. Go. Go. Wear some more sensible footwear or something. But move.

The part of me that’s cheesy and touristy and photogenic, the part that likes the Duomo and the colorful geometry of the Pompidou and the Yo! Sushi at Harvey Nics, is shut.

I open the door to my apartment with my keys. My boyfriend’s asleep. Passed out on our  Mitchell-Williams couch. His book forms a temple—one comprised of blue clouds and gold text—on his chest. I’ve worked hard for this.

— Rand Niederhoffer