Saturday, May 24, 2008

Just click your heels three times

I had that dream again last night -- the one where I end up moving to a house that in some mythic way is better, constellations better, than the house I live in now. Maybe it's bigger, maybe quieter, and in almost all cases has a secret room or passageway I didn't know existed. As this particular dream progresses, I come to find the flaws of the new living space--water in the basement, black mold, or someone else's bedroom at the end of that secret passage--and end up pining for my little green house, which I can't believe I abandoned in the first place. Sometimes the dream goes on long enough that I go back by cover of night to the little green house, and I spy on the new people living there as I ache with envy and regret.

This particular dream usually comes after a teeter-totter of real events: something truly terrible happening nearby, which makes me curse our ever having bought this house in the first place, followed by something unspeakably beautiful, which makes it tough for me to imagine ever living anywhere else.

This week started with a cyclist getting shot just two blocks away, riding home around 1am, something John and I are no strangers to. I haven't heard further details, but the circumstances alone were enough to make a neighbor say, "What's going on with this neighborhood?!" I couldn't agree more. It's unconscionable.

But then last night, as I was walking home from the grocery store, I passed the building where a bunch of unsupervised hellraisers play in the sidewalk day and night. Several of them were taking turns jumping off a giant rock on a pogo stick. An older girl was screaming at them to STOP IT!!! before somebody got hurt. A smaller girl watched the proceedings while sitting on a mighty agreeable rottweiler. And just then a particularly tough looking boy came out of the building and . . . get ready for it . . . sweetly and proudly started playing the flute.

Yes, I said the flute.

Breathy notes strung together in a song he didn't have down quite yet, but was dutifully practicing. Not because somebody was hounding him to do it, but because he loved that flute and didn't care if the whole neighborhood knew it. It was pretty clear, in fact, he wanted to be noticed.

If I were a betting woman, I'd put down money that this particular tableau wouldn't happen near any of those bigger, quieter, or more circuitous houses that huckster up my dreams. How unlucky to live in a place where such a thing isn't possible.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Snapshots from the Litter Detail

Yesterday was Chicago's annual Clean & Green Day, where the city provides resources to neighborhood groups who want to spruce up their blocks. We got a nice assortment of rakes, shovels, push-brooms, and gigantic plastic bags that looked alarmingly like body bags, but I digress.

We'd plastered the neighborhood with fliers promoting the event--not that our blocks were a disaster, but a little spring cleaning never hurts. I was shocked and honestly moved by the number of people who emerged from their houses at 10am. Neighbors on a simple 'hello' relationship were chatting together--it was such a beautiful day, wasn't it, or I'm worried about that vacant building on the corner, too--and putting together teams who would walk down the street: one holding the giant bag, the others gathering and discarding debris.

Every yard and parkway was mowed (thanks largely to nine-year-old Priscilla, who insisted on taking her father's mower and traveling from house to house), every piece of litter removed, and even a small garden got planted with the help of a handful of neighborhood kids. It may not look like much now, but trust me that it's a big improvement over the weed patch and soiled fabric flowers that dotted that corner for over a year. Our neighbor Willie even enlisted two elders from the Mormon Church (they'd come to his door to recruit him, so he recruited them instead) to help with the project. There they were in their white shirts and dark trousers, sweeping the street of thousands of maple-tree pinwheels.

When everything was done, some of those hard-working kids settled about the business of digging a hole in one of the greenways. I asked where they were digging to, and one especially bright-eyed girl paused for a second, put up her index finger, and said, "to the Earth's atmosphere."

There may be horrible and devastating things going on in the world, but it's a hopeful sign, to me, that kids don't dig to China anymore.
We had a nice rain overnight, and everything looked especially fresh and new this morning as I walked Inez. I hope we can keep it up over the course of the summer. Debris from 6-lane Fullerton Avenue just a block south is a constant challenge. So are the dandelions. But for now we can enjoy what we accomplished. Aside from the obvious child-labor violations, we managed to harness something lovely yesterday: a collective undertaking, and a true sense of place.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Give a Hoot

Sure, some are excited when a new bookstore or coffee shop breaks ground in the area . . . or their local park gets landscaped with native perennials . . . or a vacant building starts showing signs of life.

But nothing felt more like Christmas to us than this latest amenity, installed quietly on our block like something collectively wished into being.

Farewell to rogue Cheetos bags! To car-parts circulars! To carry-out menus! Good riddance to plastic grocery bags tangled up in shrubs! Godspeed you Budweiser bottles and motor-oil containers! True, we still find the occasional candy bar wrappers and tamale husks here and there, but everything you see in that wire-mesh can is something not rolling down the street, waiting to be trapped in someone's front yard. These are small mercies, and I'll take them.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Perfect Sunday

Today it was warm and sunny enough to blast some Stevie Wonder and plant this . . .

So afterwards I stopped this man . . .

And ended up with this magically delicious mango paleta.

Beat that, Monday.