neighborhood


pumpkins

A couple years ago, about this time of year, I excitedly bought several pumpkins at a farm stand. When we got home, I realized the small pumpkins would line up perfectly in our windowsill. As I placed them there, I had a fleeting thought, “What if some kid grabs them and throws them at our house?” But my admiration of their friendliness and homey-ness quickly supplanted that disturbing vision, and the pumpkins stayed in the windowsill. At least for a little while.

The next morning, the pumpkins were gone.

The good part, I suppose, is that no one threw them at our house. There was no trace of those pumpkins.

Lately, I feel like time is moving in some crazy vortex and leaving me behind. I’ve been caught up in a lot of different things, not all of them pleasant, and suddenly  I find we’re in mid-to-late October…? WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN? The last time I looked, it was late summer. But that does not appear to be the case anymore: it is cold and rainy and I cannot, in fact, remember the last time I actually saw the sun. Today I wore a hat, gloves and a coat (mostly because I was sitting outside all day — such layering would not have been totally necessary for a brief stroll).

Clearly, we are not in summer anymore.

Anywhim, in an effort to actually tune into the world and seasons around me  — and I dunno, maybe appreciate them, rather than just glowering in a dark funk with no sunlight   — I am trying to stop and recognize the positive aspects of autumn. For me, this means: drinking apple cider, making tasty recipes that use squash, and noticing the leaves. It also meant buying a large pumpkin on Saturday.

But now the question is, where to put this friendly pumpkin? It would look nicest on on front steps (that is, if it ever stops raining. and I think it is entirely possible that it may NEVER stop raining). But will someone steal it?

I’ve decided this could be a test. Perhaps the measure of gentrification is how long it takes for your pumpkin to go missing…

The pumpkin test! I will let you know how it goes.

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Last night when I took the recycling out, I was surprised to see many police cars and our entire street blocked off with police tape. I called out to Ned to come take a look at the excitement. He, another neighbor and I gathered on the sidewalk to chat about what might be going on…for a moment, at least. Just as we started to wonder, two police officers, one with a police canine, walked by. One officer said to us: “Can you please go inside?”

Yes, yes I can. Some weird stuff has gone down in me neighborhood before, but that was the first time a police officer has asked me to get inside. So he didn’t have to tell me twice. I turned and BOLTED inside the house. For the next hour or so, I alternated between hiding and peeking out the window, wondering what sort of criminal activity might be a afoot.

When the police forces dispersed around 10:30ish pm (heavy on the “ish” — I’m not sure of the time),  I heard the scoop from my next-door neighbor. She had walked down to the corner earlier to ask the police what was going on and got stuck there. They would not let her walk back to her house (for safety, not because they were questioning her).

Was it a drug bust? A raid? A murderer on the loose?

Nope. A suspicious package. Apparently someone on my street works at an embassy, which will rename nameless on this blog. Said embassy has been getting some bomb threats. She got a package at work that they forwarded to her home, and she did not know what it was. She called the police.  Preliminary inspections revealed it did indeed look suspicious. So they had to shut the street down while they investigated it more.

Until they discovered that the package was…

wait for it …

a wah-wah pedal.

How perfect is that? It is as if the pedal were laughing at the shenanigans. Oh, that every police mystery could end with such a zany, harmless little zinger.

My husband and I do not have a television.

I’ve lived in TV-free households for seven years. It didn’t start as a principled stance — it’s not like I thought TV was evil. I was just sick of living where a television was always on, and never in my control.

My bad TV year came when I lived with a sloth in Arlington who was always, always slouched in one spot on the sofa in front of the TV. Her constant television habit dominated the visual and sound space of our open-floor-plan townhouse. When the television is on, it is hard for me to ignore it. So, I had the option to watch TV, hang out in my closet-like room, or go elsewhere.

It was a relief when I moved to DC the next year, to live with three other women who kept their TV in the closet. I was able to enjoy them and our house so much more. Our living room and dining room were open for conversations, quiet meals, music, radio, reading, writing, computing and the like. Over the years I’ve grown to appreciate living without TV.

Ned and I have started watching a few shows — “The Office,” “30 Rock” and “Arrested Development” — on our computer. Computer viewing seems to work better for me, as each show is more contained. Otherwise, the blaring box of light, sound and color that is television totally lures me in. I would totally be glued to such edifying programs as “America’s Got Talent” … and pretty much every single show on that home improvement channel. I prefer to keep that potential distraction out of reach.

Having lived without a TV for so long, I don’t miss it most of the time. The only times I really feel the *need* for a television are during presidential debates, college football and the Olympics.

But even then, my not having a TV has its advantages. Namely, community. Four years ago, I discovered the guys living in the house behind us were big political junkies (one was schlepping for the Kerry campaign), so I just marched over there for all the debates. We forged a neighborly bond that never would have happened otherwise.

The Olympics pose a unique problem. They go on for a couple weeks. And I love them. I mean LOVE them. I really cannot get enough. Further complicating things this year is the fact that the really interesting coverage is circa 10 pm until midnight, which is a tad later than my usual hours for visiting people.

So, what’s a girl with Olympic fever to do? Thankfully, I have been able to get my fix, so far. The Olympic glory this year goes to the Oakies, my friends who live in community in a big mansion in Mt Pleasant, just about a mile away (by the way, they need a new roommate — anyone?). It is wonderful to wander into their living room, cozy up next to friends and watch the games. Jane and I have our own Mystery Science Theatre-esque commentary — NBC will probably hire us for the next games. And when we’re not marvelling at sports, I get to catch up with some beloved friends.

As it turns out, one of the things I like best about not having a TV comes when I most want to watch it. I am forced out of my house — to meet new friends, visit old ones. Sure, I could do that even if we had a TV of our own. But in that case, I’d be much less likely to sheepishly ask if they would still be awake at 10:30 pm to watch the Phelpstastic coverage … and therefore much less likely to reap the rewards of being there with them.

Thank you, Oakies!

*Note: I can share the love! Olympic-watching friends in the DC/Md/Va environs let me know if you’d like company. 🙂

I think this anecdote perfectly illustrates where my neighborhood is in the process of gentrification:

As on many city streets, we have a sidewalk in front of our house, and a stripe of dirt betwixt the sidewalk and the road. Some other streets in DC have flowers and pretty things in these “flower boxes” or “tree boxes” ( as in the picture above — that’s not my street). On our street, there are some tall, fairly attractive but incredibly stinky gecko trees. Other than that, we basically just have clay-like dirt, weeds, and people’s trash lining the sidewalk. Beautiful.

My neighbor B started a flower revolution in the spring. He took a shovel to that clay-like dirt and planted rows of impatiens and marigolds in front of his house. We did not think they would ever survive the poor conditions — bad soil, not a ton of sunlight, people tramping on them. We were all shocked when his flowers were still there a week later.

So, on Memorial Day, my next door neighbor and I also planted flowers — making it three houses in a row with flowers out front. B was very proud that he started the flower-power movement.

“Yes, I see how it is, you have to keep up with your neighbor now. Watch, I will show you how to water the flowers,” he bragged. (Read that in a very slight Madagascaran accent. lovely. I love B.)

Two months later, our flowers are still mostly alive, shockingly enough. People toss trash onto them, but there has not been a lot of noticable floral vandalism. Some neighbors across the street even joined the revolution in recent weeks, planting their own flowers.

So, you might say we are moving on up — fancy gentrifying street with flowers, eh? But wait.

One of my across-the-street neighbors reported that she has seen a man urinating on the flowers. Right there on the sidewalk, in the late afternoon after work.

So, THAT is where we are in my neighborhood. It’s the kind of place where people will plant flowers, and other people will pee on them in broad daylight.


When your husband is out of the country for 10 days, it is an excellent time to do things you would not otherwise do were he in town. This will help stave off the distress of his absence.

For instance, you might watch “Sex in the City” for the first time. You might eat cereal or salad for dinner. You might buy a new purse, even though the hall closet is exploding with all your other purses.

It is a good time to schedule dates with girlfriends, finish work projects that can never seem to get done and have some time for at-home solitude.

It is not advisable that you choose this period of time to accept a free tree from a neighbor, and endeavor — by yourself — to dig a humongous hole in the ground in which to put it … all the while mourning the flower seeds you had just planted the day before (by yourself, even) receiving the message about the free tree.

Neither would this be the ideal time to discover and deal with the small rock quarry in the plot of ground where you thought you’d put the tree. It is unadvisable to kill your back shoveling, especially when there is no one to rub it.

And then you still have to actually dig out the free tree you are taking? Are you kidding me? This is a time for a manicure with friends, *not* for covering your hands with blisters.

If you, like me, have already accepted the tree and spent several hours digging the hole, best to go through with the rest of the project before it rains and your gaping hole is literally washed away in vain.

But if you have a choice in this matter, I recommend you put down the shovel. Pour yourself a glass of white wine. Wait for your helpmate.

Just a tip.

I love my neighbors.

I emailed two of them — Jane and B — this afternoon to ask if I could borrow a large shovel. B said he does not have a large shovel; he had previously borrowed Jane’s. Jane was not available on email.

Then B sends another update. He found Jane’s shovel. He stole it. I should knock on his door.

seersucker purse

I have made several trips to our neighborhood Target. And I have yet to leave the store without some unexpected purchase. There are just so many cute things! And useful things! And such good deals! The Target people are smart too. You walk in the store and what is there, staring you right in your face? Purses, bags, jewelry and other accessories. Next up: women’s clothing. And at the checkout lines: bargain bins.

Oh Target, you know my weaknesses.

My first trip to Target, I just went to “look around” and had barely taken 20 steps before my arms were loaded with merchandise. The second trip I was in search of cereal, and picked up some Easter and baby gifts on the way.

I decided it was a little too dangerous to proceed in this manner, since the Target is within walking distance. I have instituted a new limit : only one (or two) impulse buys per visit.

On Monday, I went to Target to buy some gardening reinforcements*. I left Target carrying a large bag of soil on my head, Rwanda style, while also toting a new seersucker purse and pair of sunglasses, American consumer style.

*I did attempt to purchase said items at my local non-chain hardware store, but they were closed. So I went first to Target, then to Home Depot, making it a Big Box afternoon … but a DC big box afternoon, so there.

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