The droning whir of the scooter is relentless—up and down the street, over and over, as if caught in a loop. Through my study window I hear the kid approaching on his annoyance-mobile, sounding like he’s riding a lawnmower, and I remember that things weren’t that way when we were kids. We had alleys for that sort of thing.
Not that it was any less of a bother to our neighbors who were seeking a respite from the seemingly omnipresent sounds of chain saws, weed whackers and lawnmowers. But at least we kids made our own go-carts, without having our parents buy them in a store.
Dave Wisnieski was the whiz at that sort of thing, and he always seemed to be putting together some sort of dangerous vehicle to test in the alley behind South Euclid Avenue in Bellevue. Dave and other kids would race their carts in the alley, dodging the cops and hiding their buggies when neighbors complained.
How times do change. But not really.
I now am in a neighborhood on the opposite side of town from my hometown of Bellevue, and I am more than a quarter-century removed from those go-cart days, yet somehow I managed to forget what it was like to be a bored kid during summertime. Remembering this, I feel like a 39-year-old old fogy, and I am ashamed that I would begrudge the neighbor kid some fun. He’s a good kid, and he never causes any trouble (unlike me and some of my cohorts when we were growing up). It occurs to me that I am a jagoff.
Neighborhoods are somewhat strange, arbitrary constructs, depending upon their residents to ensure their survival. Without residents, a neighborhood ceases to exist. Yet, when people move in who are new or different from most of the residents in a neighborhood, some of the longstanding residents might give the new folks mixed messages. This happened recently with some of our neighbors.
They moved in up the street about a year back, and in some ways, they’re not like the rest of us. But to claim that my neighborhood, mixed liberally with Blacks, Whites, gay and lesbian couples, singles and married people, has an “average” household would be a gross misrepresentation. The new folks are nice, and the parents say “hi,” but the kids seem standoffish. If only they were always standoffish, some of their neighbors wouldn’t get freaked out.
The other evening around nine I was tending to some shaggy privet hedges in the front yard, and I heard a lot of yelling from the house several doors down, and I was sure it was the new folks. After all, nobody else in this neighborhood yells outdoors like that, and this family is known to hang out on the street, working on or washing their cars. They’re also loud-talkers. I wasn’t sure what all of the noise was about, and I couldn’t see past the seven-feet-tall hedge on the other side of our yard, so I assumed they were just up their loudly jagging each other.
But the noise went on for a while, and the arguing seemed to crescendo at times, making me wonder. I tried to ignore it. Then a neighbor, a longtime resident of the neighborhood, came out of her house and walked up to me. She stood in the street and peered down toward the new neighbors.
“What’s going on?” she said to me.
“I don’t know if they’re fighting, drinking, or playing basketball,” I said, continuing to work.
“I feel bad for Camille,” she said of the new folks’ next-door-neighbor. “She’s terrified of them.” My neighbor looked me straight in the eye: “They’re scary,” she said, shaking her head.
“What are you gonna do,” I said.
I thought to myself that while I was growing up in Bellevue, my large family might have been considered loud, coarse and scary to some of our neighbors. With 12 kids, eight of whom were boys who sometimes had fistfights in the front yard, we might’ve spooked some of our neighbors. To some of our neighbors, we might’ve seemed like some crazy gang.
Things sometimes stay pretty much the same, but we fogies forget.