December 24, 2012

The Gift of Loved Ones

My insurance company would tell you I live in a blighted area.  To hear me talk about the state of the apartment the day I moved in, you’d think it was located in downtown Beirut.  After the fun with the domestic violence unit and case of microwave popcorn that got us through the summer of tough love, you'd think I'd know all the beat cops by name.  However, despite all this, I'm probably the happiest I've ever been.

If you’ve ever heard me talk about living in the “nicer” part of town in the house that my ex and I bought, you know that I do so having to spit before I start.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of the mcstarter houses and plasticized versions of success that I equated with the zip code.  

I've had the house, the 2 dogs, the yard, and the appearance of being happy.  Thing was, I didn’t feel like I was a part of a neighborhood.  I didn’t know my neighbors’ names, and wouldn’t recognize them in any context other than their front yards.  I had a lovely house with more square footage than I knew what to do with, the 2 car garage, the in ground sprinklers, and even a fridge with ice in the door.  Thing is, I didn't really have a home.

Sure, it’s Christmas eve, and the stairs from the back of the building have so much ice on them that they’re a sure bet to cash in on a double indemnity clause.  The alley in the back has enough packed snow on it to require me to get a “running start” so long that the neighbor kid standing on her back porch laughed and shook her head at the attempt.  We all know the local gangster by his bandana and saggy pants.  (And we’ve also heard the rumors about how none of the real gang bangers take him seriously, so he’s really only a threat on his own.  Though, my opinion is that stupid can be even more dangerous than smart.  So, I’m keeping an eye on him.)  There’s still a piece of the baseboard loose from where we had to knock a hole in the wall to fix the thermostat last spring.  I just replaced the aerator on the kitchen sink today after the maintenance man broke the last one and never replaced it.  There are a couple windows where the actual glass is cracked, the nastiest kitchen fan filter I’ve ever seen this side of a toxic waste dump, and outlets that leak cold air like a toddler trying to blow out candles.  All those warts aside, you’d have to use a crowbar to get me to leave.

I know every single person in this building.  I could tell you the name of their pets, where they work, where you could find them during happy hour, and what sort of home repairs they have to do after a particularly vigorous roll in the hay.    I think nothing of the 9 year old screaming in the basement.  Well, I think about it, but not like he’s getting skinned alive.  The kid just has no inside voice.  My neighbors know not to think anything of my standing on the porch, hair a mess, sporting a leopard print muu-muu and flip flops while I’m trying to get the dog to poop.  I know the trick to getting my garage door open when it’s being particularly stubborn.  If the outside door isn’t shut all the way, chances are we know who did it just based on time of day.  There’s a sort of ecosystem here, and a sense of togetherness I’ve not felt before, even in the dorms in college, or the other apartment buildings I’ve shared over the years.  

Let me tell you the latest reason I’ve had to say “I love this place”.  It’s about 2:00 in the afternoon and I’m in the kitchen making up some treats for Christmas Dinner tomorrow.  I don’t have a gigantic stand mixer, so I tend to make alot with my “boat motor” hand blender.  It’s wonderful until it comes to cleaning it off.  My usual method is, of course, brute force.  I was smacking the stem against the pot like it was an extra in Airplane having a panic attack.

Needless to say, I was making a bit of a racket.  But, you know, it was the middle of the afternoon.  I didn’t think I’d be disturbing anybody.  And I wasn’t, but I still got a knock on the door.  My upstairs neighbor heard the banging and came down to check it out.  He knew that my regular shift had me away during the day, but wasn’t aware that I had the day off.  We’ve also had some problems with break ins in the past.  He was just making sure everything was ok.  Once he discovered everything was ok, talk turned casual.  He'd been in an accident with the car he bought from Thunderhead, so he was looking for a replacement.  I'd recently learned that he was also Jewish from my downstairs neighbor, so we talked about that a bit too.  Turns out, we were both adopted into a Jewish family.  He doesn't practice, and neither do I, but I told him that my former rabbi was perhaps one of the most fantastic and gracefeul men I knew if he was looking to ever go to temple.  Plus, they put up with my bacon on a bagel ways when I was a kid.  At the end, we both agreed that this place, these people, they feel like family, and we're proud to call this place home.

You see, I never would have had that living in my old neighborhood.  I’d accidentally left my garage door up before and never got a call about it.  Probably because I don’t think any of the people on the block knew my name, much less my phone number.  It took moving to a little ramshackle building in the heart of midtown for me to find my paradise.  Who knew it would have a crack in the ceiling and a toilet that won’t stop running?

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