Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dear BOB, happy Earth Day

When I was in high school, my brother and I played online games together. (Yes, this is what sibling bonding time looks like in the digital ages). We'd set up our computers side by side, running our characters around the make-believe world, hacking at monsters and shouting things like "Meet in me in Marion!", or, "Troll, outside of Tos!". There was one area in the game called the "Border of the Badlands". It was a sketchy place. It was where the renegade, criminal players went to hang out. You never knew when a troll was going to jump out of a corner over there. We always shortened it to BOB. BOB was a place to be wary of, to hurry through on your way to somewhere else.

This story really has nothing to do with anything, except that I was thinking of the acronym BOB as I left for work yesterday morning. The neighborhood I live in is a bit... on the border.

Our house is big and grand and, once, it was beautiful. It was built sometime around 1860. Greg and I spent the better part of our early relationship painstakingly renovating it. The heart and soul that we poured into our (well, HIS, at the time) abode, the nights-out denied, the decision-making teamwork... these things formed the foundation of our relationship: domestic accomplishment. Sometimes I look back at those early days and marvel: how did we manage to fall in love while this house sucked away our ability to be fun? Those days were mind-numblingly exhausting and full of tearful arguments. I banish many of the memories to a corner of my mind marked "let's forget that ever happened". But then I get it. Building our house showed us what we had in common when you stripped all the superficial fluff away. What we had left was the unflattering truth of what defines us both: the inability to let go of a goal, no matter how totally insane it might be*.

*Isn't that romantic? Hehe.

Yet, for all of this hard work to make our house into what we wanted it to be, we didn't touch the floorplan, and the floorplan is mighty inconvenient. The house is shaped like giant U. Our bedroom is in the back, at the bottom of the U. There are two middle rooms and two front rooms. The staircase leading upstairs (to the apartment that we rent out to Yale undergrads) runs down the center of the U. If you're in one room, you can't see or hear things in the other rooms, which gets really annoying really quickly.

Furthermore, our patchwork assembly of wood and horse-hair plaster stands on a city corner, such that all of the rooms border a street. When someone walks by at 2am, yammering into their cell phone, it feels like they're only 5 feet away... because, well, they're actually only 5 feet away.

So the house is loud from all sides, yet the rooms are totally disconnected from one another. Baby-proofing is a joke with this awkward layout, since the only way to keep Jack reasonably safe is to be with him at all times.

Poor Jack doesn't really get to crawl all around the house; we mostly encourage him to hang out in the nursery, which faces Dwight Street. When we started planning his nursery, we didn't like knowing that he would face the street. We even moved his crib away from the window because it made us nervous. I swear we're not paranoid -- the street is not safe at night, and our house is ground level.

So this story is about something that happened several weeks ago. Greg and I were in the second front room watching a movie when we heard the gunshots: "Bam! Bam! Bambambam!". We 180'd to the windows and saw the culprit in dark clothes sprinting down the sidewalk. We freaked out, ran into the nursery. Jack was fine. He slept through the whole thing. We called the cops and spent the rest of the night convincing ourselves that gunfire immediately in front of our house is an OK event*. We're urban after all, and proud of it (sort of).

*Seeing as this is not the first (nor the second) instance of gunfire, it must be, right?

But the next morning, our neighbor found the bullet holes. He had parked his car in front of our house, and the wounds in his car told the story: lead projectiles headed straight for where our baby sleeps.

While it is true that most of the crime in our neighborhood is drug related, nobody wants to think the words "innocent bystander" in relation to their baby's place of residence.

Not good, BOB.

Sometimes I love where we live. I love New Haven and I love being close to downtown. It is a vibrant community and I believe we are doing the socially and environmental responsible thing, living near a city center, doin' our urban thing. I take pride in the fact that we renovated our generally-green home by ourselves, that we share a roof with people we're not related to, that we share a street with people who are different than us. These features of our house form an important part of my code of social ethics. The likelihood of Jack being harmed by the drugs and the gangs at this age is slim to none. But of course bullets near his nursery are just unacceptable. To put it lightly, this gets to me.

One other thing that also gets to me has to do with the tree that we planted in the sidewalk running past our house. The tree is beautiful. She is an Autumn Blaze Maple (urban tree of the year, 2004!), she has been growing for two years, and her name is Octavia, for the month during which we planted her. The tree brings some life to the corner. She is meant to shield that side of our house from the street noise and from the summer heat. She is meant to scrub the street air of some small fraction of its nasty chemicals.

Every day I look out the window and I see Octavia. Every day I walk out the door and walk by Octavia. And every springtime, without fail, I watch people rip branches off of Octavia.

Few things incite me more than this. I'm not going to even try to describe my anger: the stupidity of ripping branches off a tree, a beautiful, symmetric, healthy tree budding in the springtime. Not your tree. Someone else's tree. Someone else's tree that stands 4 feet from their bedroom window.

People also rip flowers out of our yard when they start blooming, so, yeah, there you have it.

Anyway, the point of this long discussion of our neighborhood is that when I left for work on Friday morning, I noticed that It had begun: the springtime ripping of Octavia had started. On Earth Day. Sorry, Octavia, I wish we could have provided you with better digs.

I want to be an urbanite. But I also don't like living in the BOB.

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