Saturday, May 21, 2011

Detour Entry: Community and the Dumpster Story

***A QUICK PLEA: If you are reading along, please consider leaving a comment so I know you were here. Under each entry there is a link called "Dare to Share." Thanks!!***

Isaac was born in a place that calls itself “America's Last Hometown.” We lived there for about two years. It took me about two days to figure out that I do not belong anywhere near America's Last Hometown. Now, I will also tell you that one of the biggest reasons for leaving the Monterey Peninsula is a search for community. One might expect to find community in America's Last Hometown. One might grow old searching.

When Isaac was one, we moved to another town that lacked all of the aesthetic charm of America's Last Hometown. It was better this way, you had no expectation of camaraderie or neighborliness. I could talk on this topic of neighborhoods ad nauseam, but I will spare you for now and get to the story.

I'd lived behind a church for the last 4 ½ years. While packing and cleaning in the last stages before we left, we had a few things that weren't going to fit in our garbage can.

“Put them in the dumpster over there,” my next door neighbor advised. “Charles always says I can use it.”

Charles, I knew, was the groundskeeper and maintenance person for the church. Though we rarely spoke at any length, we'd wave casually across the two-foot chain link fence to the parking lot.

Mrs. Johnson had told me several times in the past about our access to the dumpster, but I never had had need or interest before now. Isaac and I walked around the charming chain link I'd stared at for almost his lifetime with a couple pieces of Styrofoam we'd evicted from a box we needed to pack Isaac's outside truck fleet in. He skipped ahead of me with a fat tree branch he was planning on propping the dumpster lid open with.

Iz's tool worked well, but before I could toss the second piece of foam in, I heard a voice yelling from not too far away.

“Excuse me! Excuse me! You can't put that there! You can't use that dumpster!”

A man was sprinting toward us from the church. I paused, the foam suspended, Isaac still propping open the lid with his stick. I blinked passively and waited while the man, now within a few feet of us exhausted his script a second time (though he could not possibly have been more exhausted than I was in that moment).

“We were told we could use this,” I said with calm annoyance.

“WHO told you that? WHO told you that?” said the man, still agitated in his valiant defense of the trash receptacle.


“WHEN did he tell you that?”

This was really getting tiresome. “You'd have to ask my neighbor.” I pointed to Mrs. Johnson who was bent over sweeping leaves up in front of her gate at the time.

“Which house do you live in?” the man demanded.

I pointed to the only other house in striking distance of where we stood.

“Oh, oh,” he said, though his blood pressure didn't quite seem out of the woods yet.

At this point, Mrs. Johnson stood up and took in the scene. She repeated for him what I'd already said but in that bitchy, old lady way that commands respect.

“Sorry, sorry,” the man was saying now. “I didn't know.” “'pologize,” he added in my direction. I grunted and started to turn away.

“So, y'all moving?” he tried, suddenly friendlier.

Clearly, no 16-foot storage POD in front of the house was going to get by this guy's keen observational skills.


“You lived there, what? 20 years or something?”


“Oh. Yeah, yeah,” he said, non-commitally.

Isaac and I took our leave. And thanks for saying hi before, I think as we went.

“How you doin', Mrs. Jackson?” the man calls over to my neighbor, still trying to redeem himself, and really, what's in a name anyway?

Here's how we do community in this country: You live beside someone, or someone's church, for four or 20 years. You notice each other, kind of. You don't really try to make contact unless something of yours is threatened – someone encroaches on your property line with their shed, someone's dog poops on your pansies, or someone dares put something in your dumpster.

At the top of our list for reasons to move – searching for community. One that works. One that is not transient. One where young families are visible, and I don't have to drive 7 miles to take my kid to a playdate.

My sidebar has a link to a book I read recently, In the Neighborhood, an interesting look at how our lives have shut down to each other in the decades following the birth of the suburb. The author sets out to get to know his neighbors. Perhaps when I get to where we're going, I'll ring some doorbells and hand out copies.


christopher said...

Classic stuff and well put.

Kind of along the 'grass is always greener' mentality the search goes on.

I have lived in both the heart of the city and the outskirts of the city. Never in the heart of the burbs. I visit the burbs often for work and friendly trips. I certainly see much of the 'shut down'.

Fortunately, I have had mostly wonderful neighbors around me wherever I have lived. But, I have always had one nearly impossible nasty and angry soul to contend with as well.

Barbara said...

I'm here and reading :-) E's gonna dig the meteor pics, thanks! Hope Isaac's eyes get better soon, and you take good care of yourself.

jaykaym said...

I'm here, too! I've enjoyed following your blog and am particularly enjoying your cross country trip. Your observations on community and suburbia make me realize how lucky I am. I've lived in the same suburban neighborhood for 30 years, but until quite recently we were known as the "new people" because everyone in our neighborhood has been there forever! My "old ladies" book club members are the same people that were also my pre-school carpool mothers. Don't give up hope on finding community. It exists in all sorts of places and ways, not just the movie version of small town America.

Susannah said...

hey, Kitty, I am looking forward to a visit to Massachusetts and to your new community in the old country of New England. There is an element of serendipity in finding a place to call home, and I wish you the best. I love hearing about your travels, and seeing the pics!

Kitty said...

thanks for the comments! it's great to know someone is on the other end.

Allison said...

Hi Kitty!
Loving the stories and your eloquent, no non-sense view of your travels! Hope you continue to have safe travels with only a few bumps in the road!

Sarah said...

Hi, a few days after your plea, but I am reading! And I have been reading for sometime...ever since I did a search on the book "The Wuggie Norple Story." Been hooked ever since! Quite excited about the new baby! Wish you talked about this one as much as the last!


Thomas said...

I have been following along since Mike passed me the link. Definitely an easy way to figure out if he will have time to work on anything for me.

Oh, and I love your writing.

I have survived a fair number of cross country road trips both in the back seat and in the front as a military brat and service member. I have to say you are capturing many of the details that make those trips both a pleasure and a chore. Enjoy the good parts and leave the bad parts behind you on the road.


Share Related Posts with Thumbnails