What a fucking shame. And things had been going so well, too.
Actually, “well” isn’t the word I want and maybe a single word won’t do it. Just that the Universe had recently burped out two tiny events nicely showcasing my neighborhood’s fine weirdness. But in true duelistic Buddhist fashion, these blips highlighted what we already sensed. Casa ‘nam was headed right into the crapper.
(But hey. Life is suffering)
For a while now, I’d been noticing a few small but reliable downhill-skid signs: like smiley happy people walking their small peppy dogs, instead of chaining up a bunch of pit bulls in the backyard and fighting them for money. I’d spotted lawns with ominous landscapey touches, like actual borders on the flower beds, and actual flowers in them instead of, say, pot or corn. No one owned chickens anymore. I’d even seen a trim woman with an easy-care haircut, power-walking down the sidewalk. I watched as she neatly swerved to avoid the liplocked gangsta couple before her, pausing in a hot grapple.
None of this boded well for us go-your-own-way types. All of it promised more landscaping, lots of slick realtors , ghastly block parties, and big fat property taxes to come.
Still, to brighten things up, a few days before, this guy from the Census Bureau appeared outside my door. He looked like he’d run right out of a ’70’s TV after-school special, maybe one on Community Activism. He was really putting some english on that fat thumb of his, as he leaned heavily on my doorbell. Right next to it is a plaque that says in 48 point Ventura Bold, No Soliciting, but like everyone else at our door, he didn’t think we meant him.
Meanwhile, I was checking him out through the mini-blinds, noting his squashy cube-farmer butt, overgrown graying curls, and tinted John Lennon specs. He was maybe in his fifties, carried a shoulder-bag fashioned from dense ugly cloth, smudgily stencilled, and nearly glowing with Green dreamy thoughts, if not sewing skills. He also sported a saggy Pixies tour t-shirt, cargo shorts with all the flaps unbuttoned and all the strings untied, and dirty beat-up Birkenstocks.
Just too fucking perfect, I decided. I hadn’t seen a guy like him since 1976, so naturally I opened the door.
“Working out?” he asked genially and wrongly, while I wondered if he was high (Me working out? Are you nuts?) and he picked up on my bewilderment. “Earphones,” he said, gesturing at my earbuds. I’d been listening to a bitter Mary Gaitskill novel on CD; wanted to get back to it. But the Census Bureau guy didn’t wait for me to say yay or nay, and plunged ahead. “Next door,” he said, gesturing to Dwight and Randy’s house. “The man there refused to fill out the form. Says he doesn’t believe in the government knowing his business. Won’t talk to me either.”
“Have you met the Secessionist over on San Lorenzo?” I asked. “There’s one on Estacado too, maybe more.”
See, cranking up for July 4th, many of us had unfurled big damn American flags, or stuck tiny ones in our lawns, and then, as usual, mixed it up, adding plywood crosses emblazoned with, “He has risen!” and other confused Jesus-y tokens. This year, though, some of us were still excited from the stream of stupid ideas issuing from our bullshit governor, Rick “Good Hair” Perry. He’d mentioned Texas secession in his public addresses and gotten loud approvingheehaw! hollers in response. At the close of his speechifying, all the audience dumbasses would gallop over to Betsy Ross Flags on Garland Road and buy big damn Texas state flags. You could see them flapping around town: in front of houses and on pickemup trucks. Made the nut factor easier to spot.
“Yeah,” the Census Bureau guy said wearily, when I mentioned the neighborhood wingers. “We know. We’re trying to get this thing all wrapped up, so now we’re contacting the Refusers in person.”
“So who are the Refusers?” I asked. “I just figured they’d all be illegals, scared they’ll get sent back.”
“It’s about half and half,” he said, shading his eyes from the sun. “About half are illegals, most of them in El Paso. Then the other half are Tea Partyers and these loner types, who think government records are an end-of-days-type conspiracy. Anyhow, we’ve got teams all over, trying to get the information. This kind of stuff.” He showed me a form, the one with Dwight’s info on it. “See, I need to know if there’s one person, two, or ten living in that house. That’s all.”
“Mmm.” I said. I didn’t want to trample on Dwight’s shiny new political stand, but I understood, in ways Dwight could not, that the Federal government never fucking gives up. I pictured a continual stream of old hippie Census Bureau minions batting between our two houses, driving us all nuts. Sooner or later, Dwight would shoot one. Hell, if he’d been home, Dwight would’ve shot this guy ten minutes ago. And who’d look after him, now that his mama was dead?
I sighed. “Just one in the house.”
“Well, what about her?” He pointed at another name with his thumbnail.
“That’s his mama. She died a couple of years ago. Just him in the house now.”
And then we chatted pleasantly for a while. Long enough to find out we both went to high school in Oklahoma. He was from Ponca City and I’d gone to Tulsa Central. I remembered Tulsa had played Ponca City the last year I was there. They’d kicked our asses.
Later, I got all paranoid about getting into Dwight’s bidness and ratting him out. Wondered what I’d do if he confronted me out in the garbage alley some dark night, and decided I’d lie to his face, like a psycho.
A few days after that, I needed to make a run up to the dim-witted neighborhood Walgreen’s. I hopped into my ancient wheezing Benz, and headed out San Lorenzo-way. Snaking down San Juan, I paused at the stop sign, and came face to face with Dwight, Randy, Frank-from-across-the-street, and that fat asshole who wears an Aussie bush hat.
They were all right across the street, sitting in your Texas man’s paradise: that is, in front of an open garage, tipped back on cheapo WalMart white plastic chairs, a cooler of iced-down 45’s at their huge bare dirty feet, and smoking massive quantities of cigarettes. They were all wearing overalls without t-shirts and (I knew) no underwear, and, to a man, were gray, grizzeled, unshaven, with jagged self-inflicted drunken haircuts. But at the very moment they recognized me, all four raised their big knuckly paws in concert, waved shyly like so many Hello Kittys, while I had a giggling fit right there in the front seat.
For a bare minute or so, that little tableau had dimmed the bad news we’d gotten. The Bad News arrived in the mail, as a slick art-directed brochure with Casa View Rising! emblazoned on the front. There was a foggy little photo underneath, showing a bunch of people with their arms upraised, circling our battered Casa ‘nam Shopping Center.
“Oh shit,” I called to my husband. “We got a brochure about the neighborhood.”
I walked down the hallway, staring at this slick bit of print. My husband was at his computer, hammering away on his blog, and I handed him the brochure.
He skimmed it quickly and said, “It says we’re not San Juan Heights anymore. Now we’re Casa View Haven. How can that be? We’ve always been San Juan Heights.”
“Fuck me,” I said. “We’re a whole Haven? Are these people on meth?”
“You wish,” he said glumly, giving me the brochure, and went back to staring at his screen.
I unfolded the thing and goggled at the news. Seems all these John Responsible types had organized. They’d stomped down to City Council and bitched mightily about the seediness of damned near everything. Then they’d gone directly to the cop shop and hollered about the drivebys, graffiti, thefts and general malfeasance. Lawyers had been brought in about one thing or another. The brochure, it seemed, was mostly a happy, if ill-considered boast about results.
“Shit, I wouldn’t brag about it,” I said. “Any normal person would piss himself just reading this. Hell, I’m about to piss myself. Listen here:”
I read outloud: (Emphasis is all mine.) “No Major Drug Actions- For the first time since the 2-Points community began operations, we have had NO major drug initiatives in or adjacent to our neighborhoods. There were no million dollar seizures. no multi-agency arrests or perp walks, no stacks of drugs, guns and money…what a relief! What a great job and milestone. Thank you law enforcement team.”
I’ll just leave it at that for now.