My brother is a cop in the district where I live. He’s the third of my 4 big brothers (I also have 1 younger brother), and it feels good when he tells me, as he did by text this morning (he works the late night shift and gets off at 8am – his choice... it’s where he gets the most action, and, well, a lot of cops are in it for the adventure, after all):
[ Fig. 1: MORNING TEXT ]
Image of a text I received in the morning from my brother the cop, as he finished up his night shift rounds in my neighborhood.
"Drive by your house and through your neighborhood regularly... Almost always very quiet. Some knuckleheads in a house about halfway down the block, but other than that, everything is usually pretty low-key around you."
It’s nice to know that family will always be family, and even when they have families of their own, no matter how big you get, or how grown, or how old, in some respects, big brothers are always looking out for you, keeping you safe. I sleep better at night knowing that my big brothers – all four of them, each of them in their own very different ways, respectively – have collectively got my back.
It’s also nice to be reassured that I’m in a pretty good area. Of course, walking along the streets here, the lawns carefully groomed and landscaped by folks who obviously care, and take pride in their homes, house doors often left wide open in nice weather, and neighbors waving to one another from their front porches, it would be pretty obvious, even if I didn’t have the crime report.
Typical house along the path of a walk around my neighborhood. The stone-brick faced home is partially hidden by a giant, flourishing shade tree, and a trellis latched arch, creeping with ivy, the steps leading up to it lined with colorful flowers and bright greenery. There is a wooden bench on the interior of the portico, and an open gate at its entry. A flagpole stands behind a bird bath in the front yard, both also encircled with vibrant, carefully landscaped vegetation.
[ Fig. 3: OPEN DOOR ]:
Zoom of the landscaped yard photo reveals the door of the home standing open behind a screen.
In a conversation with my brother, I told him it's usually pretty quiet on this street. Seems like when it's not, though, whatever is going down happens right outside our front yard. That's where we most often see the cherries flashing, and it's usually bored teenagers milling around and up to no good... nothing too serious.
Sometimes we hear kids in our yard... they used to have a habit of darting across it like they’d dared each other to do so. This house sat vacant for a year before we moved in, so I think the natives became a little spoiled around it and got into the habit of taking a few liberties with our property.
One day, I found a group of 3 very young brothers (all under 12ish) hanging out on my side steps and in my rock garden. I was alerted to their presence by the sound of rattling against my wrought iron stair railing, and when I went out to investigate, I found a super soaker on my front steps, and followed the sound of idle childish chatter around the house to the side yard, where there were three pudgy little blonde boys in dirty shorts and grubby T-shirts. They'd been playing in my yard, and had stopped to take a break. They told me so like it was the most normal thing in the world, one kid even asked me why I had rocks where he was standing, and I explained that was not a place for anyone to be standing, much less for little boys to be playing, and told him to come out of there. I asked if they always made a habit of playing in the yards of neighbors they hadn't bothered to meet. When I went back inside, I picked up the water gun and took it with me. They left shortly thereafter, without bothering to ask for it back. I actually don't know if they thought someone else took it, or if they were too scared to ring my bell.
My brother was amused by that story... he said it’s pretty much the same all over the city, and thanked me, on behalf of the department, for embracing my “adultness” and going out to talk to them myself, rather than expecting the cops to do it for them… he said I’d be surprised at how rarely people bother. He told me they get calls all the time from people complaining that there are kids sitting on their doorstep or whatever – and relatively young folks at that, he says... not even the older, curmudgeonly “Get Off My Lawn!” crowd, like you’d expect. He says he just wants to tell them, "Good Night! Go outside and tell them to move their butts!! They're 12, for pete’s sake!!"
But, a call is a call, after all, and has to be answered. We really don’t pay our civil servants enough for what they have to put up with, clearly.
I guess that whole “it takes a village” mentality does seem to have lost some of its luster, sadly. People are too self-absorbed and independent of their community these days.
The real irony to me is, I'd totally planned on giving their soaker back to them if they'd only bothered to ring my bell and ask for it. I'd planned to have them tell me their names, and get to know them, find out where they live, and who their family is, and then talk to them about what was considered polite or acceptable behavior for kids in a neighborhood setting. They'd been nice enough, if a little clueless, and I didn't mind them playing in my yard at all... just would have preferred they'd asked first. Kids belong to someone, and someone somewhere cares about them. If they're going to be playing on my lawn, I'd at least like to be vaguely aware that they're there, so I can casually keep an eye on them, if for no other reason than to be ready to call their folks and an ambulance and hope I remember my first aid and CPR training well enough if something should go horribly wrong. I certainly never expected them to abandon that water weapon.
Maybe I'll go knocking on doors one day to find out which trio of hooligans is missing it, and have that chat then.
My brother said to go for it.
“Totally!” he said.
(My brother hasn’t quite yet rubbed out all the 80s from his vocabulary, apparently.)
He said, that's what makes the world go round... connections. It's how they police, too, he tells me. Make enough solid connections and one of those people will tell you something you don't already know because they trust you and want their neighborhood to stay safe. Keep doing what you're doing, he told me… and said that I should keep the soaker, too... they may yet be back again for it one day, or I may see them around, and my plan is a good one.
It’s always nice to get the nod from local law enforcement, confirming that you’re on the right track.
But Minion and I are outside fairly regularly now that the weather's nice; grilling or working in the yard or on the garden, usually with the bird. People here have gotten used to seeing us, and her... they stop by to ask about her sometimes – sometimes to meet her, or ask questions about her – many just hope to get close enough to touch her.
Yep, it's a pretty decent neighborhood.
Our conversation inspired me, though. National Night Out is coming up in less than a month, and Minion and I have only lived in this place since September of last year, after the last one had already passed, so we haven’t experienced it here. I checked with the local department, and no one has registered our grid yet, so I volunteered to put an event together. Sixteen years in residential property management has more than prepared me to coordinate activities such as these, but this will be the first time I’ve pulled one together for my own home. What better way to get to know the neighbors than by inviting them to a BBQ in my back yard?
In preparing the registration form, though, before indicating location, I realized, I should walk the borders of our “grid” (how the city divides the boundaries between neighborhood sections to define one from another), to get the scope of its size, in order to know how big of a shindig we’re looking at...
If we’re going to bring out a fire truck, we’ll need to block off the streets…
If we’re going to hire entertainment, we'll need to figure out where they'll perform…
So much planning to do…
I left my breakfast on the counter untouched, put on a pair of shoes, and walked out the front door.
I didn’t even bother to lock it.
At my first stop, the resident manager at an apartment community kitty-cornered across the street offered their parking lot for space, if needed.
(It helps to speak the same language.)
At the next one, I found a local flyer that told me there will be a “neighborhood days” event coming up this weekend for this entire locality of the city, complete with camp outs, a movie night, art shows, and live music.
How had I missed this???
Further down the road, I came across the newly constructed “Police Department Federation,” which is more or less the clubhouse for cops. It’s where their Union meets. Swanky place, converted from an old posh brownstone coffee house. They were happy to meet me, and we exchanged a few pleasantries about my brother, the oldest new recruit ever to join the force (He’s 45.), and his path to “the job.” (He was a child welfare investigator for many years first.) They agreed to work with me to coordinate their NNO effort with my own.
That should be fun!
The very next location found an obviously tired and overworked, very pregnant office manager of a senior center, who was certain that her residents were too old and too worn out to be interested in such things. Nevertheless, I thanked her for her time, and left my number for the “Community Events Coordinator,” just in case. On my way out the door, two very nice, lovely older ladies stopped me, wanting to know why I was leaving so quickly. (I imagine they assumed I had been there to visit a relative… perhaps they were looking for the latest juicy gossip about whose daughter or niece had left in a huff over an old family argument.) When I explained why I was there, they were very excited, and told me not to listen to these young folks who are always trying to get them to settle down with one foot in the grave before they’re ready to go. They assured me they would be very interested in a community outing, and promised to pass the word around. We chatted for several minutes. It reminded me of the days when I used to be part of the “adopt-a-grandma” program, and visited shut-ins at the nursing home, just to enjoy some time with them.
Older folks can be so undervalued by our generation… they have so many amazing stories to tell!
As I continued my walk, I gained a greater appreciation for this little part of the world then I’d had, finding more of what I already knew to expect, and a few priceless treasures, like the water left out on the sidewalk in front of one house,
[ Fig. 4: FOR THIRSTY DOGS ]:
Photo of the sidewalk in front of a house on a walk around my neighborhood. An empty Kemps Ice Cream bucket holds water (the water is hard to see in the photo), with a carefully crafted, white-washed wooden sign next to it that reads in painted letters, "For Thirsty Dogs," with stenciled paw prints.
and discovering the elementary school leaves the gate to their playground open during summer days for kids.
[ Fig. 5: UNLOCKED PLAYGROUND ]:
Photo of an elementary school playground a few blocks from my house. Its gate is left open in the middle of a warm July day for neighborhood kids to play there.
With all the unexpected stops – and how forthcoming I was finding folks to be along the way – turning my “perimeter check” into more of an introduction expedition, this walk was becoming longer than I’d planned for, and by the time I hit the local outdoor creamery around the corner – a small stand at the intersection, no bigger than a broom closet – it was well into the afternoon, and I was ready to make up for having skipped breakfast. Local bicyclists, inline skaters, dog walkers, mothers, daycare moms and children chatted in a friendly manner as we sat in the bench “line” and waited our turn at the counter. The owner happily assured me I’d made the best choice in menu item, even though it was the longest wait, and helped me pick out the perfect flavor milkshake to go with it. We chatted a bit about her participation in the upcoming festivities, and I was taken with how nice it must be to love one’s job as much as she clearly did, even in this heat, and noted how much more pleasant it made the experience for her customers.
All things considered, this was a fantastic way to round out my afternoon adventure.
As I sat at the Corner shack’s brightly colored picnic benches in the parking lot, absorbing the ambience of a beautiful sunny summer afternoon, relishing my fish sandwich and mac-n-cheese bites, perusing the flyer's schedule for the weekend celebration, and generally loving life in that moment, I pondered what it really means to be part of a community, and how we so often hide ourselves from something pretty special, locked away behind the security of our closed doors.
[ Fig. 6: FAMILY ICE CREAM ]:
Photo of an Ice Cream stop on a walk around my neighborhood. A family of 4 children – 3 brothers and a sister – enjoys ice cream cones with their mother and their dog at a red and white painted picnic bench in a parking lot, their bikes leaned, unlocked, against the side of the building.
In this part of the world, though, something magical happens this time of year, the busiest season of all. Because we spend so many months out of every 12 unable to escape the shelter of indoors for the warmth it provides, Minnesotans begin to emerge like moths from a cocoon every spring, and by the time we are in full-fledged summer heat, well, we know there’s not going to be too long before we won’t have this kind of natural beauty, so you can bet we make the most of it. More importantly, though, there’s a kind of personality “unrolling” that happens with us, internally, too, like we’ve spent so long with Cabin Fever that we just can’t wait to see another smiling face, to hear another happy voice.
I love summer. It’s so easy to really connect then, to start conversations, to break down barriers, to learn about one another, and to grow. It’s amazing what people will tell you about themselves if only you’re willing to ask.
LJ Idol | Season 9 • Week 14 - Topic: CONFESSIONS
This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol.
If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on...