Tuesday, January 13, 2009

These are the People in My Neighborhood...

It's been about five years since I first moved into my neighborhood, and I am still having difficulties fully engaging it. My (mostly) daily walks have helped a bit, but sometimes they make me feel more alienated than when I first started taking them. I guess I had certain preconceptions about how the place would (or might) develop, and these ideas look more and more naïve with my growing familiarity. Occasionally I'll catch a glimpse of what appears to be a young urbane couple, but for the most part it's mostly peopled with the type that I don't want to spend any of my free time around. This is a real shame because otherwise it has an awful lot to offer as a community.

We chose to move to our area because of the school system... or more precisely because we wanted to avoid sending any of our future kids to the public facilities that reigned in our favorite neighborhood. There's no way we would have moved out of the city proper otherwise. The most desirable sections of the 'burgh are expensive (obviously), and even in those parts the charter and magnet schools seem more desirable than the standard options. So we found the most gritty section of one of the best public school districts in Western PA. M. knew a lot more about it than I did, because her family had once lived there. She knew what we were getting ourselves into, and felt comfortable with it.

I'm moved to reconsider all of this due to an experience I had on my rounds the other night. A friend who lives in the next neighborhood over is looking to rent a space for a studio/collective project. She asked if I could look around and find a suitable place. I really had no idea how to start that search. I figured I could stroll about and look for signs in windows, etc. There are a host of properties that seem enticing, and they also seem to be empty. However there aren't many indications of who owns them, or how I can get in touch with whoever is responsible for managing them. I decided that I would have to ask around to see if anyone had any useful leads.

Unfortunately I don't have current phone numbers for the few folks who might be able to help. So I'm left to strike out blindly and figure out what bystanders might be able to provide assistance. On a whim, I stepped into a bar I had never been in before to get some local expertise. As soon as I entered, I knew I wouldn't get what I was looking for. There were about five guys and a torn-up looking woman at the bar, and everybody swiveled around on their stools to look at me directly. The closest dude started interrogating me before I could even let anyone know why I had interrupted their Monday night "revelries". I can't accurately reconstruct our short conversation, but I will say that he turned out to be the type with no love for the arts.

By the end of our exchange he started making primate gestures in an attempt to assert his alpha male status. To me he was just a fat slab of hick with an unrealistic image of his own potency and a loud mouth, yet that didn't keep him from shaking a bit as he pretended to prepare for a fight. His buddies were much more amiable and tried to calm him. That probably wasn't even necessary, as he was coming off like a melodramatic tweenie preparing for his role in West Side Story. If he truly wanted to fight he would have simply attacked without the show pony antics. Still I had no desire to escalate the situation, so I thanked everybody and walked out. It was absolutely the right move, but I was pissed off enough to imagine coming back with my aluminum bat to remove one virulent stain from my neighborhood.

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Blogger rainywalker said...

If you are talking about western PA some of it between WV [west]and northern WV are just alike. The futher south you go the worse it gets. I spent a lot of time studing wooden bridges in that corner of PA and it ended up being like 100 miles south in WV. I think you will find there is no gray areas with the people. Your on their side for the most part or against them. The ball bat is something they enjoy and understand. Being born there nothing much has changed in 60 years.

6:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Know your audience. That guy was drunk enough to be offended by anything. What part of what you said triggered him? Learn how to be a stranger in a bar and get information. Did you get yours? I have been a stranger in a small bar in a 1000 small towns. I have always enjoyed it. Sometimes tall guys have a problem. JM

12:38 AM  
Anonymous Steve said...

It's storys like that that make me appreciative of the hospitality of the people where I live (Texas). Here, not only would have those folks tried to answer your questions, they would have bought you a beer and bummed you a smoke.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Rob Park said...

The same reason I don't go bowling!

9:06 PM  

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