the city is coming
Every night, I walk around my neighborhood. Single-family homes as far as the eye can see. Every lawn manicured, every house nicely painted. If a stray candy bar wrapper happens to hit the ground, it will quickly be scooped up and disposed of.
There is one house in particular I make sure to walk past because I find some odd comfort in the fact that I will find the same scene playing out in the garage. One of my neighbors- a man I’ve met but don’t know- will be under his car fiddling. I say fiddling because I have no clue what he’s doing. I could say he’s rebuilding it but that would just be a guess. It’s one of those hot rod, muscle car types; I’m not much of an automobile aficionado so I can’t really describe it, red with small white stripes, and when it’s running, which is infrequently, it rumbles in such a way that I’m sure any female under the age of forty has her nipples harden against her will.
Sometimes mine will pop up to attention, but I write it off to a chill in the air.
The point of these rambling observations is that every time I walk by, he is there and his garage door is open and one day I feel like I should walk in and warn him that the city is coming.
And all of what I described in my opening paragraph will go away.
Not forty-five minutes drive south from here is an example of what I mean. Only thirty years ago it was not only a nice suburb but one of the nicest. Giant homes (bordering on mansions) lined expansive streets and you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a tire swing or some equally wholesome manifestation of the American dream. But, alas, it lay too close to the city and one day a tendril slithered out and it was all over.
The city dwellers got it.
It starts with some whisper of low-income housing or a drug treatment center opening its doors and the next thing you know the denizens of city have laid claim to it. Or siege, to be more accurate.
Drive through the ruins of this once-proud neighborhood and you are left to wonder why none of the current residents can be bothered to mow their lawns or paint their houses or throw away any of the garbage that lays piled up in every corner. The houses are literally rotting where they stand.
I walk through my neighborhood and the only sound I can hear is a plane passing overhead or the far-off barking of a dog, but if I listen hard enough I can hear it coming. I can hear the police sirens and the gunshots. The screaming and the chaos coming to my doorstep.
I wince and take a deep breath and resolve to just enjoy things while they last.
How long do we have?
In the spring we apply fertilizer, in the fall we rake, and in the winter we shovel. That’s just what we do. We walk to yogurt shops, we take our kids to karate lessons knowing they still won’t be able to defend themselves (but the belt ceremonies are fun and make a good excuse for the grandparents to visit), and on Sunday we go to church to socialize.
We are inside at night because the morning comes and we must be ready to work. Our front doors are usually unlocked because they can be.
The city isn’t like this.
Its streets are abandoned in the mornings and look like scenes out of some post-apocalyptic movie. Check-cashing places, liquor stores, and churches do their part in the infestation.
Only in the afternoon do the battered stoops become haunted with the occupants of this hellish locale.
At night they huddle under broken street lights and in the depths of night, while we sleep, an ocean of misdeeds take place that we recount in horror on our morning news programs. Video clips on our computer. Statistics. Barbarism that we can only imagine.
And imagine we do, but only to ourselves. We dare not breathe a word of it to each other.
So I walk down my sidewalk and soak it in as if I’m at a museum. The Museum of How Things Should Stay. It’s dark but I feel no fear.
But not yet.
I hear the engine of the sports car revving up ahead. My neighbor is back at it. Fixing it or souping it up, I’ll never be quite sure, and filling the night with purpose and exhaust. I stop and watch him for awhile, nipples hard on the evenings he has it running, before continuing my nightly ritual. I think about poking my head in and talking to him about what’s coming but we’ve still got enough time before it happens so I let him have his fun.
One day though … I’ll have to tell him to pull down the garage door and lock it because it’s no longer safe. The cancer has spread.
The city has arrived.