All posts tagged: Neighborhood

Welcome to the Smelliest Time of Year

I love fall. It’s my favorite season. And I know what I’m talking about: I grew up in New England and live in Upstate New York, which makes me a bona fide autumnal expert. It is the most glorious time of the year around these parts. It’s also, unfortunately, the most intensely scented. I’m not talking about the natural scents of sweet ripe apples waiting to be picked or smoky leaves crunching underfoot. I’m talking about the olfactory assault of artificial fragrance that fills pretty much every public space from September through November. Normally I avoid stores that specialize in home fragrance or perfumed lotions, but this time of year, the scents spill over their normal boundaries and I have to steer clear of entire wings of the mall. Craft stores display fragranced candles and incense at the front end; bookstores sell autumn potpourri on racks near the checkout. Even my local grocery store has a display of seasonally scented wreaths by the entrance. And the most pervasive seasonal scent of all is Pumpkin Spice. …

My Secret to Dominating the Neighborhood? Pumpkin Bowling

Suburbia, circa 1994. We’d moved out of the New York City right about the time our daughter was to start kindergarten, seeking the bucolic childhood that my husband and I had deluded ourselves that we both had: house in the country; 2+ acre lots; great public schools; supportive, tight-knit community. While we moved back to an area very close to where I’d grown up, it had been a good 10 years since I’d left for college and I no longer had a circle of close friends. Barely 30 and working long hours at a New York City law firm, with my husband traveling all over for his sales job, we wanted a shortcut to meet people (just like us) with whom we could share stories of new parenthood and go for beers and burgers. So, at our 75-year-old realtor’s urging, we joined Newcomers. The Newcomers’ Club was just that: a club (with a small yearly membership fee) for people new to the community. There were mom reading groups, mom social hours, mom’s night out and the occasional …

Almost Paradise: My “Perfect” Small Town Wasn’t So Perfect

The author (second from the left, waving to the camera) and her Girl Scout troop. (Photo courtesy of Susan Ito) When I was growing up in the 70s, the kids in my New Jersey suburb ran unfettered through interconnected yards and played until the fireflies came out. At dinnertime, some were called home by cowbell or whistle; my mother stood on our back porch and walloped an iron Japanese gong that reverberated through the neighborhood. I rode my bike with the gold-speckled banana seat and high handlebars to the town pool; we’d go there of our own volition, without parents to drive or supervise us. This was freedom: to take our dollar to the snack bar and sit on plastic chairs, dripping pool water, eating baskets full of French fries spattered in ketchup. To jump in the deep end and play Marco Polo until our fingers wrinkled. Our neighborhood was, in so many ways, idyllic. My one-block long street was unpaved until I was 10, and I remember the gooey, sharp tang of fresh asphalt …

As a Motherless Child, I Was Raised by My Neighborhood

I was a child of the 70s, negotiating an evolving place in society for both my gender and my race. I was born Negro, eventually deemed Black and eventually accepted the term African American. The small South Philadelphia enclave I landed in clung stubbornly to its past, trying against all odds to assure its particular brand of denizens that all would be ok. We were assured by listening to the same music, getting baptized in Grandma’s lifelong church or hanging on corners where doo-woppers harmonized. As a girl, I would sit on my front steps as the summer days were cooled by the constant release of fire hydrant water — human-made fountains of refreshment that streamed on screaming kids and grateful adults. Cold winters were made warm by pots of food from neighbors, followed by gossipy phone calls between friends. But I was born an outsider; a permanent visitor to my ‘hood. I felt different. My arrival into this world came during a tug of war between my estranged parents. My mother, long distrustful of a …

My Dog Became My Jersey Ambassador

When I first moved to my neighborhood in Jersey City, I knew it was something on the edge of “up-and-coming,” kind of like “slowly approaching” or “looking forward, sometimes.” But I figured with the stop before mine on the PATH train improving so quickly, it was just a matter of time. It turned out it would be a lot of time. I moved in as the housing bubble burst, and what had been transitional turned into a standstill. It wasn’t as bad as in unsafe, but it wasn’t good as in somewhere you wanted to explore, either. The only retail options have questionable inventory at best. I mean, these aren’t even dollar stores.These are like stores filled with crap typically found for sale on sidewalk blankets. An indoor yard sale. The dining options are equally lackluster. Technically, we have everything — McDonalds, Burger King, Blimpie, White Castle, Subway — everything you could want in fast food. If it isn’t represented within my ten-block radius, it must be on a lower, less-recognized rung of the value-meal …

Yes, You Can Be Creative in the Suburbs

Everybody knows the suburbs kill creativity. At eighteen when I was running away from them, I absolutely knew it to be the truth. When I first moved to the suburbs, I was twelve. For months, the whole family headed out after supper once or twice a week to watch a bare lot transform into a concrete basement, then a skeleton of wood, then a house with rooms and windows. It was built exactly like the model, only with all of my mother’s specifications. She chose dark green sculpted carpet and gold-threaded linoleum and green appliances, all the rage in the seventies. All through the spring, we peered through the windows, marveled at the shutters and the enormous, dead-empty backyard. The anticipation was nearly unbearable. We moved in June, right after school let out. In our old house, my sister and I shared a tiny room at the back of the house, barely large enough for our full-size bed and the dresser we shared. In the new house, I had a room of my own. My …

Nightmare On Dream Street: When Your House Falls Down

The home that brought Annette’s neighborhood to a dead stop — collapsed. (Photo courtesy of Annette Earling) After 23 years of living on a street that I loved — and after swearing that I would never be frightened or intimidated into leaving — I fled my neighborhood in fear for my life and the life of my family. A month later, the house that was the focus of my fear collapsed in the middle of the night, trapping everyone on our end of the block in their homes as electric wires sparked over piles of splintered plywood. Nice job, city of Philadelphia. My story — essentially one of governmental ennui — begins about two and half years ago when a lovely young couple bought a property on our quiet, dead-end street in the center of the fifth largest city in the U.S. Honestly, you couldn’t find a better street in any town. We’re a half-block from Broad Street and some of the greatest cultural institutions in the world. We have five of Zagat’s top ten …

Margit’s Note: Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?

Take a stroll around your block (or your subdivision, or your farm). Or drive. What do you see? Whether you’ve chosen to live here — or your environment chose you — your neighborhood is a key piece of who you are. And you are an integral part of shaping its ecosystem. Like when my neighbor spilled white paint on our sidewalk the other day. Yeegads. Now think about the neighborhood you grew up in. I’d reckon that few of us live there anymore — and even if you do, time has left its mark. They changed a street name, they put in a Starbucks, but, ok, the kid who used to eat glue still lives next door, now with his four kids. A neighborhood is not just an assemblage of houses, streets and cul de sacs, it’s people and relationships. There are legendary lives that existed before you lived there, and there will be lives after. Your neighborhood is an organic, dynamic thing and, paradoxically, a memory. It is a place fixed in time and …