I live in a town home in the suburbs of Chicago. It's somewhat difficult and even a little embarrassing to admit this because, by this stage of my life, I always thought I'd be living in a secret volcano lair or a fabulous underground bunker with nuclear capability.
Clearly I have failed at life.
Still, there are some advantages to living in a townhome. During the spring and summer months, I never have to mow or do any landscaping. During the winter months, people shovel my driveway and sidewalk for me. Once a year, the exterior wood on my house is repainted and the driveway is coated with sealant. And if the roof or aluminum siding needs to be replaced, it just happens, like magic.
There are also downsides. One might even call them "dark sides." The biggest downside is that my neighborhood is populated with a bunch of crotchety, joyless, late-middle-aged white people who haven't had fun in so long they've actually forgotten it exists. Either that or they think it's the work of Satan. This leads to fun little situations such as:
1. A few years ago, I was building a screen-accurate Ghostbusters proton pack in my garage. Usually, I did my work with the garage door closed, but one day I had the garage door open because I was painting and had recently given up inhaling toxic chemicals in enclosed spaces. I also had music playing on my car stereo for entertainment. As I was bent over my work, a neighbor from across the shared driveway strolled over with a big old smile on her face. By this point, I had lived in my town home for a couple years but hadn't met this neighbor, so I assumed she was taking the opportunity to introduce herself.
Au contraire, mon frère!
I said, "Hi there, I'm..."
But she cut me off, saying, "Excuse me, but I really need you to turn your music down."
"...Matt McH...huh, oh, uhm, what?" I stammered.
"Your music," she repeated, "I need you to turn it down. I'm trying to sleep."
"What? It's only," I checked my watch, "6:25 p.m."
Without missing a beat, she said, "Well, I get up early. And I can only sleep with my window open, and my window faces your house, and I really need you to turn your music down."
"Uhm, okay," I said. "I guess I'll do that."
"And I don't mean just right now," she continued. "Your music is always too loud."
"When you come home from work, you're playing your music too loud. In fact, any time you come into the driveway, your music is too loud."
"Oh," she said, sounding genuinely saddened, "you're mad at me."
"Well," I said, "I've been living here for years and the only time you've ever bothered to come over here is when you're upset about how loud my music is. You didn't even say 'hello' or introduce yourself."
"Oh, right, I'm [whatever he name is]."
"Kind if late for that now," I replied.
"You don't understand," she said, "I'm a really nice person. I can loan you some tools if you need them, and I could even share some recipes with you."
"Do you need any tools?"
"I'll turn my music down," I said. "Nice to meet you."
2. There's an older man in my neighborhood who hates it when people speed. I mean, he really, really hates it. So much so that he posted a "Slow Down" sign in his side yard near the street and he regularly patrols the sidewalk while walking his miniature poodle. He uses his eyesight to determine whether people are speeding -- apparently his mind was replaced by a highly calibrated radar gun -- and then actually steps out into the street in front of moving traffic, raises the hand not holding his poodle's leash in a stopping gesture, and yells, "SLOOOOW DOOOWN!!"
And it gets better. He has actually laid speed traps in the road. Sticks, or debris, and one time he actually laid a board of old wood, all to slow people down. The free community newspaper has a police blotter, and an unnamed resident of my neighborhood is often listed as having called police about speeding motorists on his street. And one time there was a town meeting, and an unnamed resident of my neighborhood requested an increased police presence in the area to catch speeding motorists. I'm sure it was him. I'm also sure that every time there's a damn cop sitting in my neighborhood -- which is often -- he's the reason they're there.
So this is the garbage I have to deal with in suburbia. But wait. There's more. A few months back, I made the serious mistake of attending a town home association meeting. Supposedly, they were going to discuss the replacement of the deck / balcony structures attached to each home, which is something residents have to pay for themselves, so I wanted to find out how much I was going to have to pay and how soon. Not only did they not talk about the deck replacement -- it had been shelved until another meeting -- the entire meeting was spent discussing the "misuse" of a large grassy area in the neighborhood.
Here's the deal. There's a large grassy field in my neighborhood. For years, this area has been used by local kids as a soccer field. However, from the association's standpoint, there were two problems with this: 1) "local" did not mean "from the neighborhood" and 2) these children were Hispanic.
There was a lot of bullshit talk about how the kids were causing problems by leaving trash and "recklessly" kicking their soccer ball around. One woman said, "I was pushing my baby stroller, and their soccer ball almost hit me
! They didn't even apologize!"
At this point, some guy stood up and said, "How would we know if they did
apologize? A lot of those kids don't even speak English."
Note that he said "A lot of those kids don't even speak English" in the same way someone would say "That man supports the dark art of necromancy by eating babies! Live babies!"
This statement was followed up by someone grumbling, "If they're going to come to our country, they should be speaking our language." This idiot comment was met with murmurs of agreement.
All I could do was sit there in amazement at the ignorance of these people. We are in the 21st century, right? I didn't accidentally hop into a time machine and go back to the 1960s did I?
Eventually, the discussion moved into how to stop these Hispanic desperados from using our valuable resource, and I got up and walked out. I wanted no part of that. Within a week or so, signs went up all along the road next to this grassy field stating that it was for the use of town home association residents only. And these signs were combined with police enforcement. By month's end, that nice, lush, grassy field was being used by...
You know what? I liked seeing those kids playing soccer. There was a sense of community and real joy among them. Unfortunately, there were no white kids, and that apparently became a problem for the mostly white residents of my neighborhood. Now we have an empty field and a bunch of kids had to find another place to play. I wonder if they found one. I also wonder how long before somebody kicks them out of their new play space.
When I moved to this area, another apparent benefit was an outdoor basketball court nestled in a little park that has a playground and drinking fountain. I could walk three minutes and be playing basketball. Now, admittedly, I didn't play there very often. Obviously, it was only useful from late spring to early autumn, and I do prefer to play indoors at my gym or pickup league. But still, I went there occasionally.
The court was almost always full of kids playing basketball. Those kids were usually all black. And although that never mattered to me, it must have mattered to somebody. While driving by the court several times on my way here or there, I was surprised to see nobody playing pickup. One afternoon, I was going for a run and I stopped by to use the drinking fountain when I noticed...
...the basketball goals were gone. The court was still there, but the poles and baskets had been removed. At first I wondered if they were being replaced, until I noticed that the holes where the posts had been were filled in with concrete.
I did some calling around and found out that there had been so many complaints about the kids playing in that area -- they were loud and left too much litter around the court -- that the goals were removed. This was done, of course, to remove the kids.
Would the basketball goals had been removed if those noisy, littering kids had been white? There's no way to know, but I highly doubt it. This isn't the first time I've encountered something like this. When I first moved to the Chicago area, I got an apartment in Oak Park on the advice of Evil Ted. We discovered, to our dismay, that there were no outdoor courts in Oak Park, and that this was had been a conscious choice by the village government to keep out urban youths. And, as well all know, "urban youths" really meant "black youths."
I hate that fear and prejudice is slowly creating a world in which children aren't allowed or encouraged to play.