Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Wonderful World

I was caught in the middle of an international incident last week, but at least it was close to home.

In fact, it was my home, my backyard, to be exact, right outside my bedroom window.

I woke up hearing voices, which isn’t terribly surprising for me, but these particular voices were outside my head this time. And they were speaking Chinese.

That’s not shock either, since my neighbors on either side of me are Chinese—along with half the block—and when I looked out the window, it seemed like half the block was out there, with one man cementing a weak spot in the fence and three women hanging around him apparently telling him what to do.

Some of my friends are surprised when I tell them about this, but I have absolutely no problem with these folks walking around my backyard.

I’m not some shotgun-toting survivalist who’s going to charge down the alley screaming “git off’n mah propahrtee, yuh dang heathens!

These are lovely people: kind, friendly, and above all—praise Jesus!—they’re quiet. When I hear all the horrible neighbor horror stories from friends and family, I thank God I have these folks around me.

Of course if I were to go into someone else’s backyard to do some construction work, I might be tempted to touch base with the property owner before going ahead and doing the job, but hey, that’s just me.

These people know I live alone, and the one elderly lady next door—someday I will actually find out her name—is very helpful to me in so many ways.

And to be honest, since I live alone and my family’s house is so bloody empty, I really don’t mind hearing human voices around the place, even if they aren’t speaking English.

I went outside to say my hellos and got pulled into some kind of conversation. It seemed they were all talking to me at once, gesturing in several directions before everybody had a big laugh, except me.

It’s was quite a scene, really, but I was having fun.

One woman was talking to me and pointing to my neighbor-buddy, apparently telling me what a nice lady she is, but I already know that.

She was great when my father was ill and one time when he came home from a hospital stay, she walked up to me and tried to find out how he was doing.

Apparently, she wasn't happy with my answer, so she just up and walked into our house. Again, I don't mind, but I think if she had gotten a glimpse of my father in his underwear she would have come out of the house a hell of a lot faster than she went it.

Thankfully, my father had a his pants on and he and the lady had a nice "chat" about his health.

This woman is always telling me—gesturing, actually—about what trash goes into what can and when I should take it out. I’m glad one of us knows what to do.

Trash seems to be a bit of an obsession with her and she could probably get a job with the Sanitation Department as some kind of Asian community liaison.

She's also a fine gardener. Not too long ago, she went into my garden and trimmed out a lengthy patch of weeds that bordered her fence.


I’ve been having such trouble getting those weeds out of there. I pull some out, they grow back twice as fast--like weeds!--and the place looks like the Addams Family house—except for that patch where my neighbor did her magic.

The weeds still haven’t grown back there and I suspect they’re afraid of her.

The lady’s granddaughter came out at one point to help with the translation.I commented on her grandmother's weeding abilities and asked her to tell me her secret so I could finish the rest of the garden. She said something to her granddaughter, who turned to me.

“She wants to do it for you,” the young woman said.

“No, no,” I weakly protested. “I can’t have her doing that.”

God, what a liar I am. Of course, I can have her do that. I hate weeding and I know that this lady would do a fantastic job. But I do have something vaguely resembling a conscience and I was able to talk her out of it—much to my regret.

I went back to bed for a little while and thought how much this neighborhood has changed, from a Norwegian stronghold to its current mix of Chinese people down from 8th Avenue in Sunset Park, to the Arabs who occupy so much of Fifth Avenue.

When I was growing up, Bay Ridge was so aggressively white; everybody spoke English and their families had been in this country for generations.

I was in a local store during my regular Saturday shopping routine and one of the employees complained about all the Russians in Bensonhurst.

“We’re the minority now,” he said, without bothering to explain who “we” was.

There are some days when I feel the way man does, when it feels like there are too many of them and so few of me, when the melting pot makes my blood boil and the gorgeous mosaic looks more like a graffiti-scarred subway.

Take that rude little brat that cut in the line at the discount store today.

Yes, he happened to be Arabic, but I did my damnedest not to notice that, even though a part of my brain was growling about "these people..."

He could have been any race or nationality. And wasn't I really annoyed because I didn't speak up and put him in his place?

On the bright side, the store opened up another line and I quickly cut ahead of the little weasel. I'm pretty quick for an old bastard.

But I try to remember my grandmother, who came over here from Italy and the scorn she must have faced from the “we” who considered her one of “them.”

Recent projections indicate that the days of Caucasians as the majority are fading fast, so the state of "we" and "them" is going to change.

I guess I can live with that and given the abuse that the earth is going through, I don't think it's going to matter much; it's kind of like have a first class seat on a doomed airplane. It's just going to "us" and we're going to be screwed.

There were all sorts of “we” at Shore Road the other week as I took my place under a shady tree near 79th Street. The day started with as Asian group of young people enjoying some kind of event, complete with a portable sound system.

They left and a short time later, a crowd of Hispanic people set up a barbecue in the same place. As they were busy cooking, an Arabic family sat down near me and set up a late day picnic.

I had to laugh to see all these different people--Arabs, Hispanics and Asians—in Bay Ridge, of all places. Now if we could just get them to party all together, what a wonderful world it would be.

I was walking on Fifth Avenue the other day when I went by an Arabic woman with three little kids in tow.

As I headed for the corner I saw by a Hispanic woman and her four kids coming toward me from the opposite direction.

You wouldn’t have seen either one of these families on Fifth Avenue when I was a kid and I felt compelled to turn around and look as the two groups approached each other.

I watched as they both moved to aside to make room and as they did, a white woman in her late fifties managed to squeeze in the spot between them, so that for a split second the three distinctive groups were occupying the same latitude.

And…nothing happened. The world didn’t explode, the universe didn’t cave in on itself.

Everybody survived and went their separate ways, including me.

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