Monday, June 11, 2012

Prospect and Refuge

Shortly after 6:10, I slink out of bed. In the wintertime, the frigid dark envelopes me. This used to be excruciating, but as I get older, I find that I love the quiet. Looking out my third-story window to the east, through the oak tree’s bare branches, a glow lights up the horizon. Sometimes its orange-red-purple spreads across the entire sky, spilling into my apartment and cascading across the white walls of my living room. Other mornings, when cloud cover is limited, the effect of sunrise is bright but local.

Cold subdues the neighborhood; barely a noise, save for an offending dump truck’s weekly excursion along the alley, disturbs the early morning silence. Later, I will hear the grumbles and curses of a couple of the old bums who used to occupy the park at the end of my alley. Lately, I haven’t noticed them – perhaps they’ve gone for good. Traffic rolls along on Park Street, mostly too quiet to catch my attention. Some nights, sirens pierce the air. Though Park only has two lanes, it is an important east-west thoroughfare for the fire trucks stationed a block to the east on Fourteenth Street. My large windows offer a wonderful prospect, but they expose me to the outside. Since few people think to look up, their impact is mostly auditory.

As the weather warms, the neighborhood comes alive. The park, so recently drab and deserted, occupied by gamblers and drunks, is now host to a clutch of children and their parents. It is one of the few spaces in the neighborhood where blacks, Latinos, and whites easily rub shoulders, perhaps because the demand for green space is so high in this neighborhood.

On weekend afternoons, the air pulses with salsa and merengue as the Salvadorans in the opposite apartment building prepare to grill on their balcony. By eleven AM on Saturday, I can smell the lighter fluid on charcoal, and grading is out of the question because the music is so loud.

Once I asked one of my neighbors, who was washing his car in the alley on a Saturday afternoon, to turn down his music. He was drunk and resented my admonishments, and he mistook me for one of the self-styled anarchists who live down the block, squatting in an abandoned carriage house. Their band practices fairly often, and sometimes they go so late that the neighbors call the police. Guests at their parties noisily gossip while they smoke cigarettes in the alley, just below my window, but their comings and goings keep the place safe. 

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