The People on the Corner (who moved into the house that was vacant for a while and made it look all pretty with new landscaping) and I were having a discussion the other day about what “neighborhood” means. How there used to be a “neighborhood” pub and “neighborhood” church and “neighborhood” stores that helped provide a focal point and sense of identity for people that just doesn’t seem to exist anymore.
I am not a sociologist who has studied such things, and I also know that nostalgia can be dangerous because you tend to gloss over the bad points and overemphasize the good ones, plus you can just flat out remember things wrong. However, I do remember things changing somewhere, somehow, in the neighborhood where I grew up.
At first, everybody knew everybody and we had neighborhood parties where hilarious things happened like the adults playing “Pass the Cucumber” at a Halloween party and Mr. Wollney trying his best to pass the cucumber to my mother who was wearing silk Chinese pajamas that made it very difficult. Luckily, the sexual connotations of this went right over my head and I was not damaged by this childhood memory.
We had a crazy family called The Boops (actual name), comprised largely of hoodlums and whose father always fouled out of the neighborhood Park District basketball team games on technicals because he kept swearing. He also hung out at the Squirrel Cage. A lot.
We had people of all different ethnicities, political leanings, religions, and backgrounds. We had hippies who replaced 3/4 of their front yard with a rock garden with one prickle bush in the middle. Both the republican and democratic precinct committeepersons lived on our street. But we all lived there, you didn’t deny someone use of your hedge trimmers just because they voted differently than you, and you didn’t ignore someone in the street because he went to a different church.
Somewhere along the way, people moved in and out without sharing their names much less their stories. It became permissible to only associate with people like yourself. It was just more comfortable, easier, than having to learn to get along with or understand someone who might seem foreign to you.
It’s also more comfortable to sit in a Laz-E-Boy recliner and eat Cheet-O’s all day than it is to chop vegetables and go for a walk; look what that’s done for our bodies. And now we can also see what surrounding ourselves with bobble-heads and ideological twins does for our souls: we have a bunch of people who feel comfortable demonizing others, shutting down the government and demanding their own way, because THEIR WAY is the ONLY RIGHT WAY. And anyone who disagrees is not a neighbor, but EVIL.
In the past, human beings didn’t have a choice in the matter: it was much more difficult to pick up and move, so you had to learn to get along with your neighbor somehow. Mobility changed that. But now, we can learn to get along with people who are different than us, not because we HAVE to, but because we WANT to.
Which is why block parties are vital to our nation’s continued existence.