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November 29th, 2006:

LIP

LIP

I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time and trying to figure out how to write it. And then my sister was here last weekend and expressed, out loud, some of the thoughts I’ve been having that I felt I couldn’t possibly share with anyone. And my sister is pretty PC, and very smart and savvy, and damn it, if she can say it out loud, I can too.

It’s about living in a neighborhood of mainly LIP. Lower Income People. Is saying it that way perjorative? I’m sorry if it is, it just seems descriptive to me. But that’s not the controversial part. (By the way, my sister lives in a somewhat similiar neighborhood in Chicago – it’s at least a few years ahead of ours in development but definitely not the North Shore yet.)

What’s probably controversial is my attitude towards living in my neighborhood amongst people who think that for some reason they are entitled to do whatever the hell they please. Like walk across the crosswalk against the light in front of oncoming cars without looking either way. With a baby stroller or a toddler in hand. Or throw trash in our yard, right over our fence, so much so that we can’t keep up with picking it up. Or hang out on my corner, right below my bedroom window, playing a boom box and yelling at each other so loud that we can’t sleep in the summer. Or….or….or. Why do they do that? What is it that makes them feel that they can set their own rules? Or are those the rules of neighborhoods like ours and my sister’s, and we just don’t understand them?

There are huge advantages to living in our neighborhood, and living in any neighborhood that seems to be on its way up. There are many days that we feel like pioneers, people who are helping to grow a city and make it more economically viable, safer, and prettier. We think we got a really great deal for our house, for the space, for the aesthetics of an old house, for our corner lot with our huge parking yard and gigantic garage. But we’re not the same as the people who settled SoHo decades ago, or who are settling outer parts of Brooklyn now – our neighborhood is not industrial. It’s always been residential. And so often I have the feeling that we’re invading, rather than pioneering, and that there is this huge sense of resentment among our neighbors.

Often when I pull into my driveway there is a man sitting across the street outside the (we hope former) crack house. This man pretty much knows my comings and goings and also, therefore, knows what I bring into the house. On weekdays he knows that I only ever carry my backpack and purse. But on weekends, after I drive away, I nearly always come home with bags of stuff. Stuff from the grocery store. Stuff from Bed, Bath & Beyond. Stuff from Target. Stuff from Home Depot. And yes, on rare occasion (house is pretty consuming these days), stuff from Nordstrom or Bloomingdale’s. So this guy knows we have money to spend. Our neighbors mainly carry at max one or two grocery bags, on foot, from the bodega on Broadway. And here we are regularly unloading multiple bags from various stores that are only accessible to us by car. And you know what? Sometimes I feel sheepish carrying those bags into the house. Like it’s too much. Like it’s unfair that I can get this stuff when I know that a former neighbor/crack house tenant had to borrow $10 from Adam once to feed his kids and then sent one of the kids to buy a loaf of bread and american cheese.

(And yes, sometimes I feel like a target carrying those bags – and I look over my shoulder to make sure no one is following me into the house. And I really don’t like feeling that way in front of my own house….but a discussion of our neighborhood’s crime rate would have to be another post.)

But you know what? We earn this stuff. We’ve earned this house. Collectively Adam and I likely make more money than all the neighbors in the three-family house next door. Is it snobby to say that? But it’s the truth. And sometimes I think that we’re doing something good by setting an example – if one kid in our neighborhood can see our house looking nicer and us carrying packages of cool stuff and me going to work every day (indeed, in my shearling coat and with my ipod in my ears), maybe they’ll think about what they can do to get on the same track. Maybe we can befriend the kid who shovels the walk when it snows and help him figure out that he can go to college and earn a degree and get a good job and help his family and his neighborhood when he gets older.

But maybe there’s not aspiration there. Maybe that’s why there’s what I perceive to be this strange attitude of entitlement – maybe it’s actually rebellion or indifference or revolt. I wish I understood it more. I wish I didn’t feel so sheepish.