Decades ago I moved out of my parent’s middle class neighborhood on the Westside and to a more affluent town in the South Bay. It was not because I could really afford to live in a beach-side community in the aerospace corridor with engineers and rocket scientists as neighbors. Actually, It was because I knew a local landlord who offered me a sweet deal on a tiny apartment she was trying to swiftly turn over. I do not think she realized that by making it so affordable for me, I was not inclined to move out too soon.
Although I have lived here for nigh on a quarter of a century, to this day I still feel like I am just a visitor. I just don’t fit in. I do not work for aerospace or the military. I am not into surfing or the Women’s Club. I do not not have a family lineage here that stretches back three generations. I did not attend the local high school. Oh, and then there’s the apartment: Property ownership here defines your place in the community. For example, once I had an exchange with a man who lives around the corner from me about his not cleaning up after his dog that he regularly allowed to dump next to my front door. His response to me was, “You’re just a renter so I don’t have to clean up after my dog.” Yes, he really said that. For some folks, renters are second class citizens on the periphery. We are transients and, therefore, to be treated like outsiders.
Don’t get me wrong: there are things about this town I like. I can go walking at night with little fear of being assaulted. I don’t step over homeless people. I am fond of manicured lawns and Little Leaguers. For the most part –the jerk with the dog not withstanding– the people are pleasant. And the town does offer up an amazing fireworks show on Independence Day. I am grateful to live in this community even though it has never felt like home.
In the last few months I have needed to spend more time caring for an elderly parent back in the neighborhood where I grew up. I am usually at my family’s house a couple of nights during the week and most of each weekend. I am gradually becoming reacquainted with the neighborhood. I was over there this weekend and since it was a stunningly gorgeous Saturday, I decided to get out for a bit and walk the half mile to the business hub of the neighborhood.
A lot has changed since I last lived here. Now there are trendy shops, like the one that sells handmade soaps, a tattoo parlor, several highbrow bistros and gritty-looking coffee houses. (No sign yet of the green and white mermaid). Some places are gone like the paperback bookstore where I spent many a hot summer morning in my youth and most of my allowance money on Anne McCaffrey and Barbara Cartland novels.
The bowling alley is still here, as is the post office and library. The vintage bookstore is still here too, and I swear the same guy is running it thirty years later. When I entered it today, the musty smell of old books and the hypnotic drone of the NPR announcer on the speakers were comfort food for my soul.
Five generations of my family have lived in this community, but unlike the good folks of my current residence, I revel in the newcomer — especially newcomers who look or sound a little different than me. My hometown has always thrived on diversity. I grew up hearing Spanish and Japanese spoken everyday. I appreciated the observances of my Buddhist and Jewish friends. I am glad to see that this has not changed. Today I see more signs in Korean and hear more European accents, and the cafés are as likely to serve hummus and pita as burgers and fries.
This is the place a writer like me belongs.
As I returned to my childhood home after my walk, I took notice of the weeds growing in the cracks in the sidewalk. Yes, the house, like a lot of others around it, needs a little work and the garden has gone a little feral, but the cedar tree and magnolias planted by my parents decades ago remind me of my own rootedness to this small community. As the afternoon breeze softened the heat of the sun on my face, one thought fell upon me:
This is home.
ljgloyd (c) 2014