I don't live in the most savory neighborhood. But I do have a pretty great house. My wife and I obtained a deal through the Teacher Next Door Program--you can't sneeze at a house for half price. That arrangement was supposed to result in heaps of equity and the chance to move to a better land after just three years. Of course, the housing market sank and we're still here almost six years later, but that's another story and the point is that we were glad to have the opportunity to move into this house, in spite of its location.
|If this isn't feng shui, I don't know what is.|
Get away from our little plot of paradise, though, and the rest of the neighborhood is--what's the right word?--unpleasant? Let me use two outsider points of view to try to explain.
Not long after we had moved in, some coworkers and I were having a discussion at lunch about the run-down apartment complex that resides behind our school. Someone said some shady things went down back there, and someone else said it probably wasn't as bad as people think. Then an older gentleman who knows his way around town interjected, "You want to see a bad neighborhood, you should go over to..." and he proceeded to relate the exact cross streets of the block I live on. I said something like, "Hey, that's where I live," and we laughed, then looked sidelong at each other for a moment because we all knew what he said was basically true.
And just last week, I had a play date with a friend I hadn't seen in a long time. He drove in from the south part of town, and around here that means he was slumming it by coming to my house. We talked about my new son for a few hours, then, not five minutes after he left, he called to tell me he was following a dog that looked like a stray in need of sustenance. He had stopped and checked for tags, finding none. He gave it some food and water he had in his car. But not knowing what else to do, he left, called me just to let me know, and asked if I would keep my eyes open for the dog. Now, you animal people probably find this a reasonable course of action. But around here a stray is a stray is a stray. I see cats and dogs--and squirrels and raccoons; we live in a veritable urban wildlife preserve--on the streets and especially in the alley all the time. That's the kind of neighborhood I live in.
Yesterday, my wife wanted a milkshake and I hadn't left the house all weekend, so away I went, excited to get myself a Route 44 sized squishy from Sonic. But as I pulled out of the driveway and the garage door came down in front of me, this what I saw:
|What my garage door currently looks like. Major uncool.|
There's a couple of deals that are big. The first one is practical and small in scope. To me, there's an inherent threat behind any tagging. (And I hope you understand I'm not talking about the street art kind of graffiti. If Banksy were to come along and paint a rat on my garage, I'd put up a velvet rope and charge admission to the alleyway.) But tagging is a person coming along and saying, "I was here, and I'll be back." Whether it's gang related or just an idiot child with nothing else to do at night, when someone puts their mark on your possession, it's as if they're calling you out, challenging you to a duel. You think you're so big? You don't own this big metal doorway. Not while I'm around. There's nothing you can do about it, really. The city can paint over it thirty times, and the tagger can come back the next night and do it again.
The second deal is social and large in scope. When you live in a community, you enter into a social contract. I try to talk to my students about this at the beginning of each school year. Each class is a community. We might or might not even like each other, but we have to live here for nine months, so let's agree on a few things. If you're being a nuisance, it's going to affect the people in the room. As a community, you trust each other to do what's right for each other as much as what's right for yourself. I'm not going to throw garbage into my neighbor's yard because that makes my yard look junkie by association. My neighbor won't have outdoor parties late at night with the bass thumping and the motors running because he's conscientious that other people would be disturbed by it.
But with the graffiti, tagging, or whatever you call it, someone's not following the Golden Rule. My trust has been breached. And I feel violated.