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I suppose our childhood neighborhood is something that we can paint a mental picture of for our entire lives. Once in awhile, my dad still goes on and on about passin’ the pigskin with Dario and Lothario and Pizzaiolo and the other Italian kids who lived near him, despite his name being Kenny and his own family being Polish. I’m sure I won’t forget my neighborhood, for better or for worse.

I live in Greenfield Hill, synonymous with the pomp and bourgeoisie that most stereotype all of Fairfield as representing. According to the Prudential listings about my house, we technically live in “Hemlock Hill”. For a while, I tried masking the upper-class shame with this other name but nobody knew what Hemlock Hill was. And they still don’t! Whenever somebody gets off the bus to go over to someone’s house for the first time, it’s common to hear things like “Where are we? I didn’t know this was here!” and “It’s so far away from everything.” Friends who pick me up for the movies groan about how out of the way it is, while their dads leave shooting down the narrow roads at 60 miles an hour.

The neighborhood itself is…odd. The tree-to-grass ratio is way out of whack, and often leaves us with way too many leaves in the fall. Except for the roads, there probably isn’t any flat land, and even then most roads are pretty steep. I don’t have a backyard, I have a steep ridge and a pond. There’s no CVS or gas station around the corner, in fact the only the only thing that connects us to civilization is the power. The rich lady who used to own Bigelow Tea has a tennis court surrounded by a grove of trees. During every major storm, one of them falls and knocks down the lines, condemning us all to primitivism for days, thanks to the lethargy of the power companies when it comes to driving all the way out here. It’s also remarkable how little the town seems to care that we don’t have power. I’ve left for school in a cold, dark, daze and returned several hours later from academic hell and entered electrical deprivation hell. This continues for several days, until the power turns back on at random and we all rejoice in the manmade incandescence, singing Glory Hallelujah.

I’ve never seen a cop car here before, not even when the gang of 7-year-old ruffians I mentioned earlier this year called 911 to see what would happen. We supposedly used to have Neighborhood Watch, those yellow-beret wearing schlubs who sit at their front windows with military-grade binoculars waiting for something to hit the fan. It was disbanded when they produced no…what would you call them, citizens’ arrests? More recently there has been some “crime activity” in the area, some serial eggers and those really organized professional burglars like the Russians in Home Alone 3. People send out enormous chain e-mails warning their neighbors of these events, and are often so widely spread you’d think people attached something that said “Forward to 10 people or YOUR house will get egged!!” Rarely does anybody do anything on mischief night. The weirdest thing was a few years ago, when the street sign at a prominent intersection was torn out of the ground and hurled into the road. It got fixed later that day. When I was little, someone filled our mailbox to the brim with ketchup. The mailman didn’t bother to look before cramming the next day’s mail inside until it was too late. Squish.

A man selling chicken out of a refrigerated van used to come once a week. After several weeks my mom bought some to shut him up. The chicken was awful, and he continued to return every week. Eventually he stopped, but we still see they refrigerated van every once in awhile. One time I was watering a sapling and two Jehovah’s Witnesses walked right up to me. It’s not like they rang the doorbell and I could ignore them if I wanted, they just walked right up to me. In thick, indecipherable accents, they said hello and shook my hand. They passed me a copy of The Watchtower that had a picture of a young couple strolling through a park on a rainy day. The feature read “God and Sex.” I tossed it to the ground and told them to leave. They looked bewildered, and I just walked away hoping they wouldn’t follow. Recently a man came by soliciting donations for environmentalism while my mom was cooking dinner for a family whose matriarch and only parent was going through chemotherapy. The man basically refused to leave when we denied him his precious donation, and nearly put his foot in the door. My dad came home from a 3-hour drive, and then mistook our frustration with the man for fear. He got back in his car, chased the guy down, and cursed a blue streak up him until he sped away.

There are neighbors whose houses I see everyday, yet I don’t know their name or what they look like. Instead, I know they ethnicities of their nannies, housekeepers, and construction officers. Imagine that: knowing Consuela, Patrice, and Fulgencio better than Mr. and Mrs. White. The lady across the street is quite a quirk, and very involved in town politics because she doesn’t want to keep paying taxes for schools her kids already graduated from. She was also probably against building that Walgreens even though we don’t live anywhere near it. The man who founded Bagel King used to live here. When we met him, he didn’t give his name and suggested that we call him Bagel King instead. We never found out his name. Close to his former house is a family who spends every night arguing in the dark, although the daughter never seems to get involved. I used to have a little crush on her, but I realized she’s a senior at St. Joe’s. I thought she was 14.

Growing up, I didn’t understand the phrases “block party” “new kid on the block” or “just down the block” because I didn’t know what a block was. The streets around here are fashioned in a more arterial design, and nothing resembles the quadrangular makeup of a block. I also didn’t get the concept of a fence in your yard, since nobody ever got even close to the borders of their property when playing soccer or letting their pet bunny hop in the grass. Why didn’t any ordinary fictional characters live in places like me? Where was the asphalt jungle I longed for so?

When driving through the more densely populated areas of Fairfield I might see a slovenly, middle-aged man watering his lawn with a garden hose while he drinks a PBR, and toddler’s playthings from years ago are slowly overgrown with weeds. While this sort of outdoor feng shui is viewed as tasteless and depraved, I found it more human and welcoming than they cold and dry lifestyles of Hemlock Hill.





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