Saturday, June 30, 2007

Nothing trumps crab grass


I dream about crab grass. What a pathetic confession! Crab grass slinks into my gardens, sending its scouts ahead of each invasion like spacewalkers suspended on life lines. Its tentacles lurk beneath the grass as it races to strangle all growth. I love growing things and have tried to live in harmony with crab grass, but it chokes out the blooms on my lavender, thyme, and yarrow and I hate it.

Night before last I took a break from pulling crab grass and walked around the neighborhood with a letter to our city council about our disgust with the way the developer at the end of the street is mutilating and overdeveloping a small plot of ground he wheedled out of the financially strapped school system without paying them any cash. There is so much wrong with this development, it's hard to articulate without beginning to splutter like Daffy Duck. Anyway, up and down the street I went looking for signatures on my letter. Apparently the developer doesn't read the papers or even look at the ubiquitous FOR SALE OR LEASE signs in the city and doesn't realize the real estate market is depressed, because he keeps gaily ripping down trees and playgrounds to build structures no one needs on not only this, but several sites in town. Deer are committing suicide on the freeway. See what I mean about the spluttering?

So, I approach a neighbor I've never really talked to before who is standing on his lawn with his smiling wife and adorable 18 month old. He is a young guy, overweight in shorts that might have fit him better last summer or the five before. His hair is leaving him. I explain the purpose of the letter, its 6 points including traffic snarls, flooding, lack of classrooms in overcrowded schools for the three story townhouses the developer previously assured us would be populated by retirees (see above on financially strapped schools). This is a lot like purporting that a used car was driven to and from church by a little old lady when in truth it was a rental car. Maybe this young man does in fact sell cars. At any rate, he knows the game and that we're being played. I want his signature.

"Yeah, I'll sign," he says. "I don't want any shines moving in down there."

I haven't heard the label "shine" since I was a kid, before the riots in Detroit. Before MLK professed his dream on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Before Brown vs the Board of Education, the exact same decision that was overturned by the Supreme Court this week, went head to head with the likes of George Wallace. For two days talking heads have been debating on the media whether race is still an issue in our "united" states. I want to introduce the Justices to this young man.

He said, "shines," and he looked at me hard as he said it. Measuring me? Daring me? His wife and child smiling at his side.

I stood silently as he signed the letter. I don't have to agree with him on everything, right? I don't have to make a scene in front of his wife and kid, do I? I can just smile, whisper insults under my breath, and live in harmony with his guy. I don't have to take on every asshole I meet. We can be in agreement on the over-development and disagree on race relations, can't we?

Can we?

The letter feels dirty to me. It sits on the dining room table unsent. Evidence of a compromise that I can't square in my mind.

This neighborhood is being strangled by unseen tentacles, arrogant and bold. Words of hatred uttered by people wearing their patriotism and religiosity on their car bumpers. Uncompromising, bolstered by ignorance and unapologetic greed. It's always there, aggressively trying to choke out what could be beautiful. More than any one pair of hands can pull out.

It gives me nightmares.

3 comments:

Steve Philp said...

Wow. My eyes just about bugged out of my head reading this one.

I'd be tempted to print another copy of the letter and ask for signatures again from everyone EXCEPT Mr. Tolerance. I'd probably make up some fantastic tale about what happened to the previously-signed letter, just so I wouldn't have to tell the rest of the neighbors about the experience.

Then I'd subscribe the guy to Jet magazine and every Rainbow Coalition mailing I could find.

But then, I'm passive-aggresive like that. :)

sara holbrook said...

I grew up on Doris Day movies. I understand and appreciate passive aggressive behavior as an artform. Like, I was kind of hoping someone else in the neighborhood who is more fluent in Neanderthal than I might see my post, print out a copy and read it to the guy. How's that for passive aggressive?

Actually, I know will have to say something, but struggling with when, how and what. You have to assault crab grass head on, it doesn't understand figurative language. That's a higher order thinking skill.

kathy smith said...

I'm also astounded. I can't believe that your neighbor felt such racist talk was normal discourse. It's a kind of aggression - he makes the listener acquiese to it.

At the same time, I think there is good and bad in everyone, and that everyone has the potential to redeem themselves. Prejudice can be eliminated through experience.

My grandmother is Jewish. She converted when she married my Grandfather. She often encountered racist comments; people didn't realize she was Jewish. So to pre-empt that, she would wear a star of David pendant around her neck, and the first time she met someone, she would somehow bring up her ethnicity. This allowed potential offenders the opportunity to not put their feet in their mouths. And by being so open about her ethnicity (and other kind things she did), she helped perpetuate a better societal norm.

XXOO,

Kathy