Tuesday, November 14, 2006


This morning I drove Sugar Daddy to work so that I could have the car and he could have another day to recover from his nasty coughing illness before biking in the cold. As we pulled out of the driveway, an older man who I've seen at the Farmer's Market stopped us in the middle of the street and gestured at me to roll the window down. He pointed to a neighbour's small house (the one next to guy with the mullet and stache), to the (to my eyes) smallish pile of junk topped with a muffler (ah so did they finally fix their fat van that I last saw belching purply blue puffs of exhaust as it roared down the street?).

"Have you called the city to complain about that?" he asked.

"Uh, no."

"Well, don't you find it unsightly?"

"Actually, I've never noticed it before."

"Well I walk down this street every day and I find it horribly unsightly."

"Oh, well [I gesture to our porch], our porch isn't in much better shape, so I guess I just don't notice these things."

He looks. "Well, your porch is functional. Theirs is unsightly. And it's not just the stuff on the front, it's also all the stuff down the side of their house. I've called about them but it would help if others called too."

"Er..." I rolled up the window and drove away. Obviously I was uncomfortable, because to some extent I identify with those people. I almost said to the man, "Well, they're obviously busy and having a hard time keeping up (like we are." But I didn't. As we drove, I realized what I really would have liked to say was, "I've seen kids there, I've seen a man walking there with one of those four-footed canes, if you have time on your hands, why don't you introduce yourself and offer to take a load to the dump or help them clear up?" That to me seems the neighbourly thing to do.

As Sugar Daddy and I discussed this surreal encounter, we realized that we'd never call the city about a neighbour. I much prefer being upfront and talking face to face with people. I would call the police if someone were having a domestic that sounded like it was out of hand, or if there was a raging party. (Here, SD recounted a horrible story he saw on the news when a man went to investigate a raging party at his friend's house when his friend was out of town and got kicked in the head and died. So SD was very much in favour of not dealing with party issues ourselves. He was most amazed that the wife of the man who died went on to work with the kid who killed her husband to help raise awareness about teens and violence. That's a good woman.) But I wouldn't bother calling the city. Plus, the state of our own property really doesn't allow us to get on any high horse about property standards. I know I've mentioned some neighbours here before, and in not a very nice light, but I stand by my live and let live philosophy.

I love our neighbourhood. It's the cheapest neighbourhood this close to downtown, it's right next to a big park by the river and walking/biking trails. It's also a pretty mixed neighbourhood, with retired folks, lots of students and youngish family types, and partly industrial (which I'm actually not that keen on but it makes for cool photos). We live on the edge, on the posher side where people are fixing up the beautiful old houses and where a beautiful old factory building has been converted to trendy condos with exposed beams and bricks, huge windows and a huger price per square foot. A bit east of us it gets more industrial and more depressed.

Our neighbourhood is called The Ward. On election signage, I saw it called Ward 1 and St. Patrick's Ward too. I've also seen it called the Two Rivers Neighbourhood. It very much has working class, immigrant roots, especially Italians, I've heard. Indeed, the Italian Canadian Club is just a few blocks from us and you can tell the Italians' houses because they almost always have a huge vegetable garden in the sunniest part of their yard, and have often added roman folly to the Edwardian architecture.

The first time I heard of The Ward, I was in first year, and I'd met a guy at a bar who had mafia ambitions. He told me that anytime you walk in The Ward you are always protected because no crime happens that isn't sanctioned by the mafia. I thought he was full of crap but since then I've discovered that it appears to be relatively common knowledge that Guelph is a mafia town. (God I hope I don't get offed for writing this!) Mostly though, the mafiosos are retired, which is why it's fairly quiet.

Anyways, back in first and second years, I didn't know exactly where The Ward was. I remember one night I walked by myself to a keg party at 'The Palace,' a student house on Waterloo Ave that always had great parties (not in The Ward). I got nervous because there was absolutely no one around and I wondered if I was unwittingly walking through The Ward, where supposedly the mafia ruled. Anyways, I got there safe and sound, and enjoyed the party.

I have had no mafia experiences, at least none that I know of. Except one night, years ago (a couple of years after the last flashback), I walked out of the Jimmy Jazz at closing time and saw two men straight out of a Quentin Tarantino movie, wearing white shirts, skinny black ties and sunglasses (at night!), just sitting there in the front seat of a big fat boat of a retro car. I quickly looked away, telling myself to just avoid noticing anything that anyone would think I could tell the police.

So back to my neighbourhood. Last week I spent one of Swee'pea's naps rolling him around in his stroller, snapping shots of my neighbourhood. This leftover from Halloween scared the crap out of me:

I find it suspicious that this guy is targeting this particular house. I mean, right around the corner from us was the canoe with a hole in it, and this (though I feel compelled to mention that the day after I took this shot, the leaves were all raked up into a big pile at the curb -- I felt so lucky):

So what I'm saying, is that our neighbourhood may be up and coming, but it better not become uppity. I like the mixture of folks who live here (yes even mullet man) and I like that we may not be the neatest. I like that I find images like these so close to my home. These images keep me from worrying too much about the patio furniture that's still languishing in our backyard (granted, it's in our backyard), or the pile of topsoil that spent the summer in our driveway or the playpen on our porch. I hope there are not many neighbours like that man. And if there are, try lending a hand instead of pointing a finger.


Mad Hatter said...

Yes, that "not-in-my-backyard" attitude can be alarming. We all have a line that we are not prepared to cross with it. I just hope that my line doesn't get crossed too many times over the course of my life. Say for example, the university renters next door who often leave broken beer bottles on my driveway. I didn't really care before I had a kid. Now? It pisses me off deeply.

cinnamon gurl said...

But the thing is, it's not about "my backyard" (meaning the guy who stopped us)... it's about someone else's front yard.

It seems totally reasonable to me, to not want your neighbours to break bottles in your driveway. I don't like the late-night chinese food takeout buffet debris that lands in our garden from time to time.

But if people choose to leave junk and garbage in their own yard (like we do sometimes) I say leave them (us) to it, or help them out.

sunshine scribe said...

When I was a kid there was a house on our street that was a disaster. Totally falling apart. Garbage all over. And one of the busy-body neighbours called the city. We found out it was a guy with polio whose wife had died and he was struggling to take care of 2 kids without much of an income. Everyone has a story.

So a few families befriended him and offered to help. Not imposed or judged and it ended up being pretty wonderful.

I don't blame you for not wanting your hood to become uppity!

Momish said...

I agree with you! You have touched my heart with your nonjudgement and empathetic kindness. And, I don't blame you either for not wanting to live in an uppity neighborhood. I live in a "transitional" neighborhood and love it!

bubandpie said...

Blog Antagonist posted about this the other day - that point where the perfectly sculped neighbourhood starts to outweigh actual neighbourliness.

And I love the fact that Momish praised your "empathetic kindness" after you made the claim on my blog that you weren't a kind person, citing this post as a case in point! You're kinder than you give yourself credit for.

penelopeto said...

there's not much sketch, but there's some weirdness where i live; makes things more colourful.

for instance, our neighbours had chickens. we live in the city, yo. it didn't smell great, but it made for interesting 'ohmygod, they're crazy' chat with the other neighbours.

cinnamon gurl said...

Oh, I think someone in our neighbourhood had chickens too. I seem to remember a couple of summers ago hearing a rooster crowing an awful lot.

And Momish and B&P, I don't know if it's kindness or just slobs sticking together. ;)