Movin’ Out

It’s always amusing to me when someone else tells me how gay people behave. I can never decide if I should congratulate them on their acute powers of observation, or if I should point out that, being gay myself, I have some familiarity with the subject.

I was fussing with the window boxes in front of our house on a recent Saturday, when a neighbor approached me on the sidewalk.

“Hey, I gotta ask you something,” she said.

I rolled my eyes, dropped my moss roses and turned to her attention.

Several times a week, we can hear this woman slamming doors and yelling at her teenage son from five houses down. She calls him a piece of shit. She threatens to throw him out of the house. She curses like a sailor and carries on like she’s on the edge of a mental breakdown.

Last week I woke up at 2 a.m. to hear her chasing him up the block in her flip-flops and hoarsely shouting “Gimme back my fucking phone! Gimme back my fucking phone!” over and over, her words like a wooden battering ram against a steel door. She is not in the best physical shape and was having trouble keeping his (walking) pace.

When she rounded the corner at the end of the block, I could still hear her yelling. “Gimme back my fucking phone!” He’d shout something back. She’d lay on a other strike. I don’t know what they were saying, but it sounded like it might escalate into something physical and dangerous. As she followed him wherever he was going, the sound faded away, and I dropped back to sleep. But 20 minutes later she was back, chasing him down the street back to her house. “You’re just a junky! You’re a worthless piece of shit! I can’t take this no more.” Real heart-warming stuff.

She’s all right to talk to as a neighbor, though thankfully we don’t have to interact a whole lot. She seems normal, rational, happy, in her ugly sunglasses and oversize (and often spilled upon) jersey knit wardrobe. I usually just say hi and move on, because I don’t really have a lot to say to her. I guess she assumes people forgive and forget her outbursts and meltdowns. Maybe she doesn’t know how well her voice carries. Or maybe she doesn’t even think twice about it. I just hate that she brings her family drama out into the echo chamber of our little South Philly street. Her speaking voice is loud enough. The last thing I want is to hear her bellowing her to no-account offspring about bringing in the groceries, or playing poker with his buddies.

“I’m moving out in August,” she said, and my heart leapt. “I wanted to know if you knew anyone who was looking for a place.”

Apparently her aunt died recently and left her a big house about seven blocks away. She wants to move in there and rent out her house on our block, so she’s started looking for renters. I raised my eyebrows and tried to disguise my excitement with a look that suggested thoughtfulness.

“Before I start putting ads in the papers, you know,” she went on, “I’m asking people if they know any young professionals, you know, someone uptown, looking for a place.”

The term “young professionals” was so loaded, I could nearly hear the quotation marks on her tongue.

“And it’ll be a deal, you know,” she said. “I’m thinking maybe six, seven per person. Believe me, that’s pretty good.”

I nodded. I said I wasn’t sure if anyone I knew was looking for a place, but I’d keep it in mind and let her know if anything came up, because, well, you never know, do you?

She moved in a little closer. “You know, I’m not telling everybody,” she said in a hushed tone. Just the other gay guy on the block (who lives right across the street from her and wants her to move out even more than we do) and some other person around the corner she seemed to think I knew. “And you guys,” she said.

Ah-ha. Young professionals.

She moved in even closer so no one would hear — oh, the irony — and said, “You know, I prefer gay. I have a lot of gay friends. You know, they take care of their property.”

Ah, yes. Do we now?

I wasn’t offended. As stereotypes go, I don’t mind being known for “taking care of my property.” I like when people see me watering our flowers and sweeping the sidewalk. But is that a gay thing? Why should she tell me anything at all about those people when she knows I’m one of them? It would be like me telling her something about middle-aged white ladies in South Philly. You know how they are, am I right?

When we first moved in two years ago, she was one of the first neighbors to greet us. And by that I mean she was one of the first to size us up: Were we the good kind of neighbor or the bad kind?

“That’s my house a few doors down,” she said then. “The one with the silver door.” Indeed it is silver. If her house were a car, that door would be a set of gaudy custom rims. It’s a blinged-out cell phone cover. It’s a set of rhinestone-studded nail tips. It’s the tackiest thing on the block, and I was glad she told me it was hers before I risked her overhearing me make fun of it.

“You ever have any trouble, you let me know,” she laughed. They take care of their own in South Philly. I would be lucky to be one of them.

This is the woman who yelled at me about getting snow on her sidewalk when I was shoveling the street with the rest of the neighbors because the city had not yet sent any plows through our part of town. Months later she said to me, “Oh, I know you. You’re the man with the shovel.”

She’s very proud of her house with its big silver door, and her big white SUV with the airbrushed plate spelling her name in blues and pinks and sparkles. She doesn’t want to rent to college kids. “I have enough of that,” she said. “I’m tired of all that. My sons are crazy. I can’t take it no more, all the partyin’ and the drinkin’. I just want to put some work into my aunt’s house and move in there.”

And there we were, suddenly and much to my surprise, talking. We were just neighbors having a friendly chat. My hands were dirty from the flowerbeds, and she was clutching her keys in one hand and the mail in the other. She asked my advice about paying the contractors who were working on her aunt’s house. She only felt comfortable giving them half the money they had asked for up front, and she was working on an excuse for the meantime until they actually started the work. And what did I think? she asked me.

Then she told me about a new business a friend of hers was putting up by the fountain, across from the hardware store. You know the place, she said.

As annoying as she can be, I saw that we have at least this much in common: She just wants a nice house. She wants a safe block with decent neighbors. She wants her family to treat her right. Her son is a terror. And who knows all the reasons behind his behavior. But if she can carve out a comfortable existence, why shouldn’t she?

And if that means we have a shot at getting her off our block, so the better. The thought of influencing the people to replace her was intriguing, but would I inflict this woman as a landlady on any of my friends?


1 Response to “Movin’ Out”

  1. 1 Dori
    June 3, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    I can just picture this woman. I loved the silver door and the way you described the conversation you were sucked into. I want know what happens next!

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