Monday, March 26, 2007

Neighborhood Drama/Neighborhood Bonding Part 3

Elvis at Three, Howard Finster, 1982

Neighbors I've either not met or haven't spoken to more than a few times in the two years I've lived here came over just to say "hey" and watch the free entertainment unfold. In retrospect, that my Southern upbringing would carry over past the belle days of my bridal teas to the day all of my neighbors would gather on my front porch to see one of our junk-sick neighbors get arrested is bizarre on the level of Flannery O'Connor's leg-stealing Bible salesman. I realize with mingled dismay and delight that my life just might be worthy of a Tennessee Williams play. I've arrived.

Like old soldiers at the VFW, we share our stories. We have seen the men come and go. We have heard the late-night fighting. We've seen other police cars on other nights take other men away in handcuffs. We wonder if the police see what we see. We doubt our conclusions, but the evidence seems irrefutable. We can't be sure. We can be sure, and we are. My neighbors and I are a wall of eyes in the Darkness. We're watching. We're seeing. And our collectivity makes us formidable. Our unabashed curiosity is the product of privilege. We're not afraid because we're the ones with the real weapons: money, education and political pull. It doesn't take long for one of the cops to be ensnared in our unified gravity. He tells us that the undercover cop had been watching a house on another street for weeks. He'd just had the opportunity to make a significant bust when his collar took off down the street, our street, running. He tries not to address us in police easyspeak, but I think he finds it easier to address us in his own vernacular. Two black males. One white female. One used rig left behind the bushes. Two years ago, I would have thought that a rig was something you put in the middle of the Gulf to drill oil. We moved here from Mountain Brook. I couldn't be paid enough to move back.

The police made one arrest. One black male. He had injured his arm. Thus the ambulance. Whether his injuries were from poking himself repeatedly in the arm with a dirty needle or from having a 240-pound cop ride his body down the sidewalk like a surfboard, we'll never know. I guess it's just comforting to know that they'll treat your injuries before they'll throw the book at you. They weren't even looking for our neighbor. They weren't watching, as we had hoped, for the return of her yellow cab. Like the Older Brother, we watched for her return with mounting enthusiasm. Oh, God, please don't let them leave before she comes back. I prayed. I justify this by telling myself she'd get some treatment in prison, but in Alabama, she's more likely to get scabies. This I know. We knew she'd be coming back up the street soon. We'd be there to witness the ultimate Walk of Shame.

As we speculated and watched the cops tie up the loose ends of their search, we made a few jokes about how this would never end up on the news. Within moments, we spotted the satellite truck of one of the local stations lumbering down the street. Seemingly contented to spectate, they never braved the world outside their truck. Sissies. The next morning, they covered a minor pot bust in Vestavia Hills further proving my theory that the Weird South has gone out of fashion. The rest of Birmingham lives in Outer Suburbia. They prefer stainless steel and whitewash to the broken asphalt redrock of the city. They go to bed at night and thank God that they don't have to live on our side of Red Mountain. We go to bed at night and thank God that we've found a bubble of freedom in a city of century-old pretension. Our neighborhood collects those people with means enough to live elsewhere if only they could brave the neighborhood bylaws. Give me trash on the street and broken sidewalks, but please don't tell me what kind of bushes I've got to plant in my own front yard. We're the last remnant of the Weird South in this Southern City. Welcome home, Howard Finster.

As we laughed, a yellow cab rolled truculently (if you're of the sort who believes inanimate objects can, indeed, be truculent) up the street. The driver looked nervous. A dark head emerged from the rear window for a split-second before it was laid flat against the back seat. It looked like no one was in the cab at all as it rolled past her house toward 5-points. Like a shot, my neighbor ran to the window of the nearest police car. There's someone in that cab. There's someone lying flat in the back seat of that cab. Before she finished, the police car reversed cutting off all escape. She loosened her muscles to let them better absorb the impact of being pulled by her arms and forced on her feet. She tottered, but regained her balance before they started patting her legs for weapons and drugs. They got the cab driver, too, but he didn't look as used to it. It's a wonder to me what skills human beings unconsciously learn from the life they lead. Whatever she had, was already smoked or thrown out of the window. She wasn't going to jail that night. They let the cab driver go and he sped down the street. I figure he was saved by feigned ignorance once, but I doubt he'll be tempting the Fates a second time. Since then, I've seen her travel by taxi several times but never again with the same cab company.

Our narrator, Officer Sims, returned to fill us in. He told us that she's a known meth user and prostitute. They're working her case. They're closing in. Every day, I see less of her. She stays in her apartment until about 5:30 then goes off in a cab for less than 20 minutes. She often has clients just before then. She often has clients late at night. I write down a description of their faces and their cars. Sometimes, I get their plate numbers. I call the South Precinct. I'm known there by now and I worry that they think I'm crazy. I think they must know that I'm a Gentrifier who moved here from Mountain Brook. I pour tea. I polish silver. But I don't know proper etiquette for having my neighbor arrested for tricking. In my mind, I'm SuSu Crimefighter. I'm Huggie Bear. I'm a force to be reckoned with. Maybe, I'm a fool. (But I surely do have mad skillz, y'all.) She must feel the heat.

The men look right at my eyes and I look right back and spit on the ground. They look away because I Am More Fierce Than They Would Expect. I'm a little suburban white woman, but I have anger on my side. And I'm angry. I wonder if they have wives or girlfriends at home. I wonder if they have mothers in big hats at church on Sunday. I wonder if they have children. I want to slap and pinch and kick them in tender spots like the backs of their arms or the underside of their legs. I want to intimidate them like they try to intimidate me. I hate them irrationally. I think there must be something instinctive initiating me into the Universal Sorority of Women that makes me hate who they are and what they are doing. I think the initiation is powerlessness. I've noticed that really big men, really strong men, really smart men aren't usually sexist. It's the small men, the weak men, the men who are stupid who hurt women. In that way, they're like spiders. It's the little ones that bite. Sometimes, women just get bitten, and unless God has something mighty awful planned, we're just going to have to move on. In the faces of those men, I see all the times I was powerless. I see all the times no one stood up for me. I see the Liar who let me take the fall for something he did because he knew I had no recourse. Because he knew I had no recourse. So bound is she by addiction and madness and parole violation that she has no recourse. She's a rabbit in a cage. My heart cries out for Mercy.

I have a tiny inclination brewing in my heart. It's a tiny desire to lose my mind just a little bit and float into the Great By and By. It's a tiny desire to stand on my porch and say REPENT, THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND! If I hadn't already, living here makes me realize that only grace stands between me and destruction. Only mercy guards the door to Perdition. Only Jesus can solve problems like these. And in my heart, I know He's coming. And he's going to make it Right.


mike said...

If you pinch me on the back of my arms or under my knees, I'll totally sic Lexi on you.


susan said...

Lexi's kryptonite is ice cream.
I have found the chink in her armor.


Anonymous said...

I tried to tell Tammy about this last night just after singing "I'm Just A Girl Who Can't Say No" and just before "I'll Still Praise Him", but I messed it all up. I'll get her email address from Matt and send her your blog. Let's publish and call it; "Under Vulcan's Buns".

susan said...

I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of that title. (Especially since they rotated Vulcan and pointed his bootie toward Valley Avenue.)