When I invite people over, I tell them not to look too scared when they get out of their cars. Across the street, a three-legged Rotweiler keeps watch from the yard of dirt. Out back, Crow trades meth for the money handed over by high school boys, emaciated women, and faceless people who remain in the cracked shells of their rusted white trucks. When I back up out of the driveway, I back up into Crow's front yard: a ramp that ends at a concrete slab in front of a door decorated with tossed off child toys and upended grocery carts. Crow wears a black t-shirt over his widening gut, which stretches out the already stretched out wings of a huge yellow-beaked bird. Above the bird are the letters (in the same font as the "Led Zeppelin" on the my brother's favorite tie-dyed high school shirt): CROW.
Go four blocks in this neighborhood and you'll find four times the income level you started at. A man with a Rodesian Ridgeback called to me from behind the potted plants on his front porch: "Is that a rescue dog? Good for you!" The white on his plaid shorts matched his teeth. It is sad that people are so supportive of rescuing stray dogs, but they won't look closely at the situation across the street. The proximity of people living opposite lives are part of this place's charm and part of its tragedy.
Crow and I say hi in the mornings, in the afternoons, and late at night, when I get home alone and hope that Crow is out smoking a cigarette and thinking whatever he thinks. Crow's toothless mouth looks like his yard, gray-brown and lacking landscape. He said he'll make sure I'm safe while Luke is gone. So far so good. Except for the retarded man who wanders the neighborhood early in the morning (when I'm out with Quincy), spearing trash with a sharp stick. When he sees me, he sticks his tongue out at me, and then I have to alter course. Yesterday, we went on two long walks, past the bilingual school's community garden on 2nd, past the Victorian houses with their catalpa trees and long swinging bead pods on Galapago, past the creamy mansion of West High School, and all the way down to the smelly Albertson's on Alameda.
When I came home in the late afternoon, a woman with egret legs was leaning back and screaming something in Spanish into a red cell phone in Crow's driveway. Crow sat on his concrete wall, puffing on a cigarette, looking alternately between the dirt and the woman. His young son twirled a plastic bag on a stick.
Last night, I went out with my Maldovan friend Natalya who calls everything buckets: the containers where her bolts of fabric sit waiting to be made into dresses and shirts and robes, the laundry basket, the holder of the fried calamari we ordered on the corner of Broadway as the first fall breeze came in off the Divide. We talked about how part of the American myth is that we've all had hard childhoods upon which we can place the blame for our decisions and psychologies. Natalya became an orphan before she turned 21, made her way to the United States, and had a child--a joyful, earnest, astonishing little girl--with the wrong man. Natalya made me think about the people whose gestures and brake lights I watch from behind my barred windows. While we finished our wine and talked about how long we're able to manage hope without knowing where it's going, she described her life right now as a bubble:
If you reach out and touch it, it might break.