Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Heat is On

It's hot. Over ninety every day for the last two weeks or more. No rain until last night. Everybody has windows open, fans going. I'm the only one I hear with a central a/c unit whining all the time. Most folks are lucky if they can afford a room unit--there's a few of them that have sprouted in the windows, including next door at Mr. Married's and across the street.

Last night three little boys from the south end of the block asked if they could use my spigot during the day to fill up water balloons. It broke my heart to tell them no, but I did, adding that we can do it on Friday since I have the day off. I don't want kids in my yard unsupervised when I'm not home, but I hate having my a/c and my spigot going to waste all day. Hmmm....

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Hey, Tattler fans--

Sorry there's been a long silence. Here's your virtual postcard from sunny Chico, California, where it is unseasonably cold, like below 90 degrees. Chico is the third leg of my two-week California vacation.

First stop was Burlingame, California, south of San Francisco, for a day and a half with my dear friends the BGs (you know who you are). We saw harp seals, anemones and starfish in coastal tidepools near Pacifica, had a fabulous lunch at Herbivore in the Mission, and stayed up late commiserating over the state of the world.

Next stop, Davis, where my sister and her husband received graduate degrees from the university: a master's in linguistics and a doctorate in ecology, respectively. They gave a joint speech at graduation that managed to be honest, thoughtful and funny all at the same time. Bravo! A group of nine family and friends took the ferry to San Francisco the next day. We got off the boat, found a restaurant, sat in the sun (it was warm and sunny by the bay, really!), ate inordinate amounts of crab, shrimp, lobster and oysters (especially oysters!), then got back on the boat and went home.

Now I'm in the final leg visiting friends who profess at CalState Chico. We've picnicked and biked in Bidwell Park and we'll be dining and sampling at the Sierra Nevada Brewery tonight.

All this is a welcome break from the usual tales that have filled this blog, but look for more news from the 'hood next week!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

CAPS victory?

Well, Monday night's CAPS meeting appeared to be the beginning of a turn for the better. Our longtime facilitator did not show, so three other women took over facilitating: the Young One, Red, and LSC Lady. The Young One's name will be submitted to the district for review as the potential new facilitator. About 20 people showed up--better attendance than we've had for a while.

They called on each table individually to talk about whatever concerns or issues had brought them to the meeting. It was a long meeting, but the opening especially was well facilitated and lots of people said what they wanted to say, pretty concisely. We have a new third watch sergeant who was OK but didn't impress me much when he was asked about search warrants. I blew it--Ms. Ribs was expecting me to get her and I ran late, so I forgot and went straight there. Someone else mentioned that the cops had raided a house on her block and it was not at all clear whether they had the right to do so.

Quite a few people stuck around afterwards to talk to the officers. Even though the meeting ran long, it was nowhere near as frustrating as some of the past meetings I've attended, because at least I felt like the majority of people were getting their say in. The cops are still not incredibly helpful--much better at talking about dealing with parking problems and citations than about more serious problems--but the local officer who is coming to the meetings now is making some strides in talking with people.

So, perhaps that's one step forward. I'm a bit nervous about the two steps back that are likely to follow....

NeighborWorks Day

Last Saturday, Neighborhood Housing Services held its annual NeighborWorks Day, where local residents pair up with NHS and our corporate partners (in this case, State Farm Insurance) to do a service project on a particular block. This year, we put in a garden on two vacant lots on the southwest corner of 48th and Bishop.

As it turns out, a local storeowner also runs a landscaping business, and he and his crew ramped up the project considerably. The basic plan was to put in planters in the shape of a tree, paint them and paint the posts in the back, and put down some mulch and gravel paths. Lime Green Landscaping (yep, that's a promo) added more plants, trees and even rolled sod! It looks great over there--a total transformation. If I can get some photos of before and after, I'll post them.

This park was an especailly significant project because a kid got killed over there two years ago at the end of a community cleanup event on the lots. Incredible that a kid could get shot over a bicycle at the tag end of an event that was supposed to help the community. So people were determined not to let the lots stay nasty and to do something to remember the young man, Rene Guillen.

We got a lot of media coverage: Channel 2, 7, Univision, the Tribune (although I don't know if they actually ran anything in the Trib based on a quick online clip search). The really good part is a fence will be put up around the park sometime in the next month. That corner had been a big gang hangout, so we hope all this new nice stuff will encourage other people to use the space and act as a deterrent to the rougher crowd. We'll see.

Friday, June 03, 2005

8th-grade Prom

Well, I survived the 8th-grade prom yesterday, and I didn't have to break up any fights between my buddy and her nemesis. I just took lots of pictures and danced about as well as the middle-aged Mexican ladies. Senora School Lady invited me to join the circle on the floor--she even spoke in English to invite me. I was very honored and appreciated it a lot. We had a little circle going where the ladies would take turns going out in the middle of the circle and do something cute in the center and dance back, stepping and shaking hips. When it was my turn I did the little 60s underwater snorkel thing and they all laughed appreciatively. Mexicans are much less intimidating dancers than Puerto Ricans, though the ladies did not bother having me come out when we did the circle with partners. (Thanks to an old boyfriend who taught me to swing dance a little, and thanks to my Puerto Rican students who taught me un pocito de la salsa, I actually could have managed it w/o disgracing myself, but they didn't know that.)

The fashion was quite a sight--everything from classic gowns and wraps to an oversize button-down shirt dress. Three girls wore pants or pantsuits, including my buddy, who had a black jumpsuit with a little flounce over the bell-bottom pant legs that kind of faked a dress. I thought she looked great. Her highlights came out just like she wanted them to--very subtle. She did a criss-cross part that looked fantastic. School Lady's daughter came in pants and a shirt but she looked great in it, even if it was a little less formal than a formal. (I think they just really don't have money to spare for this stuff, or maybe they have more sense than all the poor people I've ever known who blew money on fancy clothes, haircuts, cars, spiffy electronics, etc.)

The guys mostly wore dress shirts and dress pants. No tuxes, to the relief of all my interested coworkers. Some guys came in very casual clothes--I'm not sure if they got to jeans, but definitely to chinos. One guy was in Western formal wear, including a cowboy hat. He got voted prom king. The prom queen was as big as a house and in a dress that was way too tight and skimpy--I wouldn't have let my daughter out of the house in it. Being a mean white girl, I thought it was a joke at first, but clearly she is a nice person and people like her, so I was quickly persuaded it was a sincere recognition of her popularity and not cruel.

Actually, despite the animosity between my bud and her nemesis, I don't find the same kind of cruelty present among these kids as I've seen on the playground jungles of middle-class suburbia. The sneaky shit isn't for them. They'll slice each other up, and there's plenty of gossip, but that mean, sarcastic irony shit isn't really their bag. And the kids are nicer to grownups, I think. They really were friendly to me--some girls I'd never met before went out of their way to make conversation.

The music had a lot of variety: R&B (which provoked that nasty grinding, but the moms didn't mind, so I'm getting over myself about it), Tex-Mex country line dancing, that hot Latin pop/dance club stuff (I forget what it's called, but stuff like the ubiquitous "Gasolina"), Mexican polka-esque, really hyper with the accordion, so really quite a mix. And the kids really seemed to have fun--lots of pictures, lots of dancing, not too much boy/girl stuff but some, some friendly some more than friendly, lots of girls dancing with other girls, lots of boys hanging to the side but better able to hold their own when forced than your average 8th-grade white boy, that's for sure.

I even managed to snag a couple shots of my buddy's brother, who hates getting his picture taken. Hope they come out.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

"A Light in the Attic" meets shots in the dark

Last night when I got home from work I took a stroll down to the south end of the block and saw some of my favorite girls in the hood. The Daughters of School Lady are four girls who are very polite and very intelligent. Their mom works at the local grammar school and goes to every Local School Council meeting without fail.

I met the girls at the block party last summer and it was love at first sight. But their mom was understandably suspicious. I gathered from the youngest daughter, Miss Nosy (for all her questions, which I love, even "how come you are not married?" and "how old are you?" which I don't answer in front of her mom because I fear she would think I was encouraging impolite behavior), that her mom was worried I might want to kidnap one of them and raise her as my own. "My mom thinks you want to steal me," I believe Miss Nosy said.

"I don't want to steal you," I replied. "I might borrow you once in a while, if your mom said OK." But clearly in this case I would have to win Mom's trust first, and the language barrier makes that pretty tough. However, the ice melted a bit the first time she saw me at an LSC meeting. I think it melted more last October when I bought five bucks' worth of school raffle tickets from School Lady, and more yet when I won the raffle and gave School Lady's daughters the prize--it was like a doll and a mirror set, very girly, not my style at all but entirely appropriate for the Daughters of School Lady.

So now I go down the block and hang on the sidewalk or the stoop with them. Sometimes we play volleyball in the vacant lot (which needs cleaning out). Senora School Lady comes and joins us while we talk. She understands English but doesn't speak it. I am understanding more Spanish but still find it difficult to eke out more than a sentence, sometimes only a few works, in a given moment. So la senora listens to me talk to her daughters in English and gets a big laugh out of things that come up, especially when Miss Nosy makes inquiries, like "Why don't you have a car?"

"Because I have my bike," I tell her. Then we talk about bike accidents and laugh about the time Nosy crashed into a tree or the time I ran into a dog leash on the bike path and fell over. La Senora laughed very hard when her daughter tried to pry my age out of me and failed. She then shushed her.

Miss Nosy is seven. Her ten year old sister is my favorite of all four of them. Her birthday was last week, the day before mine. She is very quiet but if you are patient she will get up her nerve and start talking, then not quit. She likes to draw. Last night she started reciting poems from Shel Silverstein's "A Light in the Attic," so she is now christened Miss Poetry. Her real name is gorgeous but I will not give it here.

When little Miss Nosy came back with "A Light in the Attic," Miss Poetry opened it right up and began reading her favorites in the fading twilight. "Can you see?" I asked.

"Sort of," she said. Her mom went up on the steps and switched on the porch light. We all sat down, the girls and their mother across the top step on the stoop, me on the step below Miss Poetry's feet. Miss Poetry must have read half the book. Her favorite is "Prayer of the Selfish Child" which she read and recited from memory because she loves it so much:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I die before I wake
I pray the Lord my toys to break
so the other kids' won't play with them

(I think that is correct, thanks Shel!)

Miss Poetry only stumbled once, while trying to read "quadruple gainer" in a poem about a girl diving, only to find in midair that the pool was dry! She is helping her little sister learn to read, too. She would read a poem, then give the book to her sister to try. Sometimes they would read together, sometimes Poetry read first and waited for little Nosy to repeat it after her.

I kept trying to leave (feebly, and more because it was dark than because I wanted to go), but the girls kept saying stay, stay. Their dad came out with their little puppy for a while--he put the dog on the fencepost, and he's so small he fit!

We heard firecrackers in the distance. It's always hard to tell whether it's firecrackers or shots. There was an ambulance down on the block south of 51st earlier in the evening. "Something's happening," Miss Poetry told me. School Lady had eyes and ears out on the fireworks while her daughters read.

After we said goodnight, I went back up the street to my house and realized I had locked myself out! One of the neighbors has my keys, so I walked back down the block and no one was in their house. They live next door to the Nearly Evicteds, so I went to their house. Their daughter was getting highlights for the 8th grade prom (it's tonight). I helped her little brother with his math homework and we all watched Cartoon Network until 10, when someone got home next door.

I stepped out and called to the neighbor, who was coming in with her groceries and some friends. We were standing on her front steps when we heard a burst of automatic gunfire coming from the north, pretty far off by the sound. "That's not good," she said. It's not even official summer yet.

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