When I was a kid (according to my children, sometime during the Paleolithic period) my neighborhood was alive with a kind of human electricity that pulsated through all of us. At the corner of Brockhurst Court, Mrs. Schell would hang out of her top floor window and keep an eye on everything. Once, she caught me writing my name in freshly poured sidewalk cement even though I swear I had made a successful reconnaissance sweep of the area before I began. Mrs. Johnson would never let me cut through her backyard to get to Fran’s house, instead insisting that I walk around the court to reach my destination. My neighborhood was large, but we knew someone on just about every street and court; someone who was watching and clearly a member of the Park Forest South Secret Society of Team Parenting. I was never sure if Tim’s mom was a member. She could be found laying on her lattice woven lounge chair in her front yard, working on her tan that rivaled the black folk and mesmerized the rest of Blackhawk Drive. However, she was always out there and probably had a dossier on each kid who whizzed past her driveway.
Although it may sound like Mayberry, our town shared the same set of concerns as any other. Yes, there were drugs. Yes, there were bullies and crime and underage drinking and sex. The burnouts wore army jackets and Timberlands and smoked at the bus stop. One boy drove to middle school. I would ride my bike past him and wonder how in the world he could be an 8th grader with a driver’s license. The preps wore Polo, even in the 70’s. Maybe there was a dinosaur on the left breast instead of a horse or something. But, I digress. Our neighborhood had problems, but always shared that thread of responsible and active community parenting that seemed to weave its way through just about every household.
Today, I reside in a neighborhood about one-fourth the size of Park Forest South and know less than 5% of its residents. I make an effort to know who’s on my court and much to their chagrin, I constantly bug my own kids to identify other kids we pass in town. I tend to bombard them with who’s that, where do they live and do I know their parents. The response is mostly staring as if I were speaking Latin followed by some grunts about how I don’t have to know everybody and everything. I was also the middle school PTO President for a few years, which helps me to recognize others. Getting volunteers for that gig was like counting your hair. Alas, another story for another day.
To protect the innocent, I will call this place ComplainButDon’tGetPersonallyInvolved town or CBDGPI for short. We even have a website; yes a website, which is supposed to be used for constructive neighborhood related information although much of the information shared is not in the spirit of neighboring. On the CBDGPI page, one can find stories of catastrophic panic over contents burglarized out of garages and cars. Though these garage doors were left open over night and car doors unlocked and parked in driveways, I’m not sure if the 20 or so complainants began to see a pattern. They did, however, become very indignant when it was suggested they close their garage doors and lock their car doors. There is also the vehicle filled with the proverbial black guys in hoodies that seems to just “not belong” in the area. Everyone has seen it, but no one gets a plate number and they remain illusive to police. I like to call them Black Bigfoot. Meanwhile, teens in the neighborhood can be seen walking around after dark just about any night of the week. They wouldn’t steal beer from a garage fridge though.
I remain a member of this website (you need a super special password) because it’s like trying to pass an accident on the highway and not gape. I guess I’m a bit of a dumb-dumb voyeur. Yesterday’s commentary came from a “neighbor” who had witnessed 2 boys driving a golf cart like wild animals through the streets and on the pristine lawns of our quiet little hamlet. She, as a concerned mother, worried that they may hurt themselves or, God forbid, another child. I rarely post a reply, but I couldn’t resist. I penned a comment in the form of a question, which is what I do when I think you’re an idiot and I want to make it seem as if you might be able to solve your own stupidity. I innocently inquired as to why she hadn’t simply followed the cart, knocked on the door and informed said boys’ parents of the situation. Her reply was that she couldn’t run fast enough and she had someplace she needed to be. So, apparently, the golf cart must either be super charged or have a Mustang engine upgrade, coupled with that fact that her beeper went off alerting her that the transplant organ had arrived and she was needed in the OR. The humorous part of this story is that I was also publicly chastised by another “neighbor” for my question/comment because how could I possibly have the nerve to judge this poor woman’s response to the terrorist golf cart dilemma. After all, this isn’t FaceBook. To be fair, I’ve never met either of these “neighbors” and they are probably lovely women…
After being publicly humiliated and called passive aggressive, insulting and rude, I decided to do some soul-searching (inserts tongue into cheek). Could I really be the neighborhood website Troll? Maybe I should just be on the lookout for the menacing 12-year-old golf cart fanatics and then make an eyewitness report to the website. Dear CBDGPI, I saw the rebel maniacs today! They had cases of beer (can’t imagine how they got them) in the back of that golf cart of death that spilled out and broke as they did donuts on the tennis court and set fire to the net. Then, they backed over a puppy and mowed down the Asian grandparents out for their evening walk. I wasn’t fast enough to catch up to them and was really into an episode of Castle, so I couldn’t do anything to stop them.
Listen friends, Social Media can be a wonderful tool. I use it all the time. I try to use the power for good. What I can tell you is that I do not use it to complain, feign concern or bully. I realize that we cannot go back to the good ‘ole days with Mrs. Schell and Mrs. Johnson, but we can do better when we are available to do better. My mother would have got into her car and followed those boys home. Unless they drove that cart into some kind of underground Batman lair, she would have found them, proceeded to knock on the door and advise the parents of their antics. Or, she would have recognized them and made a phone call. She also would probably have fashioned an invisible trip wire that would clothesline them next time they came speeding down our court. There has to be a Mrs. Morrow lesson somewhere.
Am I a neighborhood website Troll? If that definition includes teaching people to use common sense and get involved, then damn skippy. Could my style be a little more genteel, perhaps less sarcastic and more sympathetic?
No. You’re a goddamned adult. Grow up. Get involved. Stop making excuses. Make a difference.