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Written by Wendy Doscher-Smith - BT Contributor   
May 2012

You move into a new home and discover that your neighbors are different, but not necessarily in a bad way

Pix_for_Wendy_D-S_5-12Last July my husband and I had just moved into this neighborhood, when a child startled me. From my position, bent down in the backyard, addressing a friendly lizard, I did not see him coming.

“Hey! What’s your dog’s name?”

I abruptly ceased my conversation with my lizard friend, looked up into the sun and saw a boy of maybe ten, hanging over the wooden fence that separates his yard from mine. When I say “hanging,” I mean he did so with comfortable and confident arms casually draped down the fence. His arms appeared as if they had grown onto the structure itself, vine-like and clingy.

I blinked and looked at the kid. The barrage of questions continued: “What’s your dog’s name? Is your dog friendly? Can I pet your dog? What kind of dog is that? Do you have other dogs? Can I come over? Why is your dog jumping up at me?”

It was then that I noticed the child was not hanging from the fence by some superhuman strength provided by the Plant Superheroes. He was standing on something. I walked over to get a better look. He had stacked a crate on top of a chair to gain height so he could see over our fence.

And so began my introduction to living in this nameless section of northern, unincorporated Miami-Dade County. When I give people directions to my house, I mention landmarks such as Barry University or Miami Country Day School. Mamma Jennie’s works sometimes. Unlike South Beach and Wynwood, my neighborhood may not register on the What-Is-Miami-Now! radar, but it is still beaches and galleries away from some more quaint types of Yawnsville.

I describe this area as “hood-esque.” I say “-esque,” because it does not qualify as the real hood, but there are hints of hood. I can walk around without fearing for my safety. There are no bars on my windows, but there is a fence with a serious lock in front of my house. I’ve yet to witness drug deals, but I’m sure they are happening. Probably right now.

And you should see the rims on the cars. Forget that. You should see the cars the rims are on. I love those cars! We see those cars racing up the street. They’re pretty, but they’re loud.

Miami Shores would have a problem with it. Biscayne Park would not tolerate it. Here? Eh, whatever. Nobody cares about the 2:00 a.m., midweek yelling and screeching arguments in the middle of the street. Or the gunshots. (Okay, the cops did care about that, but that was only because a drive-by shooting had occurred north of here the previous week.)

My neighborhood is also loquacious. In this predominantly Haitian neighborhood, we are the only non-Haitians on the block. You hear a lot of talk about Miami being a melting pot. It’s so overused that it might serve the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau well: “Welcome to Miami: The Human Fondue Capital!” For me, the term always conjured images of a rusty cauldron with various blistered and crispy-skinned appendages sticking up and out.

By now the residents of Miami seem to have accepted Life in the Pot. Non-Hispanic prejudice toward Hispanics seems less prevalent. That could be owing, in part, to the fact that Cuban Americans are in the majority in Miami. Plus, scared, light-skinned bigots flew the coop, “white flight-ing” it north.

While prejudice among different Hispanic groups, aimed at each other, is raging, prejudice against Haitian people unites xenophobes from every country, including those throughout Latin America.

But I digress. Sort of. This is about my neighborhood and my immediate neighbors. Here, if anyone is in the minority and likely to be discriminated against, it’s us Whiteys.

A few days before we moved in, our landlord assured us the neighbors were great. No trouble at all. The current tenants confirmed this fact. Actually, I first met the House Warming Boy that day. He wanted to play with the tenants’ kids and waltzed into the front yard as we all stood talking. He asked the tenant (another Whitey) to fetch her kid. She fed him one of those lies grown-ups use when they want an insistent child to go away. “Maybe later,” she said. I doubt “later” ever arrived.

We took the same route because he was relentless in his pursuit of playing with our dogs, one of which is a bit of a spaz around hyper children. Point is: He did not grasp the idea that hanging over your neighbor’s fence is not appropriate, especially when it is done constantly and is uninvited. The concept of privacy and this-land-up-to-this-fence-is-your-land-and-this-land-up-to-this-fence-on-the-other side-is-my-land escaped him.

Now, I know what’s up. House Warming Boy never grasped the concept of boundaries. In this hood, there are cultural differences at work. Unlike in the burbs, where there is talk about “one community,” but little action, here everyone tends to be in your face whether you like it or not. People even park their cars in the middle of the road. At night. The motto here: This land truly is made for you and me.

Our neighbors also spend a lot of time outdoors. But not like my husband Jeremy spends time outdoors. He usually has a very clear purpose: Reinforcing the fence so the dogs can’t dig under it, grilling, mowing the lawn, and picking up dog poop. Lots of dog poop! He does this and returns indoors.

Our neighbors to the left and right of us, they go outside and sit in the front yard. And talk. That’s it. No gardening or mowing or poop detail. Just talking. It’s refreshing. I mean, who talks anymore? We all should communicate face-to-face, but we don’t, and as a result, we are morphing into a nation of social illiterates. (Not to mention run-of-the-mill illiterates, since nobody can spell or use proper grammar anymore. Baahhhh! Give Grammy her cane…)

Our neighbors sit outside and talk loudly all day and all night. I’m not exaggerating. Unless we turn on the white-noise box, or the booming bass is louder than them, we fall asleep to their conversations. I am somewhat fascinated by all this sitting and talking. (Not to mention how they manage to stay awake.)

What are they talking about all this time? From what I can make out, they are discussing daily events, their friends, and relationships. No big shocker there. Except my neighbors don’t care who hears about it. Which, when you think about it, is a lot like social media. Except it actually is social.


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