Friday, June 3, 2011

Block Party

I moved into the apartments where I live eight months ago. In that time I've not talked to a single person who lives there, other than the requisite niceties. Then, a few weeks ago, when I stepped outside a voice from above said "Hi, neighbor girl!" It was one of the two guys who live above me. One of them has a little boy who is Story's age. And now I have friends.

Being as they are apartments, in small town Arkansas, it's pretty fair to say that most of the people who live there have one or all of the following problems: They are former (possibly current) drug addicts. They are alcoholics. They are divorced/going through a divorce. They are in poor health. They are not employed or underemployed. They have been themselves, or are married/related to someone who is/has been in prison. They just got a check, their car won't start, and they need a ride to the beer store. Enough of those things describe me that I can relate to the people around me without being frightened of them, but not enough apply that I'm frightened of my future.

I don't spend a whole lot of time interacting, but the other night I got a knock on my door. It was one of the guys who lives above me. He said that everyone was hanging out at "the middle apartments." That's the complex just up from mine with the playground out front. They were all bar-be-quing and listening to music and drinking beer. There were tiki torches. I was nervous about the whole thing, being invited to hang out with people I don't know by the guy who lives above me whose name I don't know. But I spend a lot of time alone and in my head and thought, at the very least, it might be interesting to sit and listen for a while.

When I walked up Bob Seger was playing. Everyone seemed eager to get me a seat and show me what was on the grill. Story found a bicycle. In a group setting I do best when I just pick a seat a stay there the whole night. No milling about. I posted up next to Sharon. Sharon is an older woman with bleach blond hair. She was talking to me as soon as I sat down, mainly about her kids. Her son works for a scrap metal place here in town, and I should tell him I know her if I ever see him... at the scrap metal place. She leaned in, a cigarette dangling from her long fingers and told me about the day her daughter was born. It was August 17, 1977, the day after Elvis died. When the doctor walked in and presented the baby he said "One star dies and another is born." The daughter still lives in Russellville somewhere.

Metallica was playing, then Alice in Chains. The guy who lives above me was singing along. He stopped long enough to say "I'm not gonna lie, I love to sing. I'm good at it. I used to be in an Offspring cover band." He was good at it. He got pretty into it, and that kind of outpouring is appealing for some, but makes me totally uncomfortable. Luckily a rather large girl came up and offered me a shot of whisky, saving me from having to concoct some kind of response to dude's emotional rendition of "Man in the Box." I didn't take the whisky but I talked to her for a little bit about raising kids. She's got a seven year old, the father is one of the guys who lives above me. He later explained to me that she used to be a lot thinner. She used to look just like Drew Barrymore. "Right, man? Right?" he said nodding to his roommate and lifting his beer, as if I didn't believe him, as if I needed someone else to verify it, as if my judgement of him as a person was based solely on the current weight of the woman who he slept with seven years ago, as if I were the kind of person who makes judgments like that. I thought she was really nice. Despite her weight.

After a while I went back to talking to Sharon, rather she went back to talking to me. She said that her boyfriend was getting out of prison soon. She was going to have a big party and that I was invited. "Not everyone is invited," she said glancing around with narrowed eyes. She's going to set up a game of horseshoes in the back.

Story was still riding the bicycle. I kept telling him to share and play with something else, but every time I did the girl who owned the child who owned the bicycle said "No, no, it's fine, it's fine." So I figured any more fussing at Story would make it seem like I was turning up my nose at her generosity. Everyone was eating. I wasn't very hungry, but again, the same type of situation arose where if I didn't eat I might have been seen as someone who won't eat food being offered to them by generous strangers. They had grilled chicken and steak and corn and squash. There were beans and potatoes and we ate off of Sharon's real plates, that she wouldn't let me help her wash when we were done.

It was getting late and I needed to get Story to bed. We were all sitting around talking about our jobs and all the things we were going to buy when we got that good paycheck next week. Someone put on Johnny Cash. "Ring of Fire." Everyone started singing along, even the kids. I started singing along too. "I fell in to a burning ring of fire. I went down, down, down, and the flames went higher..." I was in the moment, and these were my people, of the moment. And with that I called it a night and went to bed.