She leads our walks with thoughtless intention through the back lanes and side streets. This is how I come to know where I live.
At first, the space is loud and bright with yellow paint and halogen lighting. My neighborhood- Hyde Square. The Latin Quarter being slowly extinguished by white people like me who’ve moved to the outer-neighborhoods of Boston into apartments we can still barely afford. Our $100,000 annual household income and $200,000 combined educational and personal debt no match for $2100 a month in rent, parking tickets and city-rated car insurance. We don’t even own a house.
There are cars, exhaust and honking and so we make our first dip into a sidestreet where the three-story, sided houses are planted with bright yellow and orange mums- protected by foot high tall iron fences. She is unperturbed and cocks her leg to pee on them anyway. I look away, embarrassedly waiting for one of three condo owners to pop their head out and yell. Thankfully, there is but silence.
She leads us through the Caucasian middle-class wannabe-suburb-commuter ghetto to the other side of Centre Street, where the backstreet neighborhoods have shingled houses and peeling paint. There is a delightful community garden, the tall sunflowers now drooping and tomato plants giving up their last to the sixty-degree air. “No dogs” the sign warns. She sniffs and turns her head toward a neighborhood calico who hisses indignantly, “Intruder.”
She pees on the sidewalk in front of the cat. I grin.
Further away from Centre the houses change. There is siding and fences. “Private Property” and “No parking” signs places in driveways; a warning to the unfortunate street-parking souls who wrestle through seasons, street cleaning and shitty drivers to find a space they hope won’t attract vandals. I wonder what gardens lie behind the wrought-iron gates and assume there is no grass but perhaps a deck covered in planters that sits above asphalt-covered ground. Boston-style gardening.
There are traces of the old neighborhood here; now being reclaimed by young hippy families and graduate students. An unthinkably large open space of cleared trees and wood chips- at least 40×40 feet- the main attraction a large fire pit surrounded by eighteen tree stumps. I imagine campfire banjos and singing; likely with whiskey and weed.
We move deeper into the neighborhood and I witness the most realistic haunted house I have seen un-staged. It is four stories, including the attic, which I assume is someone’s cramped living space as the wooden emergency staircase creakily stretches up to a door. The garden is dying, plants overgrown and gray. A once-arbor folds into itself, overwrung with vines and age. I shiver. It is dark in that house and I want to explore its creases.
The dog is not amused at my silence and pause. She pulls onward toward the scent of a golden retriever we distantly saw when we turned a corner. The golden fits the neighborhood as we return to modern colorful three-family homes and boxy “Brand New Luxury Condo” lego buildings. In retrospect, a designer labradoodle or maltese might fit the condos better than a golden. Apart from the 8 foot high windows on each floor, the best part of the condos is a guy smoking pot in a rusted gray Nissan outside their front door.
We amble towards the community center that houses local theater, meditation groups, children’s birthdays and, tonight, loud open-windowed Latin pop. It is competing with a Big Band brass “Oh When the Saints” that is wafting from the southeast. The dog stops and my hips shake spontaneously to the pop music. I smile and imagine sweaty dancers in the second floor dance hall I’ve come to know through Bhangra class. I’m sure they are sliding on the wooden floors.
Piqued by brass, I take the lead and turn us left, out of the neighborhood and towards the MBTA station. I pass a guy talking on the phone, smoking and cycling – simultaneously- and wonder if his whitening-gray beard is a by-product of stress or age.
I count at least eight pieces (and people) in the band. They are indeed parked right outside the subway station, welcoming people home from their commute. A wonderful way to beat the Mondays- if you like music and white people. There are passersby, watchers, dog walkers, strollers and parents, cars and motorcycles and noise. We quickly retreat up a side street of cobalt blue, brick red, and Mexican yellow houses. They have driveways and gray stone walls around their flower beds. Some, cutely, spell out their address, “five”, in oversized complementary-colored wooden letters. I am envious. I want to live at “five” whatever-street-this-is. There is a Lexus in the driveway. I am never living here.
We pass a tall, broad dyke wearing black workout gear and her slim, long-brown haired companion in bright pink. The dyke is carrying a shopping bag. I am surprised that she doesn’t look at the dog- butches always fall for her. They are moving fast and jump into a black truck. I am distracted by the cyclist who is screeching his brakes to stop for me at an intersection. I do not see if the butch opens the door for her companion.
We turn left and begin a slow ascent up a hill. The dog stops to sniff at poop that is sitting on the grass in front of a well-manicured bungalow. Bungalows are anomalies here. Poop is not. A car comes sliding down the hill and into the driveway. I yank at her chest harness- come on I am not picking up that poop because it’s not yours but I don’t want this woman to think I’m that person who lets her dog poop on people’s front lawns. She does not oblige and I am forced to smile and nod at the woman as she enters her home. I still do not pick up the poop.
The houses on this street look cramped. The road winds up and up, cars parked precariously nose-to-tail along the steep rise. I wonder who in their right mind lives on a hill in Boston. Hello snow. Goodbye safety. I shake my head. I imagine it must be college students who live in these cramped houses. There are folding chairs on the front porches and the paint on every third house is peeling. I ignore the fact that I lived in a house with peeling paint for seven years and was not a college student. I am still shaking my head in disbelief at the houses and cars atop this hill in the middle of the city and the sheer stupidity of living on a hill in the city and having a car on a hill in the city when I turn my head and see the Prudential Center. I am on top of a hill and I can see the entirety of the city- blushing as the sun peeks down behind the spires and skyscrapers.
Suddenly, the presumed college students with cars on a hill in the city don’t seem so ridiculous.
I am distracted by the sunset for at least three minutes until I see the dyke in the black truck. She’s alone. It’s a brand-spanking new Ford F350 and she is pulling into a driveway of a well-manicured house. I think, “She must have a great job.” I ponder marrying her for money until I remember that I am already married.
The dog is panting and I realize that the sunset means we’ve been walking for an hour. I’m not sure where we are, but it’s quiet. She pees again on a shrub. I am past caring if the neighbors see. I am too busy thinking about money and community and Boston. I’ve lived in this city for ten years and this neighborhood for two. I wonder why I don’t know more people until it hits me that I’m a tricky extrovert. Great at making a couple of really good friends and terrible at keeping up larger acquaintance-social circles despite my love of people.
The street slopes and I can see a bright yellow overhang at the end, “Checks cashed here.” We descend slowly, accompanied by more paint-peeling houses, walled off with crumbling stone walls and chicken-wire fences. There is trash. I pull her away from a chicken bone. As we near the yellow store I realize that we are arrived at Centre Street; this time at the rotary in Hyde Square. As we cross the street I see the changing neighborhood in six store fronts: the Latin barbershop, the check-cashing Latin convenience store, Food Wall Chinese takeout, Blue Nile Ethiopian restaurant, Aurum – a whole-food, hipster vegetarian hand pie cafe, and “Tails” a bright, white brand-new pet store. It is so new that I don’t know if it’s a grooming salon, pet day care, or vet’s office. I’m sure it sprang up overnight because we just bought Chinese food yesterday. I wonder what business they’ve displaced. Admittedly, I cannot remember what shop was there before them- a white, middle-class privilege.
At the corner, one block away from our house, she pauses. So do I. I wonder why we live here in this busy, expensive neighborhood. I wonder what the Latin Quarter will look like in ten years. How many people of color will be living here? I wonder what it means to be middle-class in Boston. Do I want to live with a roommate for another decade? Or, am I ready to leave the cramped buildings, sky-high rent, Big Band brass, haunted houses, and sunset views? These thoughts catch my breath. I am confusedly breathless.
She looks at me and turns toward the house- pulling. I can hear the cat yowling. When we get inside, she will sniff the dog before jumping on the counter, the dog will whine, and I will feed them both.