When I think of my neighborhood, I think of transformation. My five-year-old daughter and I were mesmerized when we first saw Mountain Shadows Mobile Home Park in '94. There were plum and orange trees growing in the common areas, a far cry from asphalt jungle we came from.
We thought we'd be happy here. We explored the play area, which consisted of a swing set and a bank of enormous rocks for the kids to climb on. But once we settled in, so did reality. The mostly older mobile homes were decaying, and so were the people who lived in them. Our next-door neighbor Bob had a police car parked in front of his home every Saturday night. Once, he threatened to kill a social worker who was going to take away custody of his grandkids, I could hear him beat them with a belt at 2:00
in the morning. Another time, he threatened me when my puppy barked on my back porch, waking Bob from a nap. I was really blown away when he came over complaining that my weeds were growing in his yard. I politely dismissed him, saying I had to get back to more important things, like painting my toenails.
His adult children came in and out of his house as if it had a revolving door, depending on whether they were in jailor had just gotten out. The last time I saw Bob's son Matthew, I was looking out my kitchen window and saw the 30-year-old man lying in the street. He had overdosed on some kind of drug and had to be hauled away by ambulance.
The neighbors directly.behind me were drug addicts too. The couple was up at all hours, singing and rocking the night away to tunes like Madonna's "Material Girl." Apparently, they didn't realize how thin the walls of these mobile homes are. I lay in bed at 3:00 a.m., hoping Bob would get fed up and give them the "what for," but by then he was going deaf and snoozed through the whole spectacle.
I knew the couple used drugs, because my neighbor Bill told me. He Jived across the street from them. He had several boarders who went to the crazy couple's home every day. Finally, Bill asked them why, and one woman grinned and held up a Baggie full of white powder. "Cocaine! You get that out of my house!" Bill yelled. Then he wrongfully evicted them by tossing their clothes in the driveway.
These people didn't represent all of Bill's problems. He was on mental disability after having served in Vietnam. He owned a slew of video cameras, which he kept on the roof of his home. He believed the FBI had slit his tires and was determined to catch them in the act.
''Are you sure it wasn't your crazy girlfriend?" I asked.
He didn't answer but appeared to be mulling the possibility over.
Ten years later, Bill moved away, and we never saw him again. A pleasant transformation was taking place. Run-down shacks were replaced with manufactured homes that went for $350,000. A gentler class of people moved in, hanging overflowing baskets of bright-colored impatiens above their porches and heaping wisteria on archways along the paths to their front doors.
My 17-year-old daughter was stunned to discover that teachers really do have a life outside the classroom when she spotted her journalism teacher riding bikes with his daughter.
In '99, I married a man who was 6'2" and 290 pounds. Suddenly, Bob was a new man. He told us he loved having us as neighbors and offered to buy our well-trained adult dog for $500. He said his behavior changed for the better after he started taking his wife's antidepressants. I believe he is just afraid of getting his ass kicked.
The children I've known are now grown up and have gone away. One is on her way to medical school. There's a new crop of bouncing, happy children playing in the street. I love the guy who jogs by my home with a three-wheeled baby stroller. I've heard those things are expensive, and it gives the place class.
I've learned that no matter how bleak a place can be, there's always room for change. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else now. I hope Bob feels the same way.