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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Family unfriendly

A neighborhood without kids isn't normal.

October 1st, 2011

BY GREG ROBERTS

Our first mistake was moving into a neighborhood where families are anomalies. This university crowd is mostly childless, and some are downright hostile to the rugrat stage of hominid evolution. Most of us moved here decades ago, arrogant dickbrains from back East, raring to show the rest of the town that we were Beethoven or Twain or Margaret Mead reincarnated. Sickening egotists all. How many Edward Abbey impersonators do you know? Over the years I’ve met 500 of them in my front yard, just by being out there watering the spiderworts and lewisii. One of these guys was devoting his life to removing all place names on the map with the word “squaw” in them. He started a non-profit thing of some sort and probably received a grant. Not a very good Abbey impersonator, he seemed unaware of the author’s salty references to all the races.


This neighborhood’s angry intellectuals produce children at a rate that makes giant pandas seem like termite queens. We had a tough time finding children to play with our young boys. When we did set up a play date (another contrivance of paranoid nutty baby boomers) disaster usually followed. One wack-job mother wouldn’t leave her kid with us unless she too stayed the whole time as a chaperone, completely defeating the scheme to let the kids play and get a few hours to ourselves. Maybe this goofy mom thought we would strip the boy naked and send the videos to perverts in Amsterdam. If she had such thoughts, why in hell was she daring to come near us? I guess the snow leopard-like scarcity of children in our area drove her to desperation.

Another wacko mother went hysterical and broke off all contact with us when, one summer day, I let the boys shoot pop cans with a Daisy BB pistol. I guess my redneck ways were so damaging to her boy, they are the main reason for his degenerating into a reclusive, paranoid weedhead who had to be sent to one of those special schools for failures. Last I heard he was still living at home, age thirty, besotted with weed, malt liquor, and violent video games.

Surrounded by rental housing occupied by students and artists, we lost hope of making lasting friendships here. But then, last year a young family showed up next door. A couple in their thirties, they had just moved back from working in France for a few years, and they had two little blond girls who were running wild in the backyard, riding pink bicycles up and down the street, and scrawling silly chalk drawings on the sidewalk. “I don’t care how much noise they make,” I told my wife Chrissy, “they make this place seem normal.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” she said.

Not only that, the whole family was bilingual, giving me the chance to vamp them with my ham-fisted efforts to speak français. They were polite, and maybe a little amazed that someone with so few chops would have the balls to even attempt a conversation, kind of like Amy Winehouse offering to sing with the Met.

But now that house is empty. Because of the shortage of rentals near the college, the landlords are now asking $2,100 a month, 500 more than they were getting from the sweet family now run off, as planned. By the time another such comes our way I’ll be in diapers and sucking on an oxygen bottle. And no doubt the next group of renters will be college louts who hold keggers in the backyard and fight over chicks at three in the morning.

Sometimes we get such heavy weed pollution next door, it almost gives us a contact high as it wafts over the fence while I grill andouille sausages on a natural charcoal fire that I ignite with small dry sticks. Dammit, that’s another reason to hate this neighborhood. I keep having to train newcomers to start their charcoal with kindling, even if it’s just some dead twigs off the many fruit trees nearby. Left to themselves, the newbies will douse briquets with starter fluid, enough to make everyone puke.

The rental on the other side of us was recently vacated by a poor young student who had to move back in with his parents. The university finally broke him, as planned, and he will never finish that degree in environmental studies. He has taken a job in an ice cream factory where he is the only non-Mexican. At least he may get fluent in Spanish, something the college failed to provide, despite the millions of pesos pissed away.

And just like that, two new college girls are moving in. They are cute, smart as can be, and are enthusiastic majors in — what else? — environmental studies. I feel sorry for them, knowing that the U will try to suck them dry. It is not just a Ponzi scheme. It is an arachnid web that will pull in these two butterflies and kick out two empty husks.

I hope I am wrong. I hope their parents are so wealthy they can write the checks for a hundred thou and just let the girls enjoy the rafting and mountain biking that makes this place so much fun. Maybe the girls will marry rich, if unattractive, environmental attorneys who are fighting to classify plastic bags as a danger worse than asbestos. Any dream can come true. Some people go to Seven Feathers Casino, bet their whole Social Security check, and come away winners.

This dysfunctional collection of dwellings some call a neighborhood has always been this way, and I should just stop bitching. After all, we could move. This place is paid for, and the kids have moved on. In fact, one lives in Compton, Calif. When we visited there the place seemed friendly, with folks playing baseball and grilling chicken and beef tongues in the back yard. No one asked me to sign a petition to ban sport fishing in the Pacific Ocean.

Back here in Oregon, I can’t help fantasizing on a neighborhood without the college. I imagine the university buildings razed and the land returning to a natural state, when smilodons terrorized the Calapooya natives near what is now the Knight Library. (The physical library is a waste of space and air conditioning, because you now have it on your phone.)

So what do we do with this beautiful reclaimed area? Build an authentic Caju village with real shacks and pirogues and crawfish traps? Nah, there’s already a perfect one near Lafayette, La., so no need. A better idea would be a great bamboo forest and panda preserve. Rich Chinese tourists, the poison Christmas toy tycoons, would come in droves to see it, and they would leave many precious yuan in their wake.
Environmental studies graduates could take jobs as panda guides, a career that has to be more rewarding than working in an ice cream sweatshop. And those who failed to complete a degree could join the wait staffs of the many fine restaurants and cocktail lounges that would dot the campus of Panda Land.

As for us geezers, our house and yard would now be worth millions to those wishing to expand Panda Parking, allowing us to flee to Tegucigalpa with a gym bag full of cash. At last we would be surrounded by normal families. Girls under twenty with three kids and another on the way. Guys playing guitars and whacking coconuts with machetes in order to mix in the rum and limes.

“Yes, I will have another, Julio. I don’t have to go anywhere or do anything, and we don’t fish again until tomorrow.” •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Family Issue, Roberts | Link to this Entry

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