"...and conclude, for the thousandth time, what a wild and blessed gift,
What a bloody and magical machine it is, what a slather of stories,
What an endless thicket! You really and truly could be issued fifty
Lifetimes and spend each of them addled and muddled in wonder
And never understand or even see more than a corner of the cloak."
-Brian Doyle, from A Corner of The Cloak
We're definitely in a different world than our Wallingfords and Greenlakes of yore. A trip to Starbucks becomes a mini-UN meeting as I am surrounded on all glorious sides by Eritrean women with gorgeous scarves, old black men playing chess and tipping their hats at girls who walk past with espresso, the occasional lost-looking Latino teenager, sweet-faced retired Asian couples with matching sweaters, perky Garfield students with braids and magenta tennis shoes... the faces hold stories, and the lips are more willing to speak them to a stranger.
In the parking lot, inevitably, Omar comes to sell me incense. "It's handmade, home-made, it's only a dollar!" he encourages me, his hands reaching from his pristine alabaster robes to extend an offering of his wares. "I'm allergic, remember, Omar?" (This is only a small white lie. I just despise the scent of incense because it reminds me of middle school, when my theater friends wore too much black eyeliner and listened to grungy music, and I secretly wanted to listen to R&B and throw everyone's blown-glass incense holders out the window) He backs away instantly. "Baby, baby, I would never want to do anything to hurt a woman like you! You are so beautiful." (Flowery prose that leads me to wonder if it's not just incense that Omar lights at home...) "Oh, thank you Omar, I hope business is good today!" I hop into my car to arrange my coffee and my files and my sanity before work, and Omar taps on the hood to call through the windshield, "Because of you, I WILL have a great day."
Our first Saturday in the new dream house, Dower and I abandoned all the moving boxes and went on a walk. It was all I could do to drag my exhausted body through the neighborhood but I was revived by the echoing ululations of what sounded like a party-- a big one-- and we followed the billowing smoke through the sidewalks. As it turns out, Ethiopian churches really do know how to party. A few hundred beautiful people (what is UP with East African bone structure? Could they be any more perfect?!) were chanting, dancing, and celebrating a holiday that was unknown to me (I have since looked it up, and let me just say that Meskel sounds WAY more fun than Labor Day). I was pretty thrilled when I realized we were about three blocks from my new house, and hoped the smoke would sweep its way over our rooftop to impart some of its intrigue on our home too.
But ok, the neighborhood is a little hood. Frank's friend got shot in the middle of someone else's drug deal at Parnell's, the corner store 2 blocks up from us. Our landlord chastises us for not keeping every lock firmly secured on the gate to our yard. Hardly a week goes by without witnessing some dude getting apprehended by the po-po, or hearing some racially charged argument at Subway, but there is nothing boring about living between MLK and Jackson and Rainier. And really, no matter where you live or what you do with the long hours that create a day, is there any substitute for wonder at the world, for seeing new constellations under every leaf and fully expecting beauty and strangeness to leap out from every corner and catch you off guard?