Bad neigh­bor­hood

GA Voice - - Columnists -

We live in a part of town that peo­ple tend to pass through on their way to some­where more de­sir­able — the rem­nants of a once-pic­turesque 1950s sub­urb built around Avon­dale Mall.

That mall is now a Wal-Mart that man­aged to grow so sketchy in its brief ex­is­tence that the Wal-Mart peo­ple de­cided to build an­other one less than five min­utes away.

This is a model es­tab­lished to great success by other busi­nesses in our area: Bad Wal-Mart is within spit­ting dis­tance of Scary Wells Fargo, Don’t Go To That Kroger, and The Pizza Hut Where You Might Die.

Th­ese busi­nesses ex­ist purely as bait, draw­ing in the riffraff so they won’t ven­ture over to the lo­ca­tion a cou­ple miles away. The bait lo­ca­tions are the se­cret shame of th­ese com­pa­nies.

They all smell like a freezer that needs a new box of bak­ing soda, and the em­ploy­ees ap­proach their du­ties with a grim de­tach­ment oth­er­wise seen only in max­i­mum se­cu­rity prisons and ta­ble reads of Ni­co­las Cage movies.

This is not the sce­nario we’d hoped for when we bought the place five years ago. In our minds, we were the ar­rival of the mythic gays. We sig­naled a bright fu­ture of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and block par­ties.

We were so cocky in those heady days, cer­tain our tribe would fol­low. They’d make it hap­pen through the same hive mind that tells us which fe­male pop star to pro­pel to iconic sta­tus, or that we’re all go­ing to wear bow ties this year.

“Hey boys,” the Hive Mind would tell our tribe. “The hot new ‘burb is on the bad side of Me­mo­rial Drive.”

Our tribe did not fol­low. Thus far, the clos­est my neigh­bor­hood has come to a block party was when all the news vans showed up be­cause of that neg­li­gent homi­cide at the 24-hour day­care. We all got to be on TV!

There will be no sell­ing this place. We live be­tween a para­noid schiz­o­phrenic and a man who raises pit bulls. Our house, val­ued in the six fig­ures when we pur­chased it, is now worth around $35. When a pros­ti­tute be­gan op­er­at­ing out of the fore­closed prop­erty three doors down, I was re- lieved some­one was keep­ing an eye on the place.

We don’t hate the house it­self, so much as the sit­u­a­tion sur­round­ing it. Home own­er­ship turned out to be com­pa­ra­ble to mar­ry­ing Dean Cain in a Life­time movie. It looks ev­ery­thing you ever dreamed un­til you make that com­mit­ment, and then he just starts beat­ing the shit out of you.

We have a long list of things we’d love to do to the place. I have 3D an­i­ma­tions of our painted house, with a pa­tio and land­scaped yard — the land­scap­ing equiv­a­lent of slash fic­tion. But it’s hard to main­tain en­thu­si­asm for a longterm project when your glad­i­ola plant­ings are in­ter­rupted by a car back­fir­ing. Not gun­shots. It’s al­ways a car back­fir­ing, and I will en­ter­tain no ar­gu­ments to the con­trary.

Even if some­times it’s a car back­fir­ing sev­eral times, fol­lowed by scream­ing, fol­lowed by sirens. That’s just a car back­fir­ing, which star­tled a nice old lady so badly she screamed and fainted, pro­pel­ling her overly cau­tious per­sonal as­sis­tant to call an am­bu­lance. Man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­pla­na­tions such as th­ese fill a good bit of my down­time, leav­ing lit­tle op­por­tu­nity for land­scap­ing.

We keep the place clean. Our yard is tidy. But in all other respects, our at­ti­tudes have be­gun to mir­ror the em­ploy­ees of Bad Wal-Mart.

But there’s still a small part of me that holds out hope for our Life­time movie mar­riage. Our happy end­ing won’t be a great es­cape, dash­ing away in the mid­dle of the night in a bad wig and a pair of sun­glasses. Ours would be one of those qui­eter res­o­lu­tions, where the mon­ster is sub­dued and gets some real good ther­apy.

De­cid­ing to push be­yond what is ex­pected re­quires a leap of faith. While I’m not fool­ish enough to make res­o­lu­tions for the coming year, I feel safe declar­ing an in­ten­tion: This is the year we recom­mit to mak­ing home what we al­ways wanted it to be.

Maybe it’ll send a mes­sage in our ne­glected neigh­bor­hood that good enough isn’t good enough. Maybe this will change things. Maybe this is how we rep­re­sent our tribe.

To­pher Payne is an At­lanta-based play­wright, and the au­thor of the book “Nec­es­sary Lux­u­ries: Notes on a Semi-Fab­u­lous Life.” Find out more at to­pher­payne.com

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