The Neighborhood Meeting
by Fernando J. Contreras
This article was originally published on Hades United.
Recently, my wife asked me to go to a neighborhood meeting, and I said no. Then she asked why, and I told her that the part of the answer that mattered was the word “no,” that it was like asking me, Do you want to go to a Poultry Convention in Alabama? Do you want to go to a Feminist Beekeeping Seminar? Do you want to attend a course on how to do Mitt Romney impersonations? No. Why? Why is not important. Then she said it would be nice if I were to go. Translation: take notes.
So here are the notes.
Now, I’m not an expert in South Boston culture, but in my two years living here, I know that on one corner we have the Southies, who think of themselves as the original and worthy residents of the neighborhood. They are tough. Some look rough, too, possibly as a result of the smoking and the daily drinking. Their facial muscles sag due to years of yelling phrases that begin with “fuck you…” in reply to questions that range from “Excuse me, ma’am, is this seat taken?” to “Would you like to contribute to the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy?” Southies love Boston sports to the point they’ll slay one of their babies and offer it to the Gillette gods just to see Tom Brady pass for a touchdown.
Then there are the Yuppies. These are the invaders, the gentrifiers, the culture destroyers. Yuppies are the reason Whole Foods, brunch, Lululemon, and fedoras exist. Yuppies love Boston sports, too, and they’ll color-coordinate their outfit to whichever local team makes the playoffs. Then they’ll drink Merlot at Stephie’s with a side of lobster guacamole. Regardless of whether the local team wins or loses, Yuppies will boast about how much they’re “killing it” in the stock market.
According to Southies, I’m a Yuppie, and according to Yuppies, I’m a member of the Mexican cartel. So I had no business being at this neighborhood meeting.
The place: The Lithuanian Center on West Broadway.
Time: 6:30 PM
Attendees: 50 approx.
Speaking of drugs, the meeting opens with two policemen asking about the drug trade in South Boston. They ask, “Have you seen anything?” As if we are in a Braille meeting. Then they squint and nod while people gossip. Because it all sounds like gossip. My mother’s cousin’s manicurist saw “suspicious” drugs here and there. It’s funny how people add adjectives to aggrandize their arguments when they lack proof. They say, “crazy” “weird” or “violent-looking,” which to me narrows it down to every person. As it turns out, most of the attendees have witnessed drugs being sold on every street and every corner, to the point I start to suspect my wife. And then it occurs to me, Why do I have to go all the way to Amsterdam?
Next order of business: A 24-unit residential development is proposed for the Albanian church site. My first thought: life is getting shorter. Each apartment will have one parking space. The parking lot will consist of two levels. The attendees, who will never live inside this non-existent building, are concerned that it will be hard to maneuver inside such a small parking lot. This is my life now. Imaginary parking in imaginary spots I’m not allowed to use.
What follows are 20 minutes of soul-crushing details. Because these people, after eyeballing a blueprint made of lines drawn on paper, are worried that this new building will look too much like a prison, as if the neighborhood in its present state looks like Malibu beach.
The Southie attitude comes out, and it’s a “fuck you first and listen later” sort of world now.
Some guy stands up urgently to claim that this building is 36 inches too close to Loco, the Mexican taqueria for yuppies who think chilli ketchup constitute killer spicy food. “You don’t understand! It’s 36 inches too close!” the man says with the same energy I’d use to yell, “Run, it’s Godzilla!”
Meanwhile, somewhere in the universe, a star implodes.
A Chinese man arrives to the meeting and everyone goes quiet. It’s immediately obvious to all that he doesn’t belong here. They think he’s a delivery guy in the wrong place, so they send him to the next building. Stubbornness wins and the Chinese man takes a seat. The guy behind me says, “It’s a trick to distract us!” So add racist paranoia to the “fuck you” attitude, and what do we have? I don’t know the exact term, but my money’s on someone’s dying tonight.
The architect who is taking the heat for those extra 36 inches is a slim young man in khaki hipster-business suit. He has long hair down to his shoulders. He’s probably a nice kid from a good family, but in the face of those extra 36 inches, the value of his life is nearing zero. He’ll be the first to die.
Complaints turn into abstract protestations. People claim this building is too present in space and time. Too dimensional. They stand up and yell, “Measurements! Inches! Your mother!” and when their faces get red due to the lack of oxygen, someone else jumps up and hollers more units of length.
A lawyer defends the project. He has a cane, which I’m sure is concealing a Katana sword from the Shinsakuto period.
One of the attendants, the lady with the knitted hat, asks too many questions. All of them can be resumed to one issue: the building will block the sun and will produce shadows. I can hear the lawyer’s thoughts: We will talk to the city and see if we can get a permit to move the sun.
Since the meeting started, approximately 105 species of equatorial insects have gone extinct.
The guy leading the meeting is either related to Whitey Bulger or Johnny Depp. I will get back to you on that one.
An older woman, as she protests the fire escape staircase, describes the concept of stairs and uses her hands to draw us a picture. She draws lines in the air that represent stairs. She’s actually doing it.
The good news is we’re done with the 24 unit building in the Armenian Church lot. The bad news: here comes a new project. A man says that the new project will be discussed in depth Monday. So we are having a meeting to announce a future meeting. In the meantime, Myanmar has changed its name three times.
I fail to understand what this new man is presenting. He brings a big map of Southie and points at streets. He goes, “this one is A street and this one is B street.” Something about zoning. Yes, it’s about zoning, which is very important if you are into zones. Are you into zones? I’m not.
This man loves zones and says he spends 70% of his time on zoning. The rest of the time, one assumes, he works on his tan. He looks, sounds, and smells like a politician. He discusses so many ratios so quickly, no one can find an entry point to tell him to go fuck himself.
But then this man with the bright orange sweater bullies himself into it: That’s a bullshit argument! (for the record, the argument was, “Over here, this is D street.”) And women reach inside their bags while men open their jackets. The politician remains as cool as Vanilla Ice, ignores the heckler, and moves us along because time is a factor. He is right. Our lives are constantly informed by the passage of time, and I can see a stream of particles from my arm flying up into the air. “No sooner do we come into this world,” said Flaubert, “than bits of us start to fall off.” In my case, I’m running out of bits, so fuck Flaubert. Why? I’m becoming one of them. I’m turning.
Mr. Bulger interrupts to remind us this is a preliminary meeting, not the main meeting, so there’s no point in getting angry. But if I’ve learned anything tonight it is that regardless of how much money we make, how much we gain, we’ll always cultivate anger, which we will spew back into the world because if I’m not happy nobody should be.
I’m impressed with the way the politician deals with these people. He might win this battle. I think he’s the mayor’s or ex-mayor’s son. All I know is that if he makes it out alive tonight, and if he doesn’t get skin cancer from all the tanning, he’ll be mayor one day.
Oh, no. Another fucking project. Apartment building. 144 West Third. Two units. Two parking spaces. No roof decks. No nothing. A pretend building! It’s like the presenter knew people were going to protest the use of space, so he decided to leave out balconies, decors, and bay windows. If I’m reading the plans right, there’s only one shared window for both units.
Most people like the fact that there’s almost no construction. This building is a box with one window, like a bathroom closet for families. So my take is Ghost Building will get approved because it will barely exist. Congrats and welcome to progress.
You have to be kidding me. Another damn apartment building, this one on F street and 1st. The lawyer with the Katana sword resurfaces. He’s getting a lot of clients. I wonder how he does it. He recommends this project with as much fervor as the last one. 33 units. 54 parking spaces. People whisper. They can’t wait to jump in and give this lawyer the business.
The lawyer walks with his cane in such a way, I can tell he is well versed in the dark martial arts of Southern Tokushima. He is clever. He answers his own questions in an angry way. “Is this building going to be a great addition to the community? Yes!” People are not allowed to enter the lawyer’s one-man Q&A, and they are confused. The lawyer closes with, “If you have questions we’d love to hear them,” and says goodbye without leaving an opening to pose such questions. This lawyer is my favorite kind of asshole.
We are now in the presence of a young man from the 1950’s. He is wearing rolled-up khakis and a baby blue shirt, his hair combed like he is saying, “Step aside, Don Draper. I got your Coke right here.” A shiny droplet of gel drips down his forehead.
He presents the blueprints for an apartment building that is made out of a lot of numbers. The building is measured in feet, inches and can be broken down into more units, which Neo-Don Draper itemizes and numbers fly. He is as entertaining as the Korean War.
A lady asks, “is this building good for families?” Neo-Don Draper looks at her as if she were made out of poop. He doesn’t even bother to answer the question, and files it under Theological Mysteries, where it shall remain for the rest of time.
A man wearing a Patriots jersey over a Patriots sweatshirt stands up and says, “if you don’t meet the zoning, then don’t even try building it.” I thought we were done with the zoning. Maybe I just entered the Twilight Zoning and that’s why we keep repeating ourselves.
Guess what? We have reached the part of the presentation called, “Let me get up and tell a story about shit that makes me angry because why the fuck not.”
So a lady stands up and tells us the story of a piece of land next to her house. She has lived in Southie for 30 years. Her story begins as God separates the firmament. This is going to take more than 30 years. Her name is Mary. How appropriate. I hope she doesn’t get pregnant here. The story has a midnight scene with a car and headlights and a man dumping toxic waste on the lot next to her house. The culprit is this guy, Chris, who, in an amazing twist, happens to be standing next to her! Turns out Mary and Chris’ mother have profound and eternal beef. Chris is getting trashed. Mary is telling us that Chris is a piece of shit, but she puts it in more offensive terms, the sort that make the word “cunt” sound more like “cotton candy,” and I can’t believe Chris is not running away in shame.
I’m 74 years old now and I don’t remember when was the last time I saw my wife. Who am I? I’m a rocket man, burning out my fuse up here alone.
Many have left angry, but this is still Lord of The Flies territory.
There’s a new building. Who cares? In America, buildings pop up one day and get torn down the next. None of this matters, as the few remaining attendants, most of them dying of old age, me included, protest the ambitious use of space.
The topic today, as it has been abundantly clear, is astronomy, but more precisely, space. We also got an extensive review on measurements. I can now name all of them. Inches. Feet. Square inches. Square feet. Someone lick me a golden star made of anthrax and stick it on my forehead.
Where are these people going? It’s already time for the next meeting, so there’s no point in going home. I’ll let you know how it goes.