The Haven
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The Haven

№12 Miami Caste System

Our swale/neighbor’s swale

Dear Ivette,

I noticed you planted a hedge on the swale between your swale and our swale. I noticed you didn’t plant a hedge on the other side, which makes this hedge feel very aggressive. Also, you have to admit, your lawn is awkward now.

I also noticed you positioned tiny flags along the street-line, lest anyone park on your lawn. The thing is, the swale’s not your lawn and you should know this better than anyone since it has only been one week since you called the City of Coral Gables Code Enforcement hotline about the political sign we pitched on our swale, which according to Code Enforcement is lawn that belongs to everyone.

Vicky told me she was going to gather up your smug little flags and shove them up your ass, but I told her that wouldn’t be polite; that the right thing to do was to discuss this with you, which is why I’m writing this letter.

I don’t need to rehash all of our disputes over the years, like the time you called Code Enforcement over our fallen shingle, or the time you called because you were sure I trained my dog to poop only on your swale, or the time I put my empty Huggies box on the garbage pile at 11:00 a.m. when I was supposed to wait until 6:00. I just want to say that I wish you had mentioned your dislike of Huggies boxes on the curb before you called your friends at City Hall. That would have saved me the $500 fine. But I see your point: putting garbage out at any old time could bring down our property values.

Speaking of appearances, please forgive me for running over there without even putting on shoes and a bra. When I came home all overheated, Vicky said, “Andrea, your nipples are showing.”

Speaking of my wife, I also know it makes you uncomfortable to be living next to a couple of lesbians. (I hate to gossip, but your cleaning lady told Mrs. Wiseman’s cleaning lady who told Mrs. Wiseman, who told me.) With the gay guys on the corner and now us, you must feel like Caligula Avenue’s turning into the gay ghetto. Queer coincidence, isn’t it?

I want you to know, I refused to believe homosexuality would bother you or anyone in our neighborhood especially with South Beach twenty minutes away. I had just spent several years living in Los Angeles and developed a very lovely and skewed vision of the world. And that’s why I convinced Vicky, when we first moved in, to go door-to-door to introduce ourselves.

That was eight years ago now. Can you believe how time flies? My son had just turned one. He was in his stroller and my daughter, just six, was on her scooter. Sorry, again, that she rolled over your touch-me-nots. The flowers your yardman replanted the next day grew back nicely.

I know you have a little girl too. When we came to the door she was in the shower. We thought, what a shame, so we did our rounds and came back. You said she was still in the shower. She must have been a very dirty girl.

I have caught glimpses of her over the years when I’d hear the thud-thud of her volleyball and peer over the iron gates. She’s quite a player. And she was very cute in her Catholic girl uniform with the little pleated skirt. (Sorry, that may have sounded creepy).

It may not be my place to inform you that your daughter may have taken up drinking, but since we’re chatting…my son spotted a pile of empty bottles not very well buried just on your side of the fence.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about what you said about that Huggies box: “First Huggies boxes, then mattresses, and soon our property values are in the toilet because our neighborhood looks like Hialeah.”

Let’s face it, we all know that when you say Hialeah, you really mean Cuban ghetto. I know I don’t need to tell you this, but that’s not a nice thing to say. Especially coming from a Chilean. Of course you know, I’m a gringa, but Vicky, who’s Venezuelan, can tell by your accent that you’re Chilean. She has schooled me on the caste system here in Miami and I know that Chileans think they’re better than everyone else — pure European. I also know that Colombians, Venezuelans, and Argentinians think they’re better than everyone else. The Cubans think they’re the top dogs, and, by pure numbers, you gotta admit they are. But I know as well as you do, if you’re not Cuban, the last thing you want is to be mistaken for a Cuban.

Speaking of mistakes, my Huggies box was a big one. And while I agree that Huggies boxes can lead to mattresses and that mattresses on the curb aren’t pretty, I’ve come to the conclusion that mattresses are NOT the reason for our falling property values.

Before we moved here from Coconut Grove, which you rightly said is filled with hippies, everyone said, “Don’t move to Coral Gables!” Naturally, I asked why and everyone said — and this is not nice, but I’m only repeating what I was told — “Neighbors in Coral Gables snitch like Cubans.”

I didn’t believe it. But when you snitched on me, it got me thinking about property values. This may surprise you, but just a few years ago, when we were house shopping, houses in Coral Gables were 20% cheaper by square foot than the houses in Coconut Grove. How is that possible? Well, I’ve come to conclude that property values are dropping in our neighborhood because of our neighbors.

We have to do something. Together we can make a difference. Let’s bring “neighbor” back to neighborhood. Ivette, how ‘bout it?

We’re hosting a block party next Saturday at 5:00 and we’d love for you to come. I thought we could learn a little something about our street name’s history, so we rented an outdoor projector and will be showing Caligula, the movie. We hope to see you and to finally meet your daughter.


Your Neighbor Andrea

This is №12 of my #weeklyessaychallenge. When I turned 50, I gave myself this challenge inspired by the author Ray Bradbury who said something like, write a story every week, it’s impossible to write 52 bad stories in a row. #weeklyessay




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Andrea Askowitz

Andrea Askowitz

Books: My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy and Badass. Essays: NYT, Salon, The Rumpus, HuffPost. Podcast: Writing Class Radio.

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