Last week, I realized something terrible. I've turned into one of those people I hated when I was a kid. Those ladies that think they own the whole street. A stranger loiters too long out front and I'll ask, "Who are you looking for?" Dog owners who let their pets relieve themselves on my front garden best be ready to catch a plastic bag, a stash of which I keep on the front porch.
I remember women like this from my childhood, and I feared them. They had an eye on the neighborhood. When you passed their houses you felt like you'd been up to no good — whether you had been or not. There was the one who'd keep the balls that went over her fence, and the one who peered from behind closed window shades whenever we tried to cut through her back yard. I thought of these women then as goody two shoes. The behind-the-shade-lady, I remember, even gave out toothbrushes on Halloween.
But here I am. I've joined their ranks. I try to be nice about my concern for my neighborhood and non-scary. I think of myself as someone who simply cares. But the distance to my house from the corner store is equivalent to the time it takes to eat a package of potato chips. Every day I pick up a chip bag, sometimes more than one. I grouse, but pick them up anyway, both in front of my house and my neighbors.
But last week when I saw a boy of nine or ten, drop an orange chip bag onto the begonia in my front yard, I couldn't help myself. "This yard is not your garbage can," I said, and pointed to a trash can not 20 feet away. First the boy looked at me with what may have been fear, or maybe it was disgust. It was then I thought of those women from my own childhood. So I smiled. Then he smiled. But then he rolled his eyes dramatically, snorted, and picked up the chip bag.
"I'm not a crazy lady," I called after him. He rolled his eyes again with a gesture that I read as, "Oh really?"
With a Perspective, or maybe it's a confession, I'm Louise Rafkin.
Louise Rafin is the crazy lady, and writer, policing her Emeryville neighborhood.