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On My Block

By Kathy Y. Wilson · October 3rd, 2002 · Your Negro Tour Guide
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"On my block, it's like the world don't exist/We stay confined to this small little section with dividends/On my block, I wouldn't trade it for the world/'cuz I love these ghetto boys and girls."
-- "On My Block," Scarface

If the living room windows are open and a No. 11, 24, 31, 56 or 69 bus roars past, the noise drowns out the television. So watching TV is the aural equivalent of riding a rollercoaster.

Then there's the music. Either mine is loud enough to hear on the sidewalk or another's can be heard throughout my four shotgun rooms from two floors above the street.

The street is Woodburn Avenue near DeSales Corner between Madison Avenue and William Howard Taft Road. It's a slowly gentrifying corridor of black barbershops and beauty salons, storefront churches, towering apartment buildings, bus stops, nosey neighbors and stoop-sitting black men with a couple of bodegas sprinkled on top like urban seasoning atop a bright salad.

I moved back to The 'Nut (Walnut Hills) in mid-July from Mount Auburn because I'd missed the roughly hewn mixture of upwardly mobile and fixed income, of grinding Negroes and hip Whites and of strivers and old saints. From late 1989 and beginning in what became a Roach Motel of an apartment on Victory Parkway, I'd lived within a four-block radius of myself for the better part of a dozen years.

I moved to bigger, better and more fabulous digs. Then, in late 2000, I parted company with The 'Nut during an emergency move. I stuffed myself and five rooms of furniture into a two-room studio on a busy and dirty intersection in Mount Auburn.

Though it was a Godsend, I hated it. Now I'm home after setting adrift on a wacked-out memory bliss.

My neighbors don't rise as gently as the eastern sun. Regardless of weekday or weekend, each morning they greet life in a chorus of shouted greetings, staccato horn blows, guffaws and boisterous conversations. It's a cacophonous symphony.

The proprietors of Woodburn Dry Cleaners on mild days prop their doors open. People file in with jumbles of dirty clothes, while others emerge with hangers draped in plastic.

Well before 9 a.m. cars line up outside Dean's Barber Shop. The order of their cars is the order in which their heads will be shaved, faded and trimmed. North near Madison Avenue, It's About Hair and Reflections of Beauty are hookin' up twists, braids and 'locks.

Sometimes Thioub's Deli & Variety Store is open early. You can tell by the same sandwich board advertising the same special -- fried chicken wings and French fries -- the owner sets up on the sidewalk out front. Other times it's open according to his whims.

Workers rehabbing the adjoining building run in and out all day for snacks and sugary sweetened drinks. Inside it's a leftover set from a David Lynch flick, with its blue walls, acrid odor of old grease and dingy lighting. But there's stuff you'll need if your light bulb blows, your toilet paper roll runs to cardboard or your food needs salting.

Back up the street you can see the weekend coming by the number of black men, mostly nappy heads, sitting in the doorway to Lawrence Studio. It's a hangout where aspiring musicians and singers congregate to freestyle over beats heard up and down the block.

Across the street in the Redeeming Church of Christ where Cory's aunt belongs, Cory makes demos during the week in a makeshift studio set up by the front door. If the door is open in the evenings, sumptuous Rhythm & Blues wafts out into the street, battling Ashanti and Tupac blasting from passing car windows.

Dexter, a sometimes employee of the dry cleaners, charges his neighbors a nominal fee to mend their clothing.

Al, my old buddy long retired from the Main Public Library, is sitting, always sitting, in the pretty park with the gazebo and fountain by the bus stop cattycorner from St. Francis DeSales Church.

On weekends, white couples step gingerly from the pages of Bride Magazine into waiting Rolls Royces to drive into the sunset of their lives. Some of us blow at them when we drive past.

In this neighborhood, you throw your hand up to people whether or not you can call them by name. You ask, "How y'all doin'?" without pausing for reply.

It's a black Mayberry, indeed. It's a place where people keep watch because they're nosey and concerned about the company you keep. And they're brazen enough to inquire.

"Who was that coming out of your apartment the other day?" Or, "You just missed her," they tell my tardy visitors.

My block has its rhythm, its soundtrack; possibilities and downfalls. And when I turn the key in my door, I know it's where I belong.



Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.
 
 
 
 

 

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