Bob and I ended up on a block next to Wicker Park. You’ve probably heard of it. Every big city has a Wicker Park. In NYC, it’s Greenwich Village. In San Francisco, it’s the Mission. It basically amounts to any neighborhood that started as a ghetto, before artists and bohemians moved in, followed by hipsters, and the final wave of metrosexuals, wine connasouers, and general gentrification. Before I ever thought I could ever be an agent of gentrification- when I was still a twenty-something who shopped at thrift stores for ironic T-shirts and not because I needed to save money for diapers, here’s what I wrote:
I was on my way to the fish store the other day, being as I had to pick up some snails for a classroom project (or rather a snail: they’re hermaphroditic, and need only a single individual to spark a population of thousands. I really only needed to buy one and just wait) It turns out that snail reproduction is actually a big orgy, where they all pile up on each other and, well, do it. Gender is defined by where you are in the pile: bottom/middle, female, top/outside, male. It occurs to me that while we consider invertebrates ‘simple’ animals, they probably have a more extensive knowledge of sexual politics than we do.
Ahem. Anyway, perched next to the fish store was a dog salon with perfectly rounded corner windows that extended almost half the circumference around the store, offering a panoramic view into the life and times of a pet grooming business. It reminded me of the new yuppies on the block that I had recently moved into (the block, not the yuppies), the local champions of gentrification. Unlike the Latino population that lives in the area, the folks with hordes of roaming children and porch parties every Sunday, these people do not live on the street. At least not in the same literal way that their neighbors do. As a replacement though, they have allowed the neighborhood the privilege of viewing them as they live inside their new condos and townhouses. I’m not sure which architect thought of this, but all the new buildings on the street are almost entirely glass windows in front, both first, second, and third floors. We can watch them prepare dinner, yell at the kids, do the newest tai-bo-yoga-wholefoods-holististic-herbal-naturaopathic-aromatherapy exercise routine, and generally perform all the mundane activities of everyday living in the limelight of their track-lighting illumination systems by IKEA. I don’t know why they thought anyone would be interested, but apparently they figured they would exchange the intensity of their 15 minutes of fame in order to spread it out over several decades. If I’m watching them watch a virtual reality program on TV, and the virtual reality people are watching TV as well, what degree of separation is that?
This was all roaming through my head as I was dawdling on the sidewalk. Perhaps the fact that the dog that was receiving a blow-dry from a complicated apparatus on the left wing of the grooming salon- in full view- inspired this soliloquy. I just can’t imagine how this became a reasonable way of making a living, and the fact that there is probably a yellow pages category devoted entirely to dog grooming and pet manicures.
“So what are you doing this weekend, Chuck?”
“Well, I was thinking of taking the dog and a pair of clippers and shaving off his fur in such a way that he looked like a complete twit.”
“No Kidding! You ever done something like that before?”
“Can’t say I have.”
“You should look into the place where the wife takes our dog. The last time I tried to sheer the poodle, well, he looked kinda dumb, but he didn’t have that red-hot-face-flushing kind of embarrassing hair-doo like only a professional can provide, you know what I’m saying? Took him to this upscale little place, and I won’t say I wasn’t skeptical. It’s true, it’s a little pricey, but I have to say the dog looked like a total asshole.”
“You don’t say? I’ll have to give it a try.”
So. This was our new neighborhood. Sort of.
The ‘Sort of’ ends up being much more significant than I imagined, and the reason is this: Yes, the neighborhood was undergoing gentrification, but it wasn’t at all gentrified. When we signed the lease on our tiny apartment on our tiny block, the landlord glanced across the street, shifted nervously on the balls of his feet, and said:
“You should avoid those guys. They’re trouble.”
‘What kind of trouble’ I thought. I must have said it out loud.
“They deal arms. And drugs. I distrust them.”
Distrust? Arms? Like Reaganomics? What the fuck was going on here?
 Although, I should note I have a steady paycheck, and while teachers –REASONABLY- like to complain about the salary, we really aren’t all that bad off. I will probably soon be one of the local champions of gentrification.