Friday, February 21, 2014

Our Hippie Fence in the Asphalt Jungle

 I wrote this short piece for Hyperlocal, a Canada WRITES project, in april 2013.
 You can also read it here

We live in a building with no balconies and no yard to speak of, just a 3 foot wide stripe of earth running along the back alley. For years it was the place to piss or for all the good people next door to stack their discarded mattresses. Next door is a legendary 50 unit flop house with a thousand short stories that should be left for another time, a time when you bring over the drinks and I can relax and really get into it.  

My partner Emilie built a charming hippie fence made with found woods and the odds and ends we’ve collected over the years. We reclaimed our little corner away from the trash piles and pee boys. We tried to sit in our 'back yard' with a drink and a snack one hopeful summer night but an over friendly drunk ambled over and draped himself around our rickety fence, sharing our space and kinda spoiling the mood.  

This alley is the hottest alley in the neighbourhood. It opens to a popular cafe and a new bar tailor made for young loud professionals. The café doesn’t have a liquor license so the kids gather in the alley under our window to drink dep beer and smoke joints and laugh in loud undergrad voices. Often. I’ve become the old man who sticks his head out the window and asks them politely to move along. Why politely ? Even at 2 in the morning ? Because we’re sitting ducks.  

One late winter night some stoned young man was railing against the back fence, wrenching a part this way and that. His friend was skating blissfully in the yard across the way. I'd guess acid but who knows. Our neighbour across the alley (the good neighbours) had made an ice rink for their kids. I poked my head out of our window and calmly asked the fence beater what we was doing. He said, "fucking shit up". From some weird place of deeper calm, I gently asked him why. He retorted "uuuh..fuck you. Good night" and left.  

The large red plywood letter 'B' I salvaged years ago from a now defunct local resto, and making up a nice part of the fence, was recently unscrewed from its casings and hauled off by some careful bastard with an eye for the finer things. The fence has been abused and broken by the many denizens of the alley. The cats use our garden beds as litter boxes. The vines we planted are wildly overtaking the spindly wood. The good-time charlies lean on it, idly pick at it, sometimes tend to the vines. The tulips are often disappeared by zealous garden ladies of another generation.  

Our tiny zone is an uphill battle. Until we finally split for some greener pasture, it'll have to do. It’s charming and awkward and broken. But we must have it, we must stake our little claim and try to pretty up the alley, almost against all odds.