Neighborhood squabbles were some of the most entertaining and hilarious aspects of growing up in my neighborhood. I laugh and shake my head when I think about some of the antics I’ve witnessed over the years. My neighborhood has the usual roster of offenders, instigators, mediators, and bystanders. I’ve always been a self-professed and universally-observed nerd. And I’ve always been cool with that designation. “I remember when your grandma would get mad cus you wouldn’t come outside to play. You just wanted to stay inside and read,” a neighbor often recounts to me and anyone else who will listen. Not only was I a nerd, but I was also a bystander. First of all, my grandmother would have beaten me silly if I were anything other than a bystander. Secondly, the idea of cursing and airing my dirty laundry in the street never appealed to me. But, I will grab some popcorn and watch a good argument all day long. I’m not quite as bad as my granny was. She used to have a pair of binoculars that she used to enhance her busy-body propensities. She stopped using them after she caught a neighbor looking back at her through his own set of binoculars. Granny had always been the neighborhood’s spiritual adviser and mediator. Depending on her mood and the situation, she might urge the neighbors to stop fighting, accompany them to the police station, or just start praying. She was also prone to trespassing for Jesus. Each year, she did her annual holy oil stroll up and down both sides of the street, placing holy oil (Goya virgin olive oil that she prayed over) in the sign of the cross on each neighbor’s door. “Granny, you can’t be trespassing on people’s property,” I would tell her. “You know that’s illegal, right?” She just ignored me, and no one ever yelled at her for leaving an oily mess on their front doors.
And then there were our usual offenders, like God Hater. I don’t know what God did to piss him off, but he used to stand in the rain for hours and cuss God out. He used cuss words I had never even heard before. I’ve often wondered why God didn’t just strike him with lightening to shut him up. As my granny used to say, “He betta thank God for Jesus.” The God Hater also had a longstanding rivalry with the Fightin’ Mommas, a family of women on my block who firmly believed in the old adage, “A family that fights together stays together.” The arguments between the God Hater and the Fightin’ Mommas looked like a scene out of a bad movie. As a child, I remember the Fightin’ Mommas being bad asses. They rolled deep and were scary looking too. The head-fightin’-momma-in-charge was in her seventies and still rocked cornrow braids like Queen Latifa in the movie Set it Off. And she would sho nuff set it off. Her and two of her daughters, all three clad in those floral patterned house dresses that everybody’s grandmomma has, would walk towards God Hater and cuss him out to kingdom come. He usually calmed down and went inside after a verbal thrashing from the Fightin’ Mommas. God Hater had a kindred spirit in the form of Weed Lady, who also liked to stand outside and cuss God out – except Weed Lady cussed God out come rain or shine. She also used to stand outside and tell everybody that God told her to smoke weed, as she puffed and coughed herself into oblivion. She was certifiably crazy. After a foul stench had lingered over the neighborhood for a few weeks, someone finally decided to go in Weed Lady’s house and found her dead husband. Weed Lady’s husband got a proper burial and she got shipped off to a psychiatric hospital. I told y’all she was certifiably crazy. There is nothing more entertaining than reality. And this was all very entertaining to my young eyes.
Neighborhood arguments usually involved learning about the sordid details of my neighbors’ lives, and witnessing family dynamics that would be better served through therapy or an intervention on a good daytime television show. You learned who the black sheep of the family was; whose husband had filed for bankruptcy without telling her; whose husband had slept with whom; and who had visited the voodoo lady so that her husband would die. There was some wild stuff going on in the hood. One such enlightening street fight erupted after the neighbors on my side of the street grew tired of neighbors from across the street sitting under a big tree in front of our house. My neighbors from across the street would come and set up tables and play Dominoes late into the night, leaving their beer bottles and Chinese food cartons on the ground after they decided to go home. We were fed up with having to clean up other people’s mess. I’ve never understood the concept of taking a chair and setting up shop on the sidewalk in front of someone else’s house. But, I guess having no air conditioner or trees to provide shade will cause some people to abandon good neighbor etiquette. Now, my neighbors aren’t the most diplomatic bunch. What could have been a civilized discussion about the cleanliness of our block and mutual respect among neighbors ultimately descended into a block war.
“Y’all think y’all better than us just cus y’all are homeowners,” one neighbor shouted from her stoop across the street.
“Why don’t you stay in front of your own house! And keep your trash over there while you’re at it!” a woman yelled at her from my side of the street.
“The blood of Jesus! Satan, the Lord rebukes you!” granny suddenly shouted, as she swept the trash that our loitering neighbors had left behind. No one responded to her, because she was talking to Satan.
“Oh shut the f&^% up! That’s not even your house! Your parents left that house to your sister cus you’re broke!” the neighbor responded. This is exactly why I don’t discuss my personal business with my neighbors. When they get mad at you, they will throw all of your skeletons in your face for the whole block to witness. It was hard to imagine that these two women had actually been very good friends at one time.
“I bind you up, Satan!” granny added. Satan clearly was not listening to a word she had to say, and neither were my neighbors. Satan was busy.
“Damn, I always miss the good stuff!” I muttered to myself as I watched the street circus and gathered my belongings. As much as I loved watching my neighbors’ shenanigans, I had to go to my bar exam review class. Besides, granny would fill me in on all the details later.
“Bye, granny,” I said, as she continued to admonish Satan and my neighbors continued to fuss. After that day, all was quiet in the hood for a while.
Most of our neighborhood squabbles were verbal disagreements that, while highly entertaining and informative, were ultimately harmless and part of the fabric of our hood.
But, our most recent neighborhood war went a little further than that, and shows what can happen when keeping it real goes wrong.
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A Nerd’s Tales from the Hood