“Hey,” he says. “Wanna buy some property?”
“Lookin’ to buy?” he asks. “Lease?”
I play along.
He nods toward a couple of low-slung two-story tan brick buildings.
“Yours?” I ask.
“They’re mine,” he says. “Wanna buy? Lease?”
What do you say in these situations? Not that there are “these situations.” I have never been in one of these situations.
“Not really,” I reply.
Unfazed, he leans up against a car.
“You got money?” he asks.
“Money? No. Not to buy a building.”
“Check it out,” he says and nods again toward the buildings. “What do you think’s inside?”
“Inside?” I query, trying not to sound intrigued, even though I am dying to see the inside. “I have no idea.”
“Guess,” he says.
“I dunno,” I begin. I consider the types of interiors I’ve seen in the area. “Scuffed hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, low ceilings?”
He doesn’t say anything, just gazes wordlessly at the buildings.
“So,” I ask, “how close am I?” The guy lets the question linger in the air awhile.
“Wanna see ’em?” he finally asks.
Do I wanna see ’em? Of course I wanna see ’em. Who wouldn’t wanna see ’em? A sane person, that’s who. I mean, isn’t this just a little weird — a guy on a corner, asking if I want to cop some property? Since when did such come-ons stop being about watches or contraband?
What if this guy fantasizes of being in a Coen brothers movie? What if he has a wood chipper in there? Worse, what if he is into slasher films and, as soon as we open the door, his goon pals tie us to chairs and hop around while saying, “C’mon, lemme knife his eyeballs out”?
“Sure,” I say. “Let’s take a look.”
He pushes off the car, fumbles with a set of keys, and unlocks the door.
I BROUGHT TIM to this neighborhood to show him the house my wife and I hope to buy. It is a couple of blocks away.Around here, the shops are not all shiny and the streets are not all clean. Storefronts sag. Empty lots pockmark a dollar-store streetscape that even without the blemishes wouldn’t win any urban-design prizes. It is a “glass half full, half empty” kind of area. A study done for the city says the neighborhood is coming back and enumerates all sorts of impressive projects planned for it. That study came out in 1983.
That is the half-empty part.
The half-full part is that in the last three or four years, a few things actually have happened. A couple of nightclubs have opened. A good, moderately priced restaurant and a well-reviewed high-end restaurant have gotten a toehold. At least three independently owned coffeehouses have started up.
What you may not consider, not consciously anyway, is who you are. Or, perhaps more to the point, who you want to be.
We, apparently, want to be younger.
This neighborhood bristles with youthful energy. There are theaters that book edgy plays. The coffee shops all have flyers touting socially conscious causes. The clubs get the hippest bands, most of them unknown but with an ardent fan base.
When we began our house hunt, we didn’t intend to live in this area. After our first couple of visits, I didn’t want to live in this area. Its past was too evident, its future too uncertain.
With some areas, you know precisely what you are getting. That, in fact, is one reason you choose to live there. You know what to expect.
Not this neighborhood. This one is, to put it charitably, a work in progress.
Sometimes, you pick a neighborhood; sometimes, a neighborhood picks you.
It will be interesting to be young again.
THE GUY SLIPS a key in the lock and opens the door. My vision of what the inside would be was completely wrong.
Any vision would have been wrong. For the interior is being completely renovated. Walls have been removed, there are sawhorses, and lumber is stacked in piles. Upstairs, the false ceiling has been removed and lamps hang from the high actual ceiling.
It has, as they say, good bones. You can see that it is on its way to being something. “So, whattaya think?” the guy asks. “Wanna buy it? Lease it?”
Yes, I do. I envision opening a little restaurant or maybe a bookstore. I daydream of possibility. Looking at it, halfway done as it is, its owner hopeful, I realize that I am in a metaphor for the neighborhood itself.
Tim and I go back out to the street, with its old lots and new wine bars. The “glass half empty, half full” feeling is a good one, a feeling that anything can happen.