Different Windows, Same Views
October 16th, 2014
Wherever you are, I guess it’s all in how you look at it. And in what you fail to see.
As published in The Daily News, October 17, 2014, and in The Memphis News, October 18-24, 2014
THIS MORNING. THIS TOWN.
This morning, I woke up in a challenged neighborhood.
You know the challenges well.
The population is declining and aging – talking about the good old days, bemoaning the present, fearful of the future. The city is trying to reinvent itself – built on a booming business now faded and all but gone. Young people aren’t returning. One major employer dominates and other jobs are mostly in government or in lower-paying positions in service or tourism. People outside the city point to it as the source of the area’s problems.
“Abandoned neighborhoods and crime,” says the right. “Far too much controlled by far too few,” says the left. “Far too many up to no good,” says both.
All of that was in the ebb and flow of the conversations I was floating through at last night’s cocktail party. One local woman, a Ph.D. in anthropology, was putting things in historical perspective. Another woman, an engineer and Russian, and another engineer, a man from Wales, were comparing their commutes and jobs. A delightful Earth mother from across the road brought a basket of tomatoes from her garden, her carrots were in the carrot cake. The retired teachers brought a savory sausage dish served with warm charm on the side. Everybody brought a sense of humor, something common in this diverse group.
While this sounds like down south in Memphis, this was a different neighborhood, different voices.
This was my brother and sister-in-law’s house outside of Gloversville, New York, down in the southern part of Adirondack Park, the largest park, state-level protected area, and National Historic Landmark in the contiguous United States. Instead of cotton, Gloversville’s faded business is the eponymous leather tanning of 150 years ago. Instead of FedEx, the area’s major employer, and the employer of that Russian engineer, is GE. And if you don’t know anything about Gloversville, that’s okay, they don’t know much about you either. The aforementioned Ph.D. asked me if Memphis – headquarters of the aforementioned FedEx – had an airport.
This morning, I awoke to the wondrous racket of 16 or 17 wild turkeys outside my window, and the roar of a stream dropping 15 or 20 feet over two falls into a rocky pool. Upstream, beaver are out in the water building a dam on the Earth mother’s property and she’s out there building one right beside them. In a couple of months, it will all be under a couple of feet of snow and the neighbors will be coming to cocktail parties on cross-country skis.
What was outside my window was what I wanted to talk about, but that’s their everyday view. They wanted to talk about local problems and challenges. They wanted me to talk about the Mississippi River, grits, the Blues, and why brother Frank no longer sounds like I do.
People share problems in common. When they look out the window they tend to see those problems, failing to see their own mountains or rivers or wonders, looking for something else.
I’m a Memphian, and I keep my eye out for the unique.
If you don’t read it, I’ll read it to you.The book is available in print online and all over town and now in audio online at Amazon, Audible and iTunes, read by the author – columns, comments and character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it. Take a look or a listen.