When I was a kid in small-town Alabama, I dreamed of living in a town with sidewalks. Idyllic towns had sidewalks, where you could walk freely, safely, boldly, to your best friend’s house and eat homemade sugar cookies while you planned your next big adventure together. Mayberry, Avonlea, Star’s Hollow, wherever Wishbone was set–they were all sidewalk towns. Sidewalks meant livability, an invitation to roam, mobility for kids whose only form of transportation was a bike or sneakers. I blame my idyllic town fantasy on Mr. Rogers and his awesome red sneaks. How wonderful was it that he could just walk out his door and into town, encountering friends everywhere along the way?
[I also dreamed of living in a place where you had to wear a sweater in September and needed yellow rain boots. Family Circle and Highlights gave me wildly unrealistic expectations for fall in the South.]
Lexington is a lot like the magical sidewalk town I wanted. Lots of trees, an increasingly vibrant downtown, and yes, sidewalks nearly everywhere.
Even better than that, though, is that I have somehow stumbled into my own version of Mr. Rogers’s magical neighborhood and am surrounded by a cast of super-nice people*. There’s Shonda, my dental hygienist who always greets me with a hug and chats about pets and essential oils while she compliments me on my teeth.
There’s the nicest mailman in the world, complete with walrus mustache and beaming smile, who offers to shovel my car out when it snows. His laugh is somewhere between Santa Claus and the Pillsbury Dough Boy, in a way that manages to be charming and not creepy.
There’s Brandon the liquor store guy, who is doing great after his major surgery last summer and never steers me wrong with my wine selection (he also refused to let me pay when I straight up dropped a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in a huge foamy, glassy mess on the tile. LOVE YA BRANDON).
There’s Karen at Student Health, who chats with me about the struggles of being an introvert ever since I saw her reading Quiet and bumps me to the top of the wait list when she can. There’s Ollie, our former neighbor and up-and-coming hit musical composer who works at the local Cajun place and always gives me half-off my etouffee of the day.
There’s my banker DJ, who’s getting his MBA and always compliments my shoes.
There are my actual apartment neighbors, most of whom I know from the dog park, all sweet and lovely people. And of course there’s Kevin at the local home and garden store who was a drag queen in a former life and what he doesn’t know about growing a vegetable garden isn’t worth knowing.
A solid chunk of my life here is Mr. Rogers. But the other part, well . . . I love Fred Rogers like a god but he didn’t prepare me for the reality of unpleasant people in the neighborhood. And honestly? They’re the more interesting ones.
1. Weird John.
Weird John is my neighbor who likes to comment on the bruises on my legs. Sometimes he wears a costume that looks kinda like Felix the Cat. Weird John is weird. Ask me sometime. Shudder.
2. Circulation Girl.
I don’t know what I did to Circulation Girl to make her hate me so much, but apparently it was terrible. Oh, I remember–once I handed her my stack of books to check out with my student ID on top. Just to make things easier for her. She freaked. “PUT THE BOOKS DOWN THERRRRE THEN GIVE ME YOUR CARD.” She refuses to make eye contact, except when she does, and then it’s long and unblinking and murderous.
3. Harmless Dog Lady.
You know that person who is really actually very nice and has never done anything offensive? They have only ever tried to be your friend but their very existence just grates on your soul and then you feel really guilty but SWEET JESUS you can’t stand them. (Side note: my greatest social anxiety is that I am this person to a lot of people). This woman has even complimented my dog multiple times and still failed to de-ice my heart; that’s the level of my resistance. I could list all the (honestly absurd) reasons I find her insufferable, but it’s best summed up in one fact: she named her dog a trendy baby name, complete with middle name she uses when scolding the dog. She’s also the type of person who gets visibly emotional in church every Sunday during the songs. I feel terrible for disliking her. But I do.
4. Grumpster McGrumps.
Do I hate him because he dislikes my dog or because his flowing mane of white hair belongs in a gated community in South Florida? He’s also not very nice to his own little beagle. I think that justifies my labeling him as a terrible person.
5. The Mormons.
Okay I don’t hate the Mormon missionaries, bless their hearts, they’re just EVERYWHERE. As in literally they live in my neighborhood and I never know when they’re going to coast up silently behind me on their bikes and shout, “Would you like to have a better life?” Sometimes they even infiltrate our apartment complex. One evening my neighbor Sarah and I were outside chatting, enjoying the sunset and talking Alabama football. Suddenly I caught a glimpse of something black and white and wheely in my peripheral. “Sarah–” I gasped but couldn’t go on. “MORMONS. RUN!” she said and dashed inside. Those quick reflexes – there’s a reason we’re friends.
It’s good to be in a place long enough to become a part of the community, both the weird and wonderful parts. If my community is 75% Mr. Rogers and 25% Bob’s Burgers, well, I think I can deal with that.
*All (most) names changed to protect the innocent.