Living Out Loud: : Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Clifton's Gaslight District

Very soon I'll be coming up on five years living in Clifton's Gaslight District. For the most part, it's been an enjoyable time. I like living in a community that's very urban, has a lot of diversity and where most want to take the time to get to know their neighbors.

I like going into the Proud Rooster and the warm hellos. I enjoy Lisa's loud laugh and smile at Sitwell's. It's a trip running into writer C.A. MacConnell and seeing her big hair and eyes and cutting up with her. I like waving at another writer, Steven Paul Lansky, from across the street and yelling out, "What's going on?" Arlin's is a fun place to meet up with my friends. I know all the cashiers at CVS Pharmacy, and I'm in Keller's IGA almost every day, chatting with the people who quickly scan my groceries.

While the Gaslight District is warm, friendly and comfortable and only a few minutes away from downtown, it's not without its problems.

Sometimes you don't want people to know your name.

I'll call her talkative Betty. She certainly knows who I am, knows I write for CityBeat and will sometimes take me to task over something I've written. She'll do this very loudly in a store or on the sidewalk. It doesn't matter.

I once made the mistake of trying to debate her on something she didn't like. She started to get a bit physical about it and got even louder. Now when I see Betty, I make every attempt to cross the street.

Then there's Pigpen. That's my made-up name for him based on the Peanuts character. He is, in a word, dirty. He smells really, really bad.

He sometimes hangs out on the porch of the Roanoke, where I live. I know I'm always going to get hit up for cigarettes or change, and maybe while I don't really mind that, he always wants to talk. I just don't want to. Again, he stinks.

When I can't hide, I'll sometimes have to talk to Jackie. She's always as nice as she can be, but she constantly lies.

Last summer I ran into her on the street and we stopped and chatted for a while. She said she had just run into a mutual friend of ours who also lives in Clifton, and that person was asking about me.

Well, see, I know that person was vacationing in Florida at the time, because I had taken him to the airport a couple days earlier. This isn't the first lie I've caught Jackie in, and it makes me uncomfortable to go along with her.

There's one gentleman I see constantly in the stores and on the streets but I can't seem to find anyone who knows his name. Regardless of the season, he's always wearing a suit. Sometimes he walks a black dog. His hair's a little long and his face a little pasty.

Oftentimes I see him in CVS buying a loaf of Wonder Bread. He takes that loaf of bread, walks over to the library and tears it up around the trees on the sidewalk for small birds to eat. He'll talk with others sometimes but won't make eye contact with me. Oftentimes he seems in a daze, just standing in one spot on the sidewalk for several minutes.

Most of the time I think he's harmless, even intelligent — that is, until he goes into a tirade and curses up a storm when a car goes by on Ludlow Avenue. It's very random but very scary when he does it. When I need to pass him on the sidewalk, I'm more than a little guarded.

The reality is these are small complaints about some of the residents of Clifton. Betty, I think, means well. Pigpen is down on his luck. Jackie has problems with the truth, and the man in the suit, frankly, is intriguing to me.

You have to take the good with the bad in any neighborhood you live in. I can tolerate my neighbors who seem strange or a little off. It very well could be they feel the same about me.

You can't like or understand everyone you meet; and while it's not totally perfect, Clifton's Gaslight District is more than good enough for me.

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