Across the street is a single-level apartment complex. Complex is the wrong word. It is a handful of apartments that overlook a courtyard with a pool in which no one ever swims. It is almost cute from the outside, in all its pink stucco. Cute, that is, until four police cars swarmed the place one afternoon a few weeks ago while I was walking the dog. I watched as the officers hid behind lamp posts and and palm tree trunks, sweaty and awkward in their bullet proof vests, while I was in full view, wearing shorts and a T-shirt and flip flops, of whomever they were trying to shield themselves from.
Across the street is a bungalow that was on the market since I moved here ten months ago. It sold a few weeks ago, just like that, for $300-thousand something. I personally think the buyer got some kind of bargain, even if it is in a South Florida market that is ruled by foreclosures. Because I live in a neighborhood that is already seeing the beginning of a recovery in real estate, barely. Because I know from real estate, and my neighborhood will be among the first of the neighborhoods to recover, because I always pick THAT neighborhood in which to live. Yep, the bottom has hit, at least here, across the street. Too bad I am renting a stupid apartment from an even stupider landlord, across the street from another house on the market, a house that I actually covet.
Across the street, I watch the new buyer of the bungalow visit the renovation project every day. She is preppy thin and wears Lily Pulitzer outfits every day. She has bobbed, straight gray hair that screams, “I will never be colored because I won’t do that!” She would be invisible in Naples, because she would look like so many, at least in my stereotype view of Naples, a place I have never visited. I notice her every day, across the street. And I wonder, where is her husband. Surely, there is a husband. Right?
Across the street from the bungalow under renovation is a white stucco rental house with purple trim and a sizable lawn that is overgrown with weeds. A white minivan often pulls into the driveway of this rental house, and in the minivan is often a little girl–five years old, if a day–who hops out, every day, across the street. Some days she is happy and skipping and running to fill her arms with the dirty, matted white poodle that greets her from the open door of the rental house. Most days, however, I watch her wrap her feelings in her arms that she wraps around herself, shielding herself, hiding herself, from her father who screams at her mother, “Are you f—ing drunk again? Are you? F— you! You have a five-year-old! Do you even give a shit?”
Across the street from the bungalow under renovation, I walk right past this five-year-old every day. And every day I watch her expression as her angry father curses at her alcoholic mother–in person or on the phone–and I watch her trail her hand along the bushes in front of her rental house across the street from the bungalow under renovation, lost in a world that takes her away from her real world. Just once, maybe tomorrow, I want to ask her if she’d like to pet the soft head and cheeks of my sweet dog. Then maybe I will worry less and be more hopeful about this five-year-old. Maybe the brief contact with my magical pup will allow her to survive her nightmare existence in the rental house that is across the street from the bungalow that signals the beginning of the end of the depressing housing market in South Florida.
Across the street is a sophisticated, older woman who never ceases to invite me to impromptu brunches, pool-side cocktails, and all the rest that goes along with a designer-calibre bungalow that is a bungalow no longer, but rather a designer show house. I decline every week, because I have to work. The older woman does not understand my restaurant hours. She thinks I simply do not want to socialize with her and her friends. I cannot convince her that actually, I just have to work.
Across the street, I fully expect to see several of my neighbors walk through the front door of my restaurant. When they do, I will be gracious. I hope they will be, too, when they see me at work.
I hope the bad guys were caught across the street. I hope the renovation goes well across the street. I hope against hope that the little girl who lives in the rental house across the street feels my willed gift of strength to grow up strong and well, despite all the crap that swirls around her.
I don’t really care if my neighbor across the street calls me again. I don’t really care about the police action or how the renovation unfolds across the street. But please, someone–anyone–hear my prayer for the five-year-old who lives across the street. She needs all of those prayers. She needs all of us. Even this girl who walks her dog, across the street.