Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Evils of Gentrification: A Personal Perspective

Hello and welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," where today we really, really wish we could identify Snobville by its real name. Just afraid to do it, because there are two Anne Johnsons on my street, and I don't want either of us to get harassed by our fellow Snobvillains.

On the surface of things, gentrification of inner cities seems like a great idea. Developers buy old, rundown (or abandoned) row homes and refurbish or demolish them in favor of more expensive, upscale housing. This helps increase the tax base and builds "safer" neighborhoods.

Did you ever think about what happens to the people who were living in those rundown row homes? Where do they go? How much upheaval does their moving cause to their children and their local community? Because everyone has a local community. As one of my students said, "I've lived in Camden my whole life, and it's not scary to me at all."

There are a couple of new urban young  adult novels about the toll gentrification takes on minority city dwellers. (This Side of Home, by Renee Watson, is one of them.) Anecdotally I can tell you that wealthy people who buy property in certain Philadelphia neighborhoods and seek to recreate their lifestyle among those with a different lifestyle sometimes face hostility. In my own household, I out-and-out cringed when the Spare's boyfriend said, "When I'm finished grad school I'll probably live in Camden. It's so much cheaper there." Will he be welcome? Seen as pulling the neighborhood up or splitting it apart? The answer varies. Nothing in this world is simple. I'm sure you've noticed.

Can I tell you a secret? Gentrification is not only happening in big cities. It's happening in suburban communities too. It's happening in Snobville. Right across the street from my house.

EXHIBIT A: "Before" View from My Front Door

This house was built in 1919. Behind it was a two-car garage with a one-bedroom apartment above the garage. Pretty, huh? I thought so too. But the people who lived there wanted to move away, and instead of waiting for a buyer interested in an older home, they sold to a developer. The developer used the fact that there were two residences on the property (the house, the apartment) to subdivide the lot for two full-sized luxury homes.

EXHIBIT B: Ominous Signs of Things To Come

Last fall, one day while I was at school, the house got demolished in less time than it took me to complete my teaching day. When I left in the morning it was there, and when I came home, it wasn't.

What about the trees? You ask. Eight of them are gone now. The tree cutters came on the weekend, so I couldn't avoid them. In fact, they came last Sunday for the largest tree (not pictured, off to the left).

Have you ever been wakened on a Sunday morning by an industrial-sized wood chipper and an army of chain saws? Mr. J called the police. It took the cop 40 minutes to come, during which the tree slaughter continued apace.

It took about six months for the first luxury house to be built. Asking price: $850,000 -- more than twice the value of my home across the street. The house was purchased before it was even finished.

As you might imagine from looking at the above photos, putting two houses on that property is a tight squeeze. Here's the first one, all finished.

EXHIBIT C: Four People, Four Bathrooms

The tree pictured has been cut down.

Notice the size of the house and how small the front yard is. This is the "smaller" of the two houses. The bigger one will be directly across the street from mine. If this one sold for $850 grand, I imagine the larger one will be offered at a million.

About four weeks ago, a young family moved into the house pictured above, Exhibit C. They are very young. Both are lawyers. They have a baby and a three-year-old. So basically the house has a bathroom for each inhabitant.

Probably next week, workers will begin digging the foundation for the next house. To make way for it, the largest tree on the lot had to be murdered.

EXHIBIT D: Candles on a Stump

Look at the size of that stump! This was a beautiful tree. They were cutting it down last Monday when I got home from work. (After the law chased them on Sunday.) I'm the one who put the candles there when the deed was done. The stump has since been ground out.

I don't know what you would call this, but I call it gentrification.

I've seen a lot of turnover on my block during the last 31 years. I've always been the first one to bring a casserole to the newbies and volunteer to help them with information on daycare and where to get the best birthday cake. But I cannot bring myself to welcome this new family. Their values cannot possibly be mine. Clearly they wanted a house where everything was brand spanking new, with four fucking bathrooms and no yard, front or back.

It's supremely disorienting to come home from work to the same house and the same street that you've lived on since 1987, and nothing is the same. The trees are gone. The old house is gone. In its place a butt-ugly monstrosity populated by a family that has a pathological aversion to smelling shit. And this is not Rip Van Winkle. I didn't go away for 25 years and come back to a changed world. I went to work in the morning and came back to a changed world at the end of my shift.

And then, the other day, as I drove home from work, I was greeted with one of these out in the street, in front of the new house.


Oh, reader. It was all I could do to just park my car and hoof it to the rear of my dwelling without blowing my stack. These spoiled yuppies wanted a brand new house, and they bought one with no yard, and now they are warning me that their tot is playing near the street?

I don't want to move. It takes me ten minutes to drive to work. The El Train to Philly is four blocks away. But I'm not comfortable. There are barbarians at the gate. They have created a wasteland and called it progress.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Faeries aka Fairies Are Real

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," safe harbor for faeries since 2005! My name is Anne Johnson. I believe in faeries. I do. I do.

Sunday morning I was dozing in the peace and repose of my bedroom when, promptly at 9:00, the overpowering drone of heavy machinery commenced in the street.

A developer has bought the property directly across the street from my house. There was one home on it when he bought it. Now there's one finished one and another, larger one, planned. When the whole fiasco is finished, I will post photos.

But this is about faeries, right?

Turns out the workers across the street were intent upon slaughtering three fully mature maple trees on this sleepy Sunday morning. The noise of the shredder was deafening. The sight of the shapely limbs falling to the ground was heart-wrenching. A cluster of neighbors gathered in the street, including the new neighbors from the brand-new dwelling. Their three-year-old, blonde son was captivated by the tree slaughter.

All of this is an affront to the faeries, of course. Big time.

It's also an affront to a hard-working and proficient school teacher who has to go to work tomorrow and teach Act 3 of Romeo and Juliet. So while I petitioned the faeries to put a stop to the mayhem, Mr. J more reasonably called the Snobville constabulary. It only took 45 minutes for an officer to arrive -- his appearance brought great consternation to the work crew, who scurried for their trucks. A few more limbs were hacked down and then work ceased. It's against the law to run heavy machinery in Snobville on Sunday.

Quiet descended, and the sun came out. It had been raining for four days.

I had been planning to freshen my outdoor shrine if the weather was good, so I went out to do it. My shrine is dedicated to the ancient deities who no longer have praise and worship teams, to my ancestors, and to the faeries. It is loaded with crystals, marbles, stones, sea glass, and other shiny objects that honor the tastes of the fae.

I was so upset about all the big trees being cut down. I have a hard time pulling out seedlings in my own yard. (Now I have little trees everywhere and coppiced trees too.) My heart was heavy as I commenced to spruce up the shrine.

When I first built my shrine, I put three dozen or so quartz crystal points in the very center of it. None of them remained. Or so I thought. As I began to sift through the pebbles and the sea glass and the trinkets, I began finding quartz crystals. And more of them. And more of them. And even more of them. More, I promise you, than I ever put out there. When I assembled all the shiny stuff to wash it, the pile was just brimming with quartz crystals!

Quartz crystals don't mate and multiply. But it's my experience that, if you give the faeries what they like, they reward you.

I needed to spend time at my shrine today. I needed to clean and beautify it. I needed to be reminded that I have a faerie portal in my own yard, that I made it, and that they are using it.

So you say, "What do faeries look like?" And I answer, "What have you got?" There are as many varieties of faerie as there are of biological life in the apparent world. Some faeries are human shaped and sized, some are tiny, some look like animals, some like birds, and some are just beams of light. Be careful if you make eye contact, because they like to distract. And whatever you do, show them respect. Even the "critter" ones. Call them "Ladies and Gentlemen," or "your majesties."

It was tempting to ask the faeries to wreak revenge on the tree-killers and the developer across the street, and even the rich young families who buy the houses. But with faeries, they will tell you they are fulfilling your wishes, whether they plan to or not. So my advice is, don't petition the faeries. Just be respectful, give them trinkets, and keep their portals fresh and lively.

If you want to attract faeries to your yard, set out a little pile of polished stones, beads, marbles, crystals, pins, and anything that looks like a trinket. Keep it all clean, and bow politely as you pass it. Before you know it, the stuff in the pile will start to re-arrange itself. This either means you have faeries or there's been a stampede of buffalo that you somehow missed.

Now it's Sunday night. The tree-killers will be back tomorrow, I'm sure, to complete the sap-bath. (It's only a bloodbath if you have blood. Trees have sap.) I'll be at work, but the faeries will be watching. From their spruced-up portal, all bright and shiny.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Spotwood 2018

Every year since 2006 my daughter The Spare (I just like that better) and I have gone to a festival near York, PA that celebrates the faeries. The festival was held on a charming farm property with a Jane Austen-era farmhouse and a babbling brook.

I'm using the past tense. This year was the final Spotwood Fairie Festival to be held on the farm property.



Spotwood drew thousands of free-spirited people like me -- people who liked to drum and dance and join tribes and put together amazing outfits from thrift stores and honor the faeries. It's one of two places I've visited in the last decade where I met people I really wanted to get to know. I thought Spare was outgrowing the festival, but she got swept up in the spirit on the final day and was loved by all the folks who have gotten to know her over the years.

But Spotwood was a victim of its success, growing bigger every year and facing challenges from Mother Nature. Word has it that the festival will relocate elsewhere. This is a solace to the people who have become family because of it. But what about the land?

You see, I do believe in faeries, and I do believe they are present on the property. They don't just pack up and move to a neighboring campground. It's a lot more complicated than that. The special qualities of Spotwood Farm will be very hard to replicate because faeries exist. Spotwood has faerie energy, and that's not found everywhere.

I'm telling myself that Spotwood had become a habit and that maybe, if I got less lazy, I would find more places with people like me. Brushwood, for instance. I've never been there. But right now it's hard to be optimistic. About anything. That's why I haven't been writing much. I used to be silly, but now I'm sour. I feel burdened by the ugly soot of the Trump regime. Snobville, as if this was really possible, has become even snobbier.

Where do I belong? Where's my land base? I knew I wouldn't always have Spotwood, but the ground is just shifting dramatically under my feet. I don't know who I am in this post-farm, post-daughter, change-ridden landscape.

I don't even recognize America. Do you?

Anyway, sorry for all the tears and self-pity, but I really will miss going to Spotwood, not just for all the fun reasons but for the spiritual ones too.

(My regulars will see that I misspelled the name of the farm throughout. This was deliberate, I haven't gone completely around the bend yet.)