Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Walking the Cat

One advantage of having a cat instead of a dog is that you don’t have to walk a cat.

In the retirement home where I live, residents with dogs get up early and take their dogs out. I am still asleep when my neighbor Leona passes my door on the way to the elevator with her collie. Laddie is a beautiful dog, gentle and a quiet.

Another advantage of having a cat is that cats don’t bark. Another neighbor has a little dog which yaps at me every time he sees my shadow in his window. No, I am not peeking in, just passing by on my way to the elevator, like Leona and her dog.

My big white cat, Charlie, meows softly to chide me when I have been away too long. He also jumps on the bed and whispers if he thinks I am sleeping too late. For Charlie, that means 7:15 on a Sunday morning!

Like all cats, Charlie sleeps most of the time. But he likes to get up early in the morning. Since he is the boss of the household (or thinks he is), he insists I get up, too.

Charlie is adjusting to living in this apartment. I think he misses the rust-colored arm chair where he used to sleep. I gave it away when we moved. Now he sleeps on a little green chair which he never noticed when we lived in the house.

This “retirement community” contains 100 individual apartments in seven buildings grouped around an irregular courtyard with big trees and a swimming pool. First floor apartments open onto covered walkways, which support long balconies which serve as hallways for the second floor. I live in the one building with a third floor. We call it the penthouse.

Until now Charlie has been reluctant to leave the apartment. He won’t even go near the door to my private balcony off my bedroom at the back of the apartment. When I opened the front door he would stand in the doorway and, extending his neck, look up and down the balcony which connects the five apartments on this wing. But he would not put a paw outside the door – until Sunday.

When I opened the door to bring in the Sunday newspaper, Charlie looked out, as usual. Then while I juggled with the plastic wrapping on the bundle of ads, he stepped out. I dropped the papers on the coffee table and followed him. I kept about four paces behind him as slowly he felt his way down to Leona’s. The door was closed; Charlie did not know a big dog was lurking inside. He sniffed at her aloe plant, then strolled on. He paused to look at Norman’s wheelchair.

As he looked down at the stairs to the second floor, I said sternly, “No!”

Slowly he turned around. To show me that he was not obeying my command but doing what he wanted to do, he paced leisurely on his noiseless furry paws, back towards our apartment. Notice: “our” not “my”; it belongs to Charlie and me. He stopped a couple of times to look through the railings at the leaves on the trees and poked his white fluffy head through the wooden bars to peer down at the green grass on the lawn far below.

I followed, keeping my distance like a discreet servant. When we came to the open door of our apartment, he walked right past. Charlie was exploring the World! He did not give me a backward glance, as if he did not care if I was with him. He went past Daisy’s and Paulette’s doors, as far as the elevator, where he voluntarily turned around and, at the same slow pace, walked home.

This morning it happened again. I opened the door. Charlie walked out. I followed him to one end of our balcony and back the entire length. At the elevator, from below I heard a sudden loud bang. I think Robert may have been emptying a garbage can into the dumpster.

Charlie turned and ran home. I didn’t know that middle-aged cat could move that fast!

Will he be afraid to go out again? I don’t know. If he decides to take another walk, I’ll be right behind. September in Texas brings perfect days, cool and sunny. It is good to be 80 years old and walking at a cat’s pace but without a cane.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Loving Frank

Each month I read a book as part of a group called “Page Turners.” This month we all read “Loving Frank” by Nancy Horan. This novel is a fictional retelling of the scandalous affair between the architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mrs. Cheney.

Twelve of us gathered in a back room of Garland Central Library. Our leader, a recent college graduate who is at least 20 years younger than the other women and 60 years younger than me, asked us if we liked the book.

Around the long table, 11 women raised their hands and gave “Loving Frank” a thumbs up. I was the only one who gave it a thumbs down. I don’t mind being “Odd Man Out.” That has happened before.

My objection was that I felt the novel did not give a true picture of Maima Cheney. She was a woman who had everything: a wealthy husband, two charming children with a nanny to care for them, other servants, and nothing to do but pursue her own interests. They lived in Oak Park, Illinois. Her husband hired Wright to design and build one of his famous “prairie houses” for her. Then she and Wright had an affair. She took her children to Colorado and left them there for her husband to reclaim. Wright abandoned his wife and six children, and he and Mrs. Cheney ran off to Germany. They were gone for two years.

In Ms. Horan’s book the author imagines Maima writing in a diary and having constant thoughts about her children. This is based on no physical evidence, as no such diary exists. As far as anyone knows, neither Frank Lloyd Wright nor Maima Cheney ever showed any concern for the spouses and children they abandoned.

The other women in my reading group protested, “It is only a novel!”

I don’t like books, fiction or non-fiction, which give a false picture of reality. That’s why I don’t read science fiction or fantasy novels. I worry about children who grow up with these books. Are they prepared to live in the real World? Just as bad are novels which inspire unreal expectations about love and romance. Only fairy tales end in living “happily ever after.”

Perhaps it is because I have known people like Wright and Cheney. People who are totally self-centered. People who talk with pride about being a parent but who never parent their children. People who will spend money to give their children “things” but avoid spending time with them. People who want the pleasures of having children without the responsibilities of being a parent.

Traditionally men could play this role with impunity. Dad was the bread winner; Mom was the caregiver. Today most young people are sharing the responsibilities of parenting. Lucky is the child whose Dad will spend time playing ball with him/her rather than working overtime in pursuit of a new client. Unlucky is the child whose Mom feels it is more important to have a career than a Cub Scout den or a Brownie troop.

Even a work of fiction should portray life as it is. “Loving Frank” portrays Maima Cheney as a sympathetic character, a feminist in pursuit of her special interests and impassioned by love for a remarkable, flawed man. Is anyone so talented that it justifies neglecting his/her family? Is it okay to abandon a child, just because a person “falls in love” with someone other than the child’s parent?

Frank Lloyd Wright was a talented and influential architect. Some one say he was our greatest 20th Century architect. But he was a bad man. And Mrs. Cheney was a bad mother. Let us not romanticize her. Not even in fiction.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Getting Connected

Before I moved into this apartment, I signed up for a new telephone and e.mail server. I was to have a new telephone number, which I mailed to about 50 friends throughout the U.S. But when it came time to have the phone installed, I was given a different number – which turned out to be the number in the telephone book for Papa John’s Pizza.

After 30 minutes of telling one caller after another that I don’t make pizzas, I pulled the plug on that one! A week later I was finally connected with still another telephone number (my fourth in less than a month!).

The man who installed the phone (the one who made me a pizza cook) could not get the internet connection to work. That was on August 9. I called AT&T, and, after dealing with a recorded voice and pushing various buttons, was connected with someone in India. I insisted that I talk to a human in the U.S. Since then I have talked to AT&T technicians in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Indiana. Two nice men came to my apartment and each thought he solved the problem.

Sometimes I can connect to e.mail and the internet. Most of the time I can’t.

Today I am connected.

I received several e.mails from a friend who sends me daily right wing propaganda. It upsets me to read how gullible people believe this stuff. But today he also sent a piece that was such a joy that I printed it and passed around to the other old ladies here at our retirement community.

The bottom of the piece carried a warning that it was protected by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and “is legally privileged.” I hope I won’t be arrested for quoting a bit.

The unnamed author said, “I like being old. . . I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be. And I shall eat dessert every single day (if I feel like it).”

In my life, difficult times have led to better times. Soon I will manage to get a reliable internet connection. I will bombard you with blogs on many subjects. Please let me know when you agree or disagree. At this age I don’t let conversation lead to acrimony.

Also, I will quit worrying about these fools who believe all the nonsense broadcast by Fox News. I will trust that some day America will overcome its irrational fear of “socialized medicine” and be responsible for the health care of all its citizens. It is the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, right now I am going down to pool side and join my friends in enjoying fruit smoothies. My choice of flavor will be pineapple.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Indian Talk

Today I gave a speech. Well, a talk, to a captive audience of little old ladies, who came into the “activity room” aided by walkers or wheel chairs.

Each year at Montclair, the “retirement home” where I live, the residents go on a fantasy trip. Last year they “took a cruise.” This week we are traveling down old Route 66.

On Monday we started in Chicago with a baseball game – local firemen substituted for the Cubs on the lawn. followed by Chicago-style pizza and hot dogs. On Tuesday (yesterday) for St. Louis we listened to a jazz trio and ate barbecue. Today was an imaginary stop in New Mexico.

The “Native American” who was supposed to give the talk on Indians did not show up. I did a last minute, impromptu substitution. Without preparation, without notes, without thinking about what I was going to say before the words came out of my mouth. Just as I am writing this tonight.

I had no hesitation in talking about Indians in New Mexico. I lived in Albuquerque for more than 20 years. I love the state, and – pause – I loved some Indians.

Some of the old ladies in my “audience” had been to Santa Fe and bought jewelry, but none seemed to know much about Indian culture.

I began by telling them about a man I met soon after I moved to Albuquerque. He retired from the Bureau of Indian Affairs after working with the Iroquois in New York and later with the Navajo in New Mexico. I asked, “Is there much difference between an Iroquois and a Navajo?” He said, “Is there much difference between a Swede and an Italian?”

Each Indian tribe is different and has distinct customs. Mostly I talked about the Pueblos. The Spanish found these peoples living in farming villages in the Rio Grande Valley. "Pueblo" is the Spanish word for "town." Nineteen of them survive today in New Mexico. Some of them were there when the Spanish came in the 16th Century, and were there a thousand years before that.

I said, “I think I learned as much about the Pueblos as any Anglo – which means I don’t know much.” They survived the Spanish occupation by outwardly adapting but keeping their own customs and religion in secret. I visited Cochiti Pueblo so often that they told me I was an adopted member of the tribe, but I was never permitted entry into a kiva. That’s a big round structure, like an adobe water tank at ground level, which can only be entered through a hole in the center of the flat roof.

I described feast days, which combine honoring Catholic saints with pagan ceremonies. For the corn dance the men, with jangling shell bandoliers on bare-chests and with deer-skin kilts, are paired with women in one-shouldered black wool dresses called “mantas.” In the heat of the summer sun the women dance bare-footed on the hot sand.

In a Pueblo low adobe houses are built around a plaza of hard-packed sand. On first seeing that big, dusty place, my initial reaction was, “How ugly! Why don’t they pave it and make it suitable for dancing?” Then I realized, these dances are religious ceremonies. The women are placing their feet on Mother Earth.

I told my friends, “We see people doing something that seems strange to us, and our reaction may be, ‘Why don’t you do it our way?’ They may have very good reasons for doing it their way.”

The old ladies said they liked my talk.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Big House, Little House

The American dream: home ownership. Yesterday on television I heard an economist say that this dream was wrong. He came out and said that low-income people should not be home owners.

Doubtless this man has a comfortable income and a lovely home!

Doubtless, also, in recent years low-income people signed up for bigger and more expensive houses than they could pay for. The result: foreclosures and the recent melt-down in the economy.

(How dare the Republicans say Obama caused this recession!)

I understand why people want nice houses. As a child our family of five lived in a little two-bedroom frame house, cramped and ugly, with tiny closets and lack of privacy compared to the house where my grandmother lived. I always dreamed of living in a big, beautiful house like my grandmother’s. Now I find myself content in a four-room apartment! I am alone, and my children live in big, beautiful houses of their own.

Last week I sat across the breakfast table from a soft-spoken, gray-haired woman, about ten years younger than I am, who, in telling about the pet pig she and her brothers had, described her childhood home in Oklahoma. It was a one-room log cabin with no inside water or plumbing, no windows, and a dirt floor. It made my childhood home sound like a manor.

That very evening my son called from California to tell me about a “play date” his son had with a fourth grade classmate. When he took Adam to play with his friend, they were stopped at the gated community by a guard, who phoned to verify that they were permitted entry. As David drove through, every house inside this outer gate also fenced and guarded by iron gates across each driveway. At the top of the hill, they found Adam’s classmate waiting to play in his own playroom in an enormous mansion.

During the visit, David learned from the little boy’s mother that the four children had a wing in the house, separate from the parents. At night Mom, Dad, and children did not want to be so far from each other, so the master bedroom was filled with beds. All six family members slept in one room.

So: in this family living in a mansion was not much different from a log cabin, except the floor was carpeted!

The American dream is still the same: Every family deserves a home of its own. The question is: What size? What is too small? What is too big?

What Americans need now is a sense of proportion. In all things.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Where It Hurts

From my earliest memories there were two houses, the little frame house where I lived with my parents and little brother, and my grandmother’s house where we spent most of our time.

My mother was devoted to her mother. My parents had been married in the living room of my grandmother’s house and they lived there with my grandmother and her three nieces until I was over a year old.

Many times I heard my grandmother tell about the time I stood up in my crib and cried. When my mother went to comfort me, I said, “I don’t want my Mamie, I want my Nonna.” After that my grandmother was always called, “Nonna.”

I was an adult before I realized what the baby was trying to say. My grandmother called my mother “Mary,” and she called her mother, “Mama.” Just learning to talk, I could not pronounce the words I heard them call each other, so I said, “Mamie” and “Nonna.” In any case, it was my infant’s rejection of my mother.

Why did I do that? I don’t know. My grandmother loved to repeat the story. She was a woman who desperately wanted to be loved and needed. No one ever suggested that telling that story would be hurtful to my mother. I doubt that Nonna ever realized that in telling it she was being cruel.

How many times we do things and say things without realizing that we hurt other people. If I have done that to you, please accept my apologies and regrets.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Only in America

I don’t usually read obituaries. I know few people in this area, so I don’t expect to find familiar names among the recent dead. With my friend, it is different. She is active in a church with aged parishioners. She goes to at least one funeral every week. Every day I tear out the obituaries from the Dallas Morning News and save them for her on the off-chance that she’ll want one or two of them.

Today there were two-full pages of obituaries. I pulled those pages out of the Metro Section and set them aside. Then I noticed a single obituary on a third page. I glanced at it. No, the man was not a member of the First Baptist Church in Garland. My friend would not be interested in that.

But, as I read, I was fascinated. Leon Wilensky, 85 years old, was the son of Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine and Lithuania. He was born in Dallas and grew up “loving his country, his high school, Forest Avenue High, his SMU Mustangs, and his girl friend, Hazel Davidson.”

He served the U.S. in World War II, and, when he returned, he and Hazel were married. He converted to Christianity and became a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church. He built custom homes. “Yet he felt his true calling was as a teacher.” He spent 18 years teaching history and English in Dallas Public Schools.

Not an unusual biography. What caught my notice was the end of the obituary. His heirs requested donations be made to St. John’s Harvest Outreach, the SMU Mustang Club, or the Holocaust Museum. How beautiful! To honor both his adopted church (St. John’s) and his Jewish Heritage.

The memorial service at St. John’s is scheduled at 10:30 tomorrow morning. “Leon wanted the service to end in time for him to see SMU’s game against UAB.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Berlin Express

After supper I watch television. I am too tired to do anything else. Well, I’m old; that’s my excuse. Don’t younger people who work hard all day feel the same way?

Charlie climbs on my lap, and that’s a comfort. For a while the cat will keep his eyes turned on the tv; then he turns his head to me as if to say, “Isn’t this a bore?” Then he goes to sleep.

I struggle to stay awake until bedtime. One night I was reduced to watching a two star movie on Turner Classics. “Berlin Express” is a clumsy black and white thriller made shortly after the end of World War II, with the brave American rescuing the beautiful Merle Oberon from wicked Germans, who were still Nazis secretly trying to settle old grudges.

The movie was full of footage made in Berlin at the end of the war, showing the total destruction of the city, mile after mile of ruins, every building a hollow shell, streets filled with rubble. The theme of the movie was that Germany had been destroyed so completely that the nation would never recover.

I made my first trip to Germany in 1978. I was amazed. I saw no signs that there had been a war. Yet when I went to New Mexico in 1984, I met a former Army man who had been sent to Germany about the time this movie was made. He was convinced that German cities were still bombed out shells and that the German people were starving. Nothing I said could change his mind.

I have not seen the many modern buildings which transformed Berlin in the 1990's. My brother Don, a mechanical engineer, worked on some of those skyscrapers. He says Berlin is one of the most beautiful cities in the World.

There will always be people who see something – or learn something – and are so stuck in their minds that they cannot see change. “I saw it that way, so it must be so.” A hundred years after the Civil War, my grandmother still believed, “The South shall rise again.” We evoke the past like an old black and white movie. That should not prevent us from seeing today’s World on a 42-inch plasma tv in vivid color – or now on a device the size of a cigarette pack which brings the World into the palm of your hand.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness

Sunday’s Dallas Morning News printed two feature stories, one of which sparked my intellect, and the other which moved my heart and left me weeping.

“Happiness, a buyer’s guide” was Drake Bennett’s article on the correlation between happiness and money. He quotes a lot of research. Whether or not money makes you happy depends on how you spend it. Buying things may give momentary gratification but does not bring happiness. Having pleasant experiences to look back on, especially if shared with loved ones or friends, leads to a happy life.

Ladies, instead of buying that new pair of shoes, take a friend out for a nice dinner. The first time you wear the shoes, you will see someone wearing an even more attractive pair, which will make you want to buy more. But you will remember the good time you and your friend had forever.

In the same newspaper Lee Hancock told the story of T. K. and Deidra Laux. Their first baby was stillborn, and she learned during her second pregnancy that the child in her womb had a rare genetic condition, tritomy 13. The baby would probably be born dead or would only live a few days. Deidra decided to carry the baby to term.

Thomas was a seven-pound red-head with a badly deformed mouth, six fingers on each hand, and deformed heart valves. He struggled for each breath. The Lauxes were grateful for his milky eyes. Many tritomy 13 babies have no eyes.

Thomas’s life was short. His parents spent every hour with him, cuddling him, loving him, showing him the world. T. K. even took his son outside to show him the grass and let him feel the fresh air. Thomas lived for five days.

“We never knew we could love that much,” Deidra said. “Our son brought us together and taught us how to be a family. Thomas was a miracle from the moment he was conceived. We are better because Thomas existed.”

How many of us in our pursuit of happiness forget other people? How many of us can say the world is better because we existed?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sorting Things Out

I am surprised how content I feel in my apartment in this retirement “home.” In my former life, when I lived in apartments at various times, I always longed to move into a house – my own house. That’s why, when I returned to Texas three years ago, I bought the house on Meadowcrest Drive. At age 77!

Now I am once again in an apartment – and I love it!

I am surrounded by my favorite things. During the month before I moved, I spent day after day sorting through my possessions. I kept a few things for sentimental reasons. On the shelf in my kitchen are my ceramic cats, including a porcelain one which belonged to my Grandmother Pattie. Below it is the framed “Sunbonnet Girls” series which belonged to my Great-Grandmother McDonald.

The samplers made by my grandmother and by Ilene Timmerman went to Illinois with my daughter when she came to claim other treasures from my house. I don’t have room for them here – if I want a comfortable and attractive place to live.

I ruthlessly discarded items I would not have room for in the apartment. When Don and Mary cleared out our mother’s house, in the linen closet they found “brand new” sheets that Mother bought but never used. When they opened the packages, the fabric was so old and rotten, the sheets fell apart in tatters. I sent to Goodwill a pile of clothes I will never wear again, pots and pans (why did I need three ten-inch skillets?), and a brand new Christmas tablecloth.

Now I sit in my living room and watch through the window as new neighbors move into the apartment next door. They are an older couple. Yeah, even older than me. They lived for 25 years in a large house in Greenville and now are moving into a four-room apartment identical to mine. Day after day I saw their son and daughter-in-law pull dollies loaded with boxes, hundreds of boxes and big plastic bins. I wondered where they put all that stuff.

When I met the daughter-in-law on the balcony that connects the five apartments on this third-floor wing, she shook her head and said, “She is going to have to get rid of some of it. Boxes are stacked up in every room. There isn’t any more space to put anything.”

Soon after I moved in, Robert, our maintenance man, came to put up a extra towel rack in the bathroom. He commented on my neat apartment. He said people who have lived here for years have so much stuff crowded into their apartments that they can barely move around.

Why do people keep things they no longer need?

I try to keep my friends. I don’t need to keep “things.”

Friday, September 4, 2009

Texas. Our Texas

Once more Texans are making sure everyone laughs at our state.

Texans are proud of their independence. They defiantly proclaim, “Don’t tell me what to do,” and “You can’t teach me nuthin’.” What they don’t realize is that ignorance breeds ignorance.

The right wing floods the country with propaganda against Obama and all his programs. Many people have been seduced with horror stories about the dangers of “Socialism.” Many Texans hate Obama. Their minds are closed. They refuse to listen to anything our President has to say.

Today President Obama is to address America’s school children. He will stress the importance of education and urge our young people to obtain as much education as possible.

In Texas many children will not hear the President’s talk. Some districts will not allow the broadcast in any schools. Even children who want to hear the President will not be permitted to see and hear him in their classrooms.

What will the rest of the nation think about this?

In Texas schools the “educators” are opposed to education.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Argyle Street

When my husband and I moved into Chicago’s Uptown in 1953, this young bride found the neighborhood as different from Texas as if it had been Saigon.

The building at 4902 Sheridan, probably built around 1900, once had large, luxury apartments. When we moved there in 1953, the place had been cut up into a warren of smaller spaces. Our apartment had formerly been the dining room, kitchen, maid’s room, and bath. The kitchen was primitive, with a one-piece porcelain sink and drain board, NO counter tops or cupboards, but a pantry. The bathroom had a toilet with an overhead water tank; when I pulled the chain, I sometimes got a shower.

A block north was Argyle Street, where I climbed the iron stairway to catch the “el” to my job at The Billboard, the entertainment weekly. Right at the base of the stairs was the bar where Wally and I went on Saturday night to hear a combo play Chicago-style jazz. Nearby was the bakery, where I stopped on the way home from work to buy freshly baked bread and pastries.

One afternoon Wally called from Roosevelt University and asked me to go to the Chinese laundry to pick up the shirts which he needed the next morning to wear with his uniform when he went for his weekend with the Air Force Reserve. This dutiful wife immediately walked up to Argyle Street, where the Chinaman said what I thought was simply a comedian’s joke phrase: “No tickee, no washee.” (The ticket was in Wally’s pocket in downtown Chicago.)

Across the street was a little store which sold produce and a basic assortment of groceries. One night Wally and I came home on the “el” after some event in Chicago’s loop, maybe to Orchestra Hall, where we climbed to the peanut gallery to listen to the Chicago Symphony for $2 each. As we came down the stairs from the train, I remembered I needed something for breakfast. It was past midnight, but Pete’s shop was still open. There was Pete, sweeping up, and his big cat lying contented on top of the lettuce.

Wally’s favorite shop on Argyle Street was the used book store, run by a young man with a foreign accent. At that time half the people in Chicago had foreign accents, most of them Polish. Wally asked the man to find books by George Orwell. A few weeks later, Wally came home and found in the mailbox a postcard saying the bookseller had two Orwell paperbacks for him. Wally rushed around the corner to the bookstore. The sign on the front door said, CLOSED. In the middle of the afternoon!

The next morning the Chicago Tribune headlined, “Escaped German Prisoner of War Captured in Chicago.”

Our neighborhood bookseller was a German soldier captured in Europe during World War II. While the war still raged in Europe, he simply walked away from an Arkansas prison farm and hitchhiked to Chicago, where he found a job in a big, downtown book store. The war ended; he stayed, married a Chicago girl, and opened his own used book business on Argyle Street After his capture, he was released and was allowed to go to Cuba. (This was before Castro.) Almost immediately he was permitted to return to the U.S. legally, apply for citizenship, and reopen his shop – and sell Wally books by that Communist Englishman, George Orwell.

In later years the neighborhood changed. The Nguyen family moved into an apartment in Uptown in 1973. Vietnamese refugees found themselves in a dumping ground for derelicts, drug addicts, prostitutes, gangs, and “everyone else the city didn’t want.” Trong Nguyen said, “In Uptown we felt we had been thrust from one war zone to another.”

The shops along Argyle Street were mostly vacant. On the corner of Argyle and Sheridan Road was a multi-story housing project which Mr. Nguyen described as “very dangerous. Refugees were constantly robbed and beaten.”

When Wally and I lived there, the Uptown area was beginning to deteriorate, but wide-eyed and naive, I was fascinated, but never afraid, not even when Wally was away on his weekends with the Air Force Reserve. There were two movie theaters within a block of our apartment. As I walked home alone late at night after seeing a foreign film, I remember meeting a uniform policeman walking the opposite direction. I had seen street cops in movies, but this was the only time in my life I actually saw a policeman “walking his beat.” Was the neighborhood less safe than I knew?

I never was mugged or threatened by gangs. I thought the area was simply exotic.