Sacre Vert

The other night I was walking home from the L, toward Wrigley Field, just as the Chicago Cubs game was letting out. Therewere crowds on the street and sidewalk walking toward me. As I got near our place, I started to get vigilant. We've had problems with people walking onthe parkway (the garden area between the sidewalk and street). There are several transgressions to watch for: They walk on the flagstones that frame the parkway, dislodging them. They walk on the dirt, and thus trample the plants. They let their dogs trample the plants. They let their dogs relieve themselves on the plants. We think that our bushes turned brown and died from urine poisoning.

That night a guy had his golden retriever on a leash and was letting the dog walk in the yard. My husband L and I and my visiting friend D planted white and red-striped petunias there. In the dark you can't see which is the mulch (which several of us spread on Condo Day) and which are the plants. So I said, very casually and calmly (you haveto believe me on this): Your dog's walking on our flowers. No he's not, he said. We planted them, Is aid. We don't want them to get trampled. They kept on walking, though stepping out of the yard and onto the sidewalk. Now they were past me. The young woman with them turned around and said, You should put up a sign if you don't want people to walk there. I couldn'tbelieve this. Doesn't a frame of flagstones around flowers and plants signify Garden--Don't Smoosh? I felt anger and frustration boiling in me and so I yelled as loudly as I could, so loudly that it hurt my throat for about 10 minutes afterward (I haven't learned to yell from my diaphragm), I yelled the thing I yell when I can't stand someone and want to baffle: Que'est-ce que j'ai fait pour meriter ca? I say it fast and self-righteously.

I want the person to know I detest him and I also want to confuse him. I wouldn't mind if he felt stupid, either. I'd like him to feel stupid. It means: What did I do to deserve this? Iwant to sow confusion among my enemies, and they were my enemies, for a moment. That's why I prefer, when a stranger makes me angry, to give him the peace sign or, if I have two hands available, to form a circle or triangle with my two thumbs and pointer fingers. I want to be superior. If I were a better person, I would mean it when I make the V peace sign. But I don't.

That night I thought about yelling about my cancer but it didn't seem relevant. I guess I could have tried: Mais j'ai le cancer! Je suis malade! But that doesn't have the same punch. I don't think. Or: Don't walk on my flowers, I have cancer! But then it would seem that not wanting people to step on your plants was some sort of quirk, a side effect of chemo. Once when we saw a guy letting his dog roam in theyard, L said something to him, and the guy retorted: You ought to move to the suburbs. As if we were such property-proud bourgeois that we shouldn't live in the city. I thought later of telling the guy that L has lived in Gary, Indiana, for 30 years and no one has walked on flowers there. That's as gritty a city as they come, no huge lawns or picket (or electric) fences, no No Trespassing signs, and people don't feel the need to trample other people's flowers. Here in our dense North Side neighborhood people steal flowers in pots and dig out newly planted impatiens. They tore down and stole the American flag that we had up in front after 9/11. I had been against putting up the flag, but I recognized random vandalism when I saw it. They key our cars parked on the street. They smash car windows in order to get a few pennies inside. They stole L's bike ou tof his trunk. They pee in the alley. They yell into the night and throw their beer cans wherever they happen to land. Then they throw up on the sidewalk.

In the great scheme of things, these are minor complaints, crimes against property. (And to be fair, in the suburbs and in the subdivisions, people aren't tempted to walk in flower beds because there's plenty of room to roam.) I hear a neo-con curmudgeon in my head lamenting the decline of civil society. People have been uncivil since the dawn of civilization. As they say, just NIMBY. Or front.