Back and Front

There are alleys here.

When the Coen brothers filmed “Inside Llewyn Davis,” they had trouble finding an alley in Manhattan because there are not alleys in Manhattan.  Space is not reserved for trash and rats– space is shared with trash and rats.  Except in the oldest part of town, where the foundations are too old, or the air is, and there was an alley I walked through to get to my meditation group.  It was a well-scrubbed alley.  Fit for bankers.

Here there are alleys, plenty, the kind that run between, a place for carriages, and later cars, to park.

If I am not all right, I can never blame the architecture, as I have always chosen my architecture carefully and well (at least as well as my small earnings could).  Here I have magnificent windows, rectangles so expansive it’s like glass was taking up too much room somewhere else, and my inlaid mantle that I drink up every day, as pleased to live with him as if I had a beautiful pool boy, and my curved staircase, and my leaded glass window.  These aren’t the kinds of things broke people generally get to live amongst, without being a servant.  And the alleys.  Since I park my car behind the house, lined up with the horse hitch with the rounded top which reminds of all the roundels on the corners of all my windows, I think of the house as being located on the alley, rather than the street.

The alley walk is behind the scenes.  The backs of all the houses which are overgrown.  Houses built big, and built onto, with extra fire escapes hanging off, those pushed-out kitchen window spots, tacked-on back porches.  There are our dumpsters, always full, and our recycling bins, always overflowing.  The concrete is crumbled.  Cars cannot pass without care.

The fronts of the houses are beautiful, dreams of people I imagine optimistic and clean-living (though I’m not sure why), and the backs are beautiful, too: the same people waking up late Sunday morning after a surprising Saturday night.  Tangled hair, makeup not removed, desire for coffee, wishes that one had gone to bed earlier, wishes that one had done chores Saturday instead of waiting for Sunday, but wasn’t Saturday good?

The thing that I like most about being older is fewer surprises, and it’s also the most depressing part.

There is a truck that is actually a storage unit.  Stuffed to the gills with carpet padding, other junk, the bed and the cab.

The houses are tall, perhaps only to get warmer in the winter, they are three stories, mostly.  Only the midgets are one, or two.

I grew up in a three-story house, with a burrow floor, a ground floor, and an up upstairs.  I find ranches so depressing.  Live up!  Live taller!

In the suburb where I grew up, houses had fronts that were only for show, and backs that were so private, no one should ever see anyone else’s.

In the apartments I’ve lived in, the front was for everyone– both my Kansas City homes had sitting porches– and there was no back.

I grew up at church as much as at home, so many hours spent wandering while my parents ran this or ran that, and I remember sneaking behind bushes to look down in window wells, seeing how the basement floor of the church had a trench dug for it, a way to see out, a way it was not, completely, underground.

And the way we climbed into the two cement tunnels on the playground.  They must have been just leftover, or cheaply purchased, pieces of concrete, for drainage.  The long one was painted blue, and had letters or numbers on it.  We climbed in, to hide, to hear the echo, and to be, looking out each end, neither in, or completely out.

Images: Relief plaque with ram, and on opposite side, two feet, 400-30 BC, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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One thought on “Back and Front”

  1. I also love alleys—the secret entrances and exits, the way to preserve the lovely fronts for guests and special occasions, free of trash bags or barrels. We meet our neighbors in the alley, because we share that space, away from guests and solicitors and passers by. I share garage space with my close neighbors. That’s where we chat briefly, confirming our literal neighbor relationship, before we zoom off to face the wider world, or retreat to our private domiciles.

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