Monday, April 26, 2010

117 days to Bar Mitzvah: mr. big

Things change. Nine years ago, when we first moved into our neighborhood, we were alien pioneers, introducing a small child to a culture that had long since raised its kids and moved on. In the neighborhood pecking order, kids came somewhere between cats and parakeets, several rungs down the ladder from dogs, especially ones wearing bandanas.

The neighborhood population ran heavily to aging baby boomers. Some of them were homeboys, living in houses their parents had left them in. Others were garden variety post-hippie San Franciscans, the kind for whom the height of sophisticated humor was responding to the president’s ill-fated attempt to rename French fries by declaring “French Appreciation Month” and sticking it to the squares every chance they got.

In nine years, the neighborhood has changed.

In 2001, the Glen Park Festival was a small, only slightly organized gathering of off-the-grid vendors catering mostly to the neighborhood’s New Age population. Entertainment was provided by multi-member jam bands who played Carlos Santana covers, sending the crowd into the kind of beatific ecstasy that doesn’t just suggest but demands convulsive, arrhythmic dancing. Anyone not wishing to participate was welcome to continue walking and go wherever non-groovy people go, muttered curses of “yuppies” trailing them as they slunk away.

Yesterday’s Glen Park Festival reflected the changes in our neighborhood. It’s still San Francisco so I still felt compelled to text my wife and ask that she pick up a clip-on ponytail and a floppy canvas hat for me while she was out so I’d fit in better.

It’s not that the overall culture has changed. Mike DeNunzio of the San Francisco Republican Party wasn’t down there registering voters and handing out stickers. Dancing Mike was still on hand. None of the candidates for district supervisor milling about admitted to owning a car.

The changes were more subtle. Mostly, they were the changes that come when a neighborhood suddenly becomes a haven for young parents after years of playing host to singles and couples.

Glen Park has changed as it’s grown. When the big empty lot became the library and upscale Canyon Market, someone took the rev limiters off the ‘hood, resulting in the addition of a handful of buzz-worthy restaurants that attract crowds of diners too well-dressed to actually live in the neighborhood. If you’re looking for someone to complain about this, keep looking. I may never set foot in the French restaurant that used to be the scary bar, but I’ll still bask in its reflected adrenaline rush every time I walk by, holding the vegetarian burrito I just got across the street at La Corneta.

Yesterday, stroller-pushers were out in force, pinballing off each other as they passed booths selling jewelry and touting the new “Glen Park Comprehensive Plan,” which calls for beautification and “traffic calming” but does not address the future of the BART parking lot, which word on the street says is marked for low-income housing, putting the physical health of the more enlightened of us at risk as we try to find words to express that, while we totally believe in subsidized housing, who really wants to live in a neighborhood surrounded by projects? It’s not pretty, believe me.

When they built the market, the old-timers either hunkered down or moved on. Stung by the battle to get it done, which involved developers and variances and the general San Francisco impulse to say “no” to any kind of new construction or actual progress, they’ve taken a lower profile, pushed to the side by an army of McLaren strollers and shared information gleaned from the new Yahoo “Glen Park Parents” email group.

Which brings us back to my original point: where we once were aliens visiting from the planet family, we are now elder statesmen, cruising the neighborhood with a phone-toting, own house keys-having, dog-walking and argument-craving pre-teen while everyone else is pushing strollers.

Yesterday at the festival we ran into various neighbors standing in line for balloon animals, face-painting and one of the two bouncy houses brought in for the day. We walked around untethered, the Jawa appearing, disappearing into the crowd, then re-appearing carrying various foodstuffs, free to enjoy the festival’s surprising choice of a honky-tonk band to provide the music necessary for Dancing Mike’s genius to flower.

Well, I mean, I was enjoying it. Fie on Carlos Santana covers.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s all good for the Jawa. I worry that he doesn’t have enough friends at school, that he comes home every day to the role of Neighborhood Big Kid, which he loves; I mean, who wouldn’t love to be the Big Kid? But how’s that translate when he goes to school and everyone’s his age and therefore, A) often don’t do what he wants to do, and B) don’t revere him and treat him like he’s their own personal Justin Timberlake.

I’ll tell you what happens: in our world, Bobby Owens was the big kid. He was seven years older than me, four years older than my sister and by far the best athlete on our street. He listened to Bob Dylan, at various times owned a motorcycle and a Mustang convertible and once during a rainstorm spent hours alone with me in his garage, hitting a tennis ball on a string with a baseball bat he’d made himself on a lathe. He got to invent neighborhood lingo, like saying,“Tough kiddo break,” when something went awry and somehow getting the entire block to think chanting the non-sequiter “lemon yogurt” was side-splittingly funny.

Then he grew up, married Karen Holden (who lived on Linden Street) and retreated to a cabin, where he home schools his kids. I think he’s an electrician or a furniture-maker or something but I know he’s super-religious.

Cautionary tale or just one man’s path through life?

I’m not saying that neighborhood big kid = home schooling in cabin. I’m just saying it’s got to be kind of hard to get traction when you’re see-sawing between being a hero and being just another kid in the crowd.

Oh, and that our neighborhood has changed and it’s full of kids now where it was once full of hippies.

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