By Sara Rowley
Fifteen minutes of true quiet in my neighborhood is hard to come by. I am at the median that runs diagonally through the intersection of E. 18th Street and 12th Avenue, where large rocks sit under a wide-limbed oak tree. It is not busy, though I can hear the sounds of two birthday parties from this spot. The first is taking place at the apartment complex across from my house, where they are playing Notreño music. The second party is all indoors, but I hear bits of Cantonese conversation mixed with toddler yelps.
Two Buddhas, a Shiva, and a Bhrama all share this corner with me in a plywood and marble shrine. It has recently been outfitted with a new statuette of a kind-faced goddess on a lotus bloom. A recording of chant music plays on a loop, and for a moment E. 20th street feels peaceful. Suddenly the quiet is gone.
On the uphill approach of 12th Avenue, an older woman, a father pushing a stroller with a fussy baby, and a pre-teen boy are picking up trash and carrying flyers. They are campaigning for the District 2 city council member race. The boy tells me his name is Darian. He speaks enthusiastically for his candidate. “So can we count on your vote?” he asks with the confidence of someone much older. They hand me a flyer, let me take their picture, and move on to feed the crying baby.
I tried to get my Zen moment back, so I open up the book exchange box next to the shrine, and check to see if there’s anything new inside. Nothing I’m interested in, but the contents change often.
At the quadriplex on the corner, a little girl in a pink superman cape plays with her brother in a gated yard littered with plastic toys. Outside is my acquaintance Guz, who looks a bit distressed. I ask if he needs help. He explains he was locked out, but he can still get in through his neighbor’s yard. They installed a gate between their properties long ago. He smiles as he says, “We share kids, dogs, places… it’s alright.”
As we’re talking, a neighbor dressed in old army greens named Antonio, gives Guz’s hand an affectionate slap. He’s out walking his dog before the sun sets. He says to me, as he has many times before, “I’ve lived here all my life. Fifty years! I‘m never going to leave.”
My moment of quiet observation has passed, and it’s getting chilly and dark. The sounds of the birthday parties are dying down, and I head back home.