White Picket Fences
by Ann Parkinson


It is the immemorial American dream: suburban bliss, white picket fences, houses with even-cut lawns and verdurous backyards bursting with the jubilant cries of neighborhood children, two cars parked in the driveway and lives that fly as smoothly as the Hindenburg didn't. But when Henry D. Thoreau quilled Walden, stating that, "Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind," he paved the way for domestic diversions, unorthodox parenting, and awkward childhoods. Thoreau may have been referring to electricity and running water, but as far as my life was concerned, spending a youth in a housing compound wedged between a veterinary office and a large peach colored "Guidance Clinic"--a euphemism for "Low Security Psychiatric Facility"--was a distant trot from the American dream.

The downside of a childhood so departed from the common ideal is a lack of trick-or-treaters, carolers, neighborhood barbeques, neighborhoods in general...people in general...ordinary people. I remember using the term "outsiders" loosely as a child.

While the other over-exposed clowns in my kindergarten class spent Halloween donning scissored sheets and running around with cheaply molded pumpkin pails, I stayed safely indoors with my ex-Jehovah's Witness mother who gave my brother and me bags, indeed, bags of candy while telling us, "My children will never be caught begging on doorsteps like commoners." Low effort, high insulin, and zero chances of finding razors in our Tootsie rolls. The woman was a genius.

While other neighborhoods enjoyed a merry throng of carolers at Christmas time, just down the street our family suffered a caucus of Christian protestors bellowing forth hymns afront the community abortion clinic. We might have joined in, but there was always the unflagging notion that the quality of singing was a greater abomination unto the Lord than the abortions themselves.

My brother and I never needed the company of neighborhood children. At least twice a week one of the "Guidance Clinic" crazies would scale the fire escape and end up in our backyard. That really livened up my afternoons while the other kids suffered out their days in pre-school. Most of the time these well-intentioned lunatics would trade us cigarettes and chewing gum for a bit of earthly wisdom. The less generous deviants would sit outside our back gate and hum quietly, as if caught in an ineffable spiritual moment which could only be translated by God or a team of trained mental-health professionals.

I suppose my only regret was that six years ago the clinic folded up and was bought out by a group of shrewd Armenian businessmen who turned the building into what is quite possibly the greatest architectural eyesore in all of Glendale. In fact, I have to wonder if the place might have been designed by one of its prior occupants, who, when given thirty minutes and a pile of yellow Legos, was asked for a physical manifestation of all his cognitive woes. Regardless, my backyard is no longer a free-trade playground for capitalizing psychopaths. Instead, the property is now constantly invaded by foreign entrepreneurs who park their Audis in our lot as compulsively as I seem to key them.

People still ask if I feel I somehow missed out by not growing up in a residential neighborhood, but my answer is always a solid "no." It is the same answer I give my interrogators when they ask me if such early isolationist techniques led to my first expulsion from pre-school. Again, no. Probably not. At least, I don't think so. Who are you guys, Barbara Walters? Get lost. Unless you call engendering a severe social myopia while having access to the spilled contents of several pharmaceutical anti-depressant containers somehow "missing out," I'd say I was given a fair chance at normalcy.


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