Upon checking the mail early last week, I found a flyer stuffed into my mailbox proclaiming my block’s first ever block party. The moment I saw it a blackness filled my heart and I began a slow burn, fuming slowly the rest of the week. I didn’t want a block party. No one asked me. Why should I contribute to something that was being billed as a kid’s event with a jumpie and water slide? Why would I ever want to participate in something like this? Odd responses, I know.
As Saturday approached, I’d mention the block party to friends, trying to make it sound casual, trying to talk myself out of hating it so much, trying to talk to myself into going. But I knew better. And as the week progressed, my anger grew. I figured it out a few days before the event: it was something social and neighborly and so Ken. He would have loved it. And because he wasn’t here to participate in it, I hated it. And would have no part of it.
My mom has often recounted the story of when she took me to the public library as a little boy for story hour. As all the other children gathered around the librarian to be enchanted by whatever book she was reading, I would have none of it, preferring to stand far away in a corner by a potted plant. Since then, things haven’t changed much. “Joining” has never been easy for me. I’d learned to selectively overcome it when necessary, but I didn’t really have to work at it once I met Ken. Socially, he was my polar opposite. Outgoing and adventurous, he could persuade me to join and tell me why it would be good for me. Watching him dance around a crowd, effortlessly dazzling them with his charm, smile and fearlessness was a constant source of awe for me. I admired it. Envied it, even.
The morning of the block party, I took Kallie out before I left for a brunch date. The street was already closed off and neighbors were gathered in the street in their morning gear, sipping paper cups of coffee from Starbucks. My blood ran cold, and I was never happier to leave my apartment and forget about this block–if even for a little while.
When I returned two hours later, my jaw hit the floor and my temper hit the ceiling when I saw the bouncie house/water slide mega complex placed directly in front of my building. I dreaded the thought of taking Kallie out into the yard to do her business, imagining crazy-eyed, screaming kids running at us. (It’s not Kallie’s fault she’s so adorable, but still I considered shaving her and putting a wide-brimmed hat on her.) I took her out briefly, and thanks to that giant air-filled funhouse and the magnetic distraction it offered its wee block partiers, we weren’t spotted.
(I texted this photo to my friend Sofia, and she replied, “It looks like you’re in jail.” “I AM,” I replied.)
Once inside, Kallie collapsed for a long afternoon nap. I breathed a sigh of relief. I was safely isolated…for now.
While she napped I contemplated finding some way to puncture the bouncie house/water slide. I don’t own a BB gun, but perhaps I could have fashioned a sling shot out of a slotted spoon and a bungee cord. Just as I was considering what it would take the blow up the transformer that would leave the block powerless and the bouncie house deflated, Kallie stirred and was soon doing the potty dance. I pleaded with her to hold out until 10 pm when the party officially ended and the street was opened up again. But in spite of my well-detailed plea, outlining all the treats she’d get if she could abide my one simple request, she would not be denied.
I knew I’d have to prepare myself for a eventual trip outside into the milieu. Enter martins. They helped a bit as we slipped outside without attracting much attention. A neighbor whose daughter is crazy about Kallie came over to chat with me and to invite me to take part in the food that sat on the table under the hot sun in the middle of the street. I had, in fact, already eaten, but public food with unknown origins will never be a “yes” for me. But I didn’t even feel like faking it. We talked for a while, but he got that I wasn’t interested in participating.
Make no mistake. The entire day I realized how ridiculous I was being. Even if I didn’t want to participate, the fact that I was so angry didn’t offer me my proudest moments. But still that wasn’t enough to propel me to break through it and join. Sometimes a little, embittered voice echoes inside me: “If I can’t do it with Ken, I’m not doing it at all”–particularly things I wouldn’t have done on my own without his dynamic facilitation. Scary things were far last scary with him around. He accepted my personality oddities. He didn’t understand them, but he accepted them.
This day was no triumph of any kind. It was a fail. Epically. The first of this kind, really. I fell asleep on the couch, the brine from the martini olives still on my tongue. Kallie was camped at the base of the couch where my arm dropped over. By far nothing to brag about or be proud of, I was nonetheless thrilled to have the day behind me. It’s not a cry for help or an indictment of block parties. It’s like all my other blogs: a confession of my feelings–good, bad, pretty or ugly–and a little self-reflection.
I’d like to think Kallie and I will be attention whores at next year’s block party. But, it’s probably a better bet that we’ll just be out of town.