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Neighbor Kids & Roller Girls

The neighbor kids are always knocking on our door. The reasons seem to come and go in waves. Most recently my wrench has been enjoying a great popularity. Hassan in particular will come over and borrow the wrench several times a day, as he fiddles with his bike. Hassan usually asks for the pliers, but it’s the wrench that he wants. But he’s not the only one. Lamar and Josh use it too. My hand pump is also much in demand.

Saturday evening we decided to take Persephone to the swing set on the Jeff Davis neutral ground. She’s just big enough to be able to ride in the special swing with the legholes built in. Somehow we accumulated an entourage of five kids. Xy wanted them to get permission from their parents, and we waited while the fifth child checked. We saw her mom lean out over the porch railing there on Bienville. We waved and she waved back and she said OK to her daughter.

But the other four kids were a different story. They were all from the same family, but they said their mom wasn’t home. No one was home. They were running the streets unsupervised, it seemed.

We walked up to the swing set together and spent a half-hour playing around. Kids love babies, I’ve noticed. All the kids love love playing with our daughter. Black and white kids playing together: It’s a scene you would never have seen in the town where I grew up.

But I was filled with sadness as I watched them play, because I realized there was zero chance that any of these kids would remain friends with my daughter as she grew up. I know that in a couple years, these kids just won’t be around the neighborhood anymore. They’ll have moved on. That’s our post-Katrina reality. Before Katrina, most of our immediate neighbors were poor, but there was more stability.

The four kids from the same family were all skinny. The fifth girl was a little on the heavy side — just a tad bit chunky. But those four other kids were skinny, almost like they were malnourished.

On the way back the oldest girl asked me where we planned to send our daughter for school. She said she went to A. P. Tureaud, and offered that if we sent our daughter there, she would take care of her. I thought that was extremely sweet.

It was getting dark.

Xy saw the kids home, just around the corner from our house. Then we went in to graze on some leftover pizza. Shortly there was a knock on the door. It was one of the girls, one of the four. She said she couldn’t find her brother and sisters, and there was no one at home, and she didn’t want to be alone. She clearly wanted to hang out with us for a while.

Xy didn’t buy her story for a minute. Being a teacher gives one a sense for these things. She walked her back to their house around the corner, and sure enough her siblings were there. No parents though.

A while later there was another knock. It was her brother, the only boy in the family. He wanted to know if I had a cell phone. He wanted to call his grandmother. They wanted to go to her house. They didn’t want to be at home alone with no supervision.

I said I thought maybe it would be best if I called. He gave me the number. I spoke to the woman, explained the situation. She talked to her grand son. Mom was on the West Bank, it seemed. Grandma called me back a short time later. She thanked me and said she was coming out to pick the kids up.

And so. Today, Sunday, I got on my bike and rode to Home Depot. I bought a heavy-duty 24″ push broom — kind of awkward on the bike. I headed out on the Jeff Davis bike path. I passed the garden at First Grace United, where kids were doing some activity under adult supervision. Black and white kids and adults in harmony. I passed the volleyball net that was recently erected on the Jeff Davis neutral ground. A small group was playing volleyball. Black and white kids and adults in harmony.

I got to where the bike path goes over the I-10. The Big Easy Roller Girls were organizing a cleanup. We swept up an amazing quantity of debris — mostly broken glass.


That stretch of path needs to be swept out once a year; I doubt it had been done for a decade or more.

I swept until I got a blister on the palm of my hand. I reflected on how much easier it is to clean up a bike path than to solve deep societal problems.

I got a sunburn.

October 30th: Broken glass re-appears on the path.

November 2nd: Blister peels.

Published inNeighborsNew OrleansOur House


  1. rickngentilly rickngentilly

    how in the hell are you able to sum up the state of new orleans in so few words?

    sublime man.

    enjoy the house fan weather.

    hope it lasts for a while.

  2. Julie Julie


    Thank you for sharing your story about the “neighbor kids”. After reading it I realized how little has changed in my old neighborhood. Those same events probably took place every other day back in the 50’s when I played on that same neutral ground.


  3. D-Block D-Block

    Really strong, affecting post… Poignant without being sentimental… “bearing witness” in the best way. Heavy stuff.

  4. julesb_town julesb_town

    i loved this post- even though it makes me sad. How lucky the neighborhood kids are to have you and XY living there. How to “solve deep societal questions” a question i ask myself often, especially raising our 2 young children.

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