Thursday, January 05, 2006

Fountain Square: I’ll keep it this way

Kate Rohl
By almost all accounts,
Fountain Square is going in a very good direction, or at least a cleaner more Starbucks-friendly direction. For now it is sort of endearingly diverse in both its problems and its charms. It has that distinctly Midwestern feel that comes with American made cars with Bush campaign stickers from the first election and “God Copilot” license plate covers. It has the problems of predominately low-income neighborhoods where kids’ parents work and so they get away with more and maybe have less expected from them. The police make regular rounds. Nobody rakes their leaves.

My husband James and I moved to Fountain Square five months ago so we are neither authorities on its history nor observers of its progress. But as transplants from southern California’s mountains, ocean and privately asture residents, we are at least privy, as maybe only outsiders can be, to its contradictions and idiosyncratic appeal.

The business district around the intersection of Virginia, Prospect and Shelby streets offers its own demographic study of the surrounding area’s polarity. The posh, vegetarian-friendly Decadent by Design Café sprang up across the street from Peppy’s Grill, a grease-pit favorite of late night drunks, drag queens and police officers. And a favorite Indy character Deano, opened his bigger and swankier Deano’s Vino where art and music types stop for a bottle of wine or a mug of the recommended microbrew. But the vast pedestrian crowd that has already reached a point of intoxication that makes vehicles (even bikes) unnavigable, will always prefer to swagger down the concealed alley to patronize the Liquor Shop. It’s all just food and drink though. And sometimes you do just want a plate of fish-sticks and a bottle of whisky in a bag.

In terms of the homes, we are proud to say that our block, minus the bank owned eyesore at the end of the street, has been predominantly reawakened to its historical beauty. That is to say, most homes are privately owned by families where the people outnumber the dogs, the parents work in some reputable or at least not illegal profession and the abandoned cars are mostly relegated to the back yard. The eaves and front porches have been updated to current building standards but most maintain almost the same gabled, gingerbread-type appearance that they did in the late nineteenth century when their working class owners first moved in. In fact, besides those of us foreigners from the suburbs who thrill in “roughing it” in a troubled neighborhood, the families are still the same lower class, vastly white, blue collar workers that their predecessors were. They just have cable TV and Ford trucks.

Other blocks are not so well accoutremented. We hear horror stories of drug shootings and white-supremacist gangs a few close streets away and police sirens often scream into alleys to quell the frequent domestic disturbance complaints. Most homes are rentals, ill kept and heavily populated. Any historic charm has been chopped up by multiple entrances and masked by hordes of decrepit children’s toys and mangy dogs in the yard. A few beautiful homes have been bought up and fixed up by wonderful outsiders--families or organizations.

We have great friends in the area who come from other places and wanted, like us, to be a part of a neighborhood rejuvenation project and buy while prices were low. They are students and psychologists, lawyers and stay-at-home moms, artists and professionals. If more like them would come to Fountain Square, we would be on our way to Georgetown sophistication or Greenwich Village erudition. But I think we would all miss the current charm we have; a charm that comes from a more diverse diversity than any ideal projections of multi-racial success.

I for one would miss the family across the street--a role confused collection of grown brothers and unmatched children living with what appears to be a set of industrious parents who support the whole lot. We affectionately call them “the gnomes” because all male members of the family go shirtless for the non-winter months and sit around the front yard like round-bellied garden statues. We would miss our Fountain Square native next-door-neighbors--a couple who can claim neighborhood authority by both longevity and attentiveness. The husband Ron patrols the area from both front and back porch while strumming his guitar and crooning songs from his former rockabilly fame in the fifties and sixties. He lectures us over our chain link fence on deadbolts and motion lights while shooing their pair of constantly yipping white dogs and yelling for his quiet wife to bring his cigarettes from the kitchen. He remembers when the theater was a theater and then when it sat empty. He is offended at the idea that Fountain Square would become another Broad Ripple. And despite his sometimes nearly offensive comments about the gays next door and his diligent conviction that if we are not attending his Baptist church on the corner, we are damned, he is a wonderful man.

In fact, when James and I came home from work to find our front door smashed in and all our drawers overturned by an intruder, Ron felt personally responsible. He said it must have happened around noon when he went inside to watch Andy Griffith, otherwise he would have seen. And if he had seen, the perpetrator would still be on the ground with Ron’s gun pointed at him and the police on their way. The gnomes came out to hear the story and put in their part. As it turned out, Junior, one of the shirtless brothers who talks slowly and with a slur, had seen the man leave the house but hadn’t realized he had intruded. His older, more intelligent but not less intoxicated brother harangued him for his inaction. As penance, Junior went inside, put on a shirt and came out to wait on the sidewalk to give his statement to the police. He repetitively listed to himself, “black hooded sweatshirt, white gloves, couldn’t tell black or white.”

Since the only thing missing from the house was a Boris Yeltsin doll filled with change, our sober, more sophisticated neighbors found a jar, took up a collection and gave us back our change. More change actually; we made a profit. But Ron would have shot a man and Junior put his shirt on. That’s something. I would miss that.


Anonymous said...

Yay! K is writing! Send it in to those nuvo mofos!

Linsey said...

Kate, you have such a wonderful way of wrapping the world up in words...

Particularly words like "accoutremented"... use of that particular word made me miss you like the dickens!

JR said...

Lins I thought you hated Dickens?

bing said...

Kate, I love the words coming from the mind , to the fingers, to the keyboard to our eyes. Keep up the telling of stories.