Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who are you?

I was walking my dogs through the apartment parking lot the other afternoon when I saw a young man carrying a guitar- a large one- to his car. He had swaddled it in a blanket. There was another guitar, also wrapped in a blanket, waiting on the roof of his not-of-this decade elongated blue sedan with California license plates. The young gentleman had a minor beard,and was wearing a pork-pie hat. A musician, of course, and not a rara avis in this city. Was he just a hopeful? Or was he an employed hopeful. I say this since these apartments are not cheap. Perhaps he was a studio musician. Maybe his girlfriend paid the rent. Or maybe his boyfriend- Possibly he was a respiratory therapist by day, and a frequenter of stages by night. This is Nashville. Who knows.

Being something of a hermit, I would rather speculate about my neighbors than meet them. I love to look for clues. My interest grew greater last summer when I counted license plates from 31 states in the parking lots of these apartments. 31 states. If I lived in an apartment in Detroit would I have noticed so many roving neighbors?

Of course not, since Detroit is an unraveling, dying Rust-Belt city ,and Nashville is in the shiny Sun-belt. Shall I tell you how many of the out of state cars I saw were from Michigan? In fact there is a young woman at my work who is a refugee from that sad state. She has a bachelor of science in nursing, newly minted, and she could not find a job. She had trouble finding one here. The Sun-Belt is rusting a bit itself.

But back to my neighbors . Who are you?

The girl, who until recently, lived above me was a songwriter. Another neighbor told me that this girl lived on residuals from one hit song. She was a one hit wonder. Until I moved in they had trouble renting my apartment, as this woman ran her washer and her water without respite. This did not bother me. I never met her. Whether the water or the residuals ran out first did not matter. She was gone. "Too many fall from great and good for you to doubt the likelihood", wrote Robert Frost.

One of my neighbors is a Frenchman. He is a chef. He is so lean that I knew immediately that he was no American. He drives a big GM sedan. Another neighbor is a retired businessman from Louisiana. He is elderly , and from his words and deeds I have deduced that he is looking for female companionship. When I see him I duck. And run.

But back to the question. Why would someone leave New Mexico, or Pennsylvania, or Ohio, or Georgia to come here? Why are they in Nashville? Did their corporation transfer them? Are they interns or medical residents at Vanderbilt or Meharry? Do they work for Gaylord Entertainment, or AT and T, or are they musicians for the Nashville Symphony? Families who have lost their homes to foreclosure? Or are they like me. A woman who thirty years ago made a random decision to get out of small town New England, and picked Nashville on a whim?

Perhaps most of us came here because we wanted something new and better. Perhaps we immigrated to safety, like the 11,000 Kurdish refugees who now live here. Perhaps we were smothered and stifled in small southern towns where the biggest building in town was the Church of Christ. City air makes you free goes the ancient saying.

Though not for some unlucky dreamers. This summer, down on West End, near Vanderbilt and PF Chan's and the Loew's, I would see a young man wandering the sidewalk. At first he just wandered, but later I saw him trying to sell the homeless newspaper to walkers and commuters. He was tall. He wore a checkered shirt, narrow blue jeans, and a big black cowboy hat. Then I did not see him anymore. Maybe he caught a bus home. Maybe he did not. I will never know. I never saw him carrying a guitar. Perhaps he had to sell it.

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