Friday, October 18, 2013

The Sprinkle Plants of East Haven

When Isabel was 4 we lived in East Haven, CT. Our house was an 80-year old place that had been bought and updated by two guys who reminded me a lot of Tom and Ray Magliozzi from Car Talk. The hard wood floors had all been stripped and polished, the washer, dryer, fridge, and dishwasher were all new, the wooden accents around all the windows and doors had been taken down and refinished and rehung, it had central air conditioning, a new super-efficient furnace in the basement, and multi-zone control of the temperature for maximum energy savings. It was a beautiful house.

Only one thing was wrong with it—it was in East Haven, CT.

You may have heard of East Haven—it has been in the news a few times in the last couple of years. Four of its police officers have been charged with federal civil rights abuses; some of the charges stemming from a falsified police report about the arrest of a Catholic priest as he filmed two East Haven cops harassing a shopkeeper. Others of the charges are the result of one officer’s assault on the owner of an Ecuadorian restaurant who tried to photograph the officer harassing his customers in the parking lot.

Or perhaps you heard of East Haven when its mayor, Joe Maturo, was asked what he intended to do to help Latinos in his town feel better about his leadership. In all seriousness, the mayor said he might go home that night and have a taco for dinner. And then he could not understand why this answer might actually be offensive, or just the wrong thing to say. Or, if you didn’t hear about the mayor’s taco comment, perhaps you heard about the hilarious response to his taco comment from some in his community.

If none of these stories rings a bell, then maybe it was the more recent case of the group of East Haven cops who left their jurisdiction, lights flashing and sirens wailing, and went to New Haven, where they provoked an accident, took a woman and her car hostage, and then changed their stories about what happened as Internal Affairs investigated. Well, whatever the case, East Haven was where this beautiful house was located and we simply did not have the resources to jack it up off its foundation, put it on a truck, and cart it off to somewhere a bit better, (like Camden, NJ).

We lived in the house for two years, but we should have known from Day One that it was not the place for us. As the movers were unloading our stuff from the truck, there was a teen-aged girl on the front stoop of the house next door, talking loudly into a cell phone and cursing a blue streak. On closer examination, her ankle bracelet tracking device made itself evident. The girl’s heroin-using mom hit us up for work once in a while when she needed money.

Or, if we didn’t realize it was not the place for us on Day One, maybe we should have realized on Day Two, when I took Isabel to the playground in the local park just down the road from our house. Isabel LOVED to swing and she could do it for hours, so whenever she woke up real early, I would get her out of the house so Erica might be able to sleep-in a bit. So, that second day in East Haven Isabel and I went to the park and I put her in the kid swing and started pushing her. And then I looked down and noticed broken glass all throughout the sand under the swings. The more I looked, the more glass I saw. Oh, and also some used syringes. Before long, Isabel took to calling it the Glass Playground, to distinguish it from the Giant Playground that was a twenty-minute walk away from our house.

The first time Isabel ever said the F-word, she read it spray-painted on a slide at the Glass Park. Ah, memories…

 And if not on Day Two, surely we should have known five months into it, when our Subaru Outback was totaled while parked in front of our house. Seems a guy fell asleep behind the wheel on his way home from the methadone clinic. It wasn’t even his van he was driving—it belonged to the plumber who had just that week hired him as an assistant. (I ended up feeling a little bit bad for that guy.) Anyway, what got me thinking about that house in East Haven today was a cupcake I saw on somebody’s desk this afternoon. It had white frosting and rainbow sprinkles.

The sprinkles acted as the visual equivalent of Proust’s madeleine; one glimpse brought back two full years in East Haven. When I saw those sprinkles I right away pictured our front yard. We had put a white picket fence up after some punk stole the good cooking pot we had left on the porch. The pot was full of self-service Halloween candy so that we could both go trick-or-treating with Isabel. Inside that fence we had created a large L-shaped garden to grow tomatoes and basil and lots of flowers.

As I remember it, for our first Easter in East Haven we put a small shaker of sprinkles in Isabel’s basket. Then we told her that if she buried a few sprinkles in the garden, a sprinkle bush would grow. So, she planted some sprinkles in the garden. A few months later, Erica and I placed a few new plastic jars of sprinkles in the branches of a green pepper plant and then reminded Isabel of when she had planted the sprinkles. Right away she wanted to go check the plant, and sure enough it had borne fruit. In retrospect, the look on Isabel’s face when she saw those plastic jars full of rainbow sprinkles outweighs all of the negatives that came with living in East Haven, CT for two years.

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