Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What did you think I would do at this moment?

We made an offer.

Put like that, it sounds so innocuous, so simple, so doable. Instead, it was arduous, arcane, byzantine, and expensive. Where else does the conversation end with someone saying, "so, do have your check for $1000 of earnest money ready?" I feel like that kind of thing normally only happens when one of the parties involved is a Hollywood madame. We signed and initialed ourselves into knots, listened intently but with very little understanding to all kinds of jargon and acronyms, and tried to fake it, whilst not being really sure what "it" was.

And now, we wait.

To get to this point, I did a little reconnaissance: I visited the neighborhood again, this time at noon on a workday, which, as one of the husband's co-workers pointed out, is an even more alarming time for people to be milling around doing nothing. Once again, deserted streets, save the tree-trimmers and the construction workers. But I was not satisfied, so I decided to knock on a few potential neighbors' doors and say hi. My first two houses were deserted, but at the next house I met Mr. Eugene Frazier, Jr., a long-time resident of the street and James Island native who also happened to have been a police officer in Charleston County, homicide division, and is currently a federal marshall who has collected and published a book of slave narratives in his spare time...! Goldmine! He assured me the area had very little crime, largely because he knows everyone on the street and simply won't allow it. He also invited me to the monthly community center meetings and noted that the street is a very tight-knit community that routinely calls the police when anyone notices a stranger lurking about. After talking with Mr. Frazier, I felt immensely relieved and called the real estate agent to go ahead and fax in our offer. My methods may be a bit unorthdox, but look what they revealed!

In truth, I was taking a page from my parents' book: when we first moved to Hawaii, they went to the homes of every family in our neighborhood (which was essentially our ward) and introduced themselves. For many of the people they met that way, their visit was the first time a white person had ever been in their home. As a result, my parents were absolutely beloved, and our experiences as newcomers in an almost entirely local community were totally positive. In many ways, I feel that their efforts ensured that my siblings and I had one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse upbringings available, and we are all better for it.

Interestingly, today I heard about Robert Putnam's follow-up work to _Bowling Alone_, his thought-provoking book on civic engagement in America. He latest research examines the short-term effects of diversity in communities and has uncovered, to his surprise, that the more ethnically diverse a community is, the more its residents withdraw into themselves, to the extent that, say, a white person not only looks suspiciously at a black person, he or she also looks suspicously at another white person. In other words, in the short-term, it appears as if diversity makes us less civic-minded and more insular. He was quick to point out that in the long-term, diversity has the opposite effect, but there is this distinct and intriguing period of transition that his research demonstrates exists...interesting.

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