Our house in Salt Lake City, La Casa Fristy, is a tiny bungalow on a tree-lined street in a liberal neighborhood called Sugarhouse. It gets its name from the sugar beet test factory that used to be here about a hundred years ago that was owned by the Mormon church. I have no idea what a sugar beet test factory is but it brings to mind Mormon Oompa Loompas in tiny little garments manufacturing the worst fruit roll-ups ever made. Hard pass. Now my neighborhood is one of the more liberal areas of the city and attracts artists, hippies, young professionals, and transplants. When we first bought this house, I was nervous about the neighbors and obsessed with finding the perfect place for us where we’d feel like we fit in. Most of my obsession was rooted in the fact that I grew up in Utah but did not come from a religious family which made me a sort of pariah in any given area where most kids were banned from talking to me lest I corrupt them, dragging them down the road to perdition. It didn’t matter that I was five. What mattered is that my dad was Iranian and my mom smoked and drank. I didn’t want my own kids to deal with the same sort of “otherness” I always felt so I interrogated random people on the street anytime we looked at a house until we found this place.
Almost all of our neighbors are from out of state and at least half of them are brown. This might sound like an odd thing to get excited about but as the daughter of a Persian man, I get a little weirded out with Utah’s extreme homogeny. At this point, it’s far more Germanic than Germany and on any given day you see so many blonde haired and blue eyed children you start to feel like you’ve accidentally stumbled onto the set of Village of the Damned. We love the diversity of our street and the fact that most people don’t have family here creates a tight-knit community that I always wanted but was convinced only existed on television shows from the fifties. I never realized what I was missing out on until we moved here a year ago. Since I’m so hugely pregnant and my husband often travels to China for work, friends on the street take turns walking Oliver, or they’ll stop by with food, or text to make sure I’m okay. And everyone genuinely cares about each other to the point where we all become weirdly stalkerish. If some guy appears on our street and starts hitting his head repeatedly on a tree while calling himself the monkey man (this happened over the summer) it won’t take long before everyone is huddled on the sidewalk to assess the situation. Do we give Monkey Man a cookie? Call someone to pick him up? Tell him to stop banging his head on the goddamn tree? Whatever the solution, it will get solved as a group. Once, a friend of mine was coming over to watch a movie and before I even knew he was on my porch, my next-door neighbor texted, “There’s a man on your steps.” Community makes you feel all warm and fuzzy and safe. God, who knew?
Additionally, it’s fun. This is probably because we got lucky and pretty much everyone here is kind, thoughtful, and open-minded, but we do events together regularly. There are cocktail parties and BBQs and trips to the lake so our dogs can play together while we take turns holding kids and paddle boarding while a tad bit tipsy on Prosecco.
Last week we got together for a sort of dinner roulette where each house prepared a course and a cocktail based on the theme, family traditions, and we went from house to house eating and drinking. We all started at my place where I made a Persian appetizer and a rose-cardamom cocktail I couldn’t drink because of my pregnancy (I taste-tested it by sending the kids who walked Oliver home with a paper cup for their mom to try), then we all moved on to Indian food at house number two, Japanese at house number three, then Italian, Jewish, South American, and eventually ended the night at the final house with fresh baked cookies. By the time we reached the Italian food, everyone except for me and one other expecting mamma was tipsy so dancing ensued. We all danced with the kids, the older kids read poems to the younger kids, couples slow danced, and at one point someone rented a Lime scooter and everyone took turns zipping up and down the street after dark on scooters yelling out the name of our street and giggling. At one point, hot chocolate got spilled and I bent down to clean it up when one of our neighbors came out of nowhere, “don’t you dare,” he said, grabbing the napkin out of my hand, “that’s what we’re all here for. You just have fun and take it easy.” A moment later, another neighbor put his arm around me, “If you need anything while F is out of town, you call one of us. I’m dead serious. We will be at your house in two minutes. For anything. Okay?” I nodded. Maybe it was the hormones, or maybe it was just that I appreciated the kindness so much, but I had to hold back tears.
I was so worried that we’d buy a home and wouldn’t fit in. Instead, we found a second family, a group of people who look out for each other in a world where everyone seems too busy and divided to notice what’s happening around them.