"Damn it," said my mom as she gripped the steering wheel. The car lurched forward as she braked, and I watched a couple of my friends rollerblade their makeshift hockey net out of the middle of the road. "The Kids in Homer always walk and play in the middle of road."

I was 10 at the time. She sounded like she didn't understand why kids would walk in the road, why they would play football and hockey there, why they would pick up their kickballs and stand on the sidewalk or in the gutter glaring at the cars that had interrupted their games.

There were so many things my mom didn't understand about living there.

Of course kids played in the road. The wide tree-lined streets had a way of disguising the fact that, for the most part, our neighborhoods had no yards. What yard space there was seemed to be owned by the same five yuppies with weird ideas about the land belonging to them, despite the fact that they didn't play kick ball.

We had to play somewhere, and our neighborhood was small town ghetto, the roads in bad shape, abandoned houses that were dark and broken like the black spots in someone's mouth when their teeth have been knocked out. As soon as you got within a few feet of those houses you could hear a TV blaring or a baby cry inside, and you'd realize somebody lived there. The mothers that came out of those houses, bleached blonde, young, tanning bed-colored in short shorts and tank tops pushing baby carriages, my mom had nothing on them.

"That's my mom," my playmates would tell me. I would stare, transfixed, and the mothers would smile and actually let me have kool-aid. They were so exotic to me, with their gold ankle bracelets and Marlboro 100s.

My mother had no respect for these people, our neighbors.

"Why can't they play in our yard? It's big enough..."

Maybe it was big enough, maybe we should have given in and made friends with the rich kids or used my yard or something, but that denies one of the essential facts of childhood: kids like stupid, dirty, broken-down, weird things. They have their own culture that excludes adults/adult values and which doesn't respect the following of rules, and in the summer they need concrete to play hockey.

To this day when I'm out and about in my new hometown, walking around by myself at 2 in the morning talking to myself like a paranoid idiot, I still walk in the road, or in the gutter. No matter how far I run or how much I resent my parents for making me grow up there, I'm still sort of a Homer kid, and some of my most vivid memories took place in the middle of the road.

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