Kids compare things. Prices of shoes. Coolness of parents. Longevity of burps.
It’s pretty simple. You know what you have based on what others do or don’t. And at an age before humility, that egocentric awareness of others’ misfortune can soothe your soul like a dab of aloe on some sun-scorched skin.
Of course, not having things does the opposite. But in the neighborhood I grew up, since most of us didn’t have all that much anyway, nobody stood out. As Darwin would say, you adapt to your surroundings. Sooner or later the kids became as indistinguishable as the houses.
We weren’t poor per se, but we weren’t well off either. Streets behind the local mall hovered in the often overlooked gray area between the two economic extremes. Our parents worked blue collar jobs to make ends meet during the summer days, while we rode our bikes unattended down long, cracked sidewalks at twilight; off-brand sneakers having pushed the pedals on the rusted boys’ BMX.
Near the end of the road — before the pronounced curb that gave my mother a natural border for which I shouldn’t pass — I lived in a small, 900-square-foot home. Before we had moved in, a car had somehow tore through the left concrete-block wall. Instead of matching the replacement brick, the previous owners decided to paint the entire outside of the house white — the only one of that color on the street.
Mother smiled. She’d thought of this home as her very own little “White House” of Clarksville, making her the Nancy Reagan of the block. While lacking the couture fashion and psychic readings of her Washington counterpart, mother decided to embrace Nancy’s “Just Say No” philosophy when dealing with my requests. No dressing like Madonna. No Dungeons and Dragons and definitely no AC/DC. It stands for antichrist/devil’s child, she scolded.