The Camelot Community Neighborhood Party

Jim Public, Camelot Community Neighborhood Party, October 29, 2011 111102

Last Saturday the Camelot project bore its first real social fruit. Until then, my neighbor-meeting and -drawing campaign has served three purposes of dubious communal value:

  1. It has given me an opportunity to test and toughen my nerve by cold-knocking on strangers’ doors.
  2. It has provided (so far) six subjects for ink drawings.
  3. It has offered something tangible for me to write about.

All of these aspects of the project have been totally good for me and possibly good, neutral, or bad for my neighbors. As I tallied in the results post last week, more than 60 of the 226 doors I knocked on were opened by nice people. I do feel more comfortable in this little subdivision now that I’ve spoken to many of my fellow residents. I have enjoyed doing these drawings of people who have been strangers until very recently, and I am brainstorming different ways to get more of my neighbors to let me draw them. I have also loved having a story to write about in these blog pages; I have only a speck of patience for other people’s written musings, and I try to hold myself to a standard of sticking with action as much as possible in these posts. I have a new appreciation for why the media loves politics, sports, and markets: journalists need to produce copy for a living, and these facets of civilization provide daily action which writers can turn into words and stories. I’m all about this.

With the occurrence of this party, I can say without scruples that the Camelot project has at last done some small but real good in the world. The bounce house was the soul of the event. One or two dozen people, mostly but not all young, took their turns jumping, flipping, falling, screaming, and panting in the inflatable castle that was our front yard for an afternoon. Amazingly, no one was hurt enough for it to have reached my attention. My wife turned some flips to prove that she still has it in her, which she absolutely does; I expect at least one annual bounce house in our future until she finally outlives her flipping years, and I think she’s got a lot left in her.

My next door neighbors and a family around the corner from us helped a lot with making the whole thing go down. It was great to have two adjacent yards for the action to spill into. We didn’t fully block off the street; rather, we staged our ballooned trucks at the front of our street to announce that something was going on, both to attract foot traffic and deter cars. I was too anxious about causing trouble with a full renegade road-block, and our pseudo-barriers did the trick just fine.

Much soda, chip, and hot dog was consumed. I manned the grill, cooking the one thing on it that not even I can ruin, which is a caution that perhaps we shouldn’t be eating hot dogs in the first place. In addition to the road-anxiety I was also nervous about serving beer, so I left it in a cooler inside my front door. I offered it to adults during the party but only had one taker until the festivities officially ended at 4pm, at which time the remaining 10 or so adults kicked back and the Newcastles and Shiners started making more of an impact on our bellies.

We estimated that around 40 people came through. I love the win-win dynamic of open invitations: it is a self-selecting crowd. Those who don’t want to be there don’t show up, so the assholes and misanthropes won’t wreck the party, because they won’t come. Those who do come are the sociable ones. A lot of the attendees I remember talking to on their porches, and their presence at the party felt to me like a reciprocal neighborly gesture. We had a good variety of ages, genders, and language groups. I was happy when a Vietnamese man I hadn’t met before arrived and started chatting with my new neighbor from across the alley who speaks very little English and is really friendly. There was a gaggle of meek Asian sisters from across the street who, when the bounce house had worn them out, asked my permission to go back home. Awwww, those sweet kids.

For the future, one neighbor has suggested to me on a few occasions that we should do a progressive dinner, in which several households prepare different courses for a meal that we all eat together in stages, moving from house to house. It sounds like a cool idea, but I’m more into baby steps. The outdoor potluck or chili cook-off ideas are more up my alley, and since I am now the unofficial social instigator in our community, I suppose that means that I get to set the pace of our future community get-togethers. I shall wield the power of future neighborhood fun with great care.

Need I say that all this represents a total blend of art and life? I’m far from the first artist to merge socializing with art-making, to fold the activities of artist and citizen into one activity, but this fusion of the two best things about life–experiencing art and connecting with others–makes me happy.

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