Chaos in Capitol Heights

My love and I live in a rebuilding section of a partially blighted/ partially hip neighborhood of a medium-small city in a region dominated by medium-sized towns.  Like most places in this world, the South-Central Pennsylvania area is chock-a-block full of places you could live; towns, villages, county seats, “townships” the East Shore, the West Shore, and on and on, and most of these places are all close enough to all the other places that, within reason, one could choose to live in most of them and commute to work in a nearby area.

When Karla and I were trying to figure out just how I could move from Philly to Central PA while I was working an aggressively high-responsibility job in Philly (which prevented me from helping her in the housing search in person), while also not knowing EXACTLY where in the region I would be working, we had a difficult time settling on where the housing search should focus.  Although I could commute to almost anywhere in the region from almost anywhere else, some places are certainly more central.  The uncertainty was a puzzling factor, and my astute love had to shoulder all the legwork herself.

Conveniently, she fell in love with the first place she looked at–the place we live now–in the Capitol Heights neighborhood of Harrisburg, the capital city around which the rest of the region orbits.  It is, quite literally, one of millions of places we could have ended up living, which is what makes this next part so interesting.

Almost directly across the street from our house–certainly less than 50 yards away–is a house that my father lived in for about a year of his life, when he was very, very young–maybe 2 or 3 years old.  He doesn’t remember living there, but my grandmother certainly does.

And this is one of dozens of places that both my father and grandmother have lived over the course of their lives–and for both of them, it is the only time they lived in Harrisburg.

Our neighborhood is one that has undergone many changes over the past decades.  Many city blocks have simply been knocked down and cleared–and are now populated by weeds, mounds of dirt, and conspicuous sewer hookups reaching into nowhere.  Sometimes, beside these long, narrow weed lots you will see townhouses that are over a hundred years old (and they look like it, too).  In isolated spots like this, the neighborhood resembles a “ghetto”.  But then a few blocks later, the empty lots have been built back up; within the last decade rows and rows of new, ultra-modern townhouses sprung up in an attempt to capture the gentrification overflow from the nearby hip “Midtown” enclave–the few blocks that sport the arthouse movie theater, swanky craft beer and local food eateries, the farmers market, and the independent playhouse.  Karla and I live on one of these new blocks; actually for three or four blocks in any direction of our house, all one will find are the brand new townhouses.

Except the house my father lived in, briefly, in his extremely early childhood.  It sits, probably 150 years old, like a beacon from the past nestled between new elephants.  It and it alone somehow escaped the revitalization.  And if my father hadn’t driven my grandmother past the house for a look at it–back when we had the address but I still lived in Philadelphia–none of us would ever have known the significance.

I don’t believe in a higher power.  Of any kind.  I don’t believe in fate or things happening for a reason.  It seems obvious to me that we make these things up to explain the world around us, especially when the chaos seems to clear for a moment into what looks like order.

The chaos doesn’t ever clear into order.  Events that seem pre-ordained or “fated” or just too coincidental to be coincidental, well, that’s just the chaos of the natural world lining up for a split second for you.  If you watch the static on a television screen for hours on end, occasionally you’ll see, for just a second, the outline of the United States, or a dog’s head.  It’s just chaos lining up in your mind.  Reaching for a larger explanation of order is how most human’s minds react to moments like that.  It’s tempting to say that my father’s childhood home being so improbably located next to mine is somehow significant, was for some reason supposed to happen, that it “can’t be coincidence”.  But nobody says that about the traffic they hit coming home from work yesterday, or stubbing their toe in the darkness when all they were after was a damned drink of water, or the three hours they spent in a mindless stupor watching their shows at night–three hours they have actually totally forgotten.  Nobody ever thinks it was “meant to happen” that their doctor is 45 minutes behind, and they have to spend all that time in the waiting room with the old magazines and they forgot to bring their Kindle.

But see, whatever the world is–whether it’s orderly or chaotic or ruled by a God or ruled by particles–it’s that way all the time, not just when neat shit happens.  If it’s all put together by some power or god or fate, then that entity ALSO MADE YOU STUB YOUR TOE.

There isn’t a reason my father’s childhood home is now across from mine, and I suggest that the lack of a plan makes a coincidence like this even more amazing.  The static on the television screen made a really pretty shape with that one.

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