Nemo Wuz Here – Community to Cutthroat

Nemo it was called. Evidently winter storms will now be named — the ‘experts’ say this will make them easier to track. Ironically the name ‘Nemo’ comes from Latin and its literal meaning is ‘no one’. So Nemo raged for over 24 hours and by the end there were over 2 feet of snow as evidence of its force.

In the afternoon of the second day of the storm, the snow stopped. While it didn’t get sunny, clearly the storm was traveling on a predetermined trajectory and was heading quickly out to sea. That was when our neighborhood began heading out to look at the afterwards. Shovels of all sizes came out and there was an almost festive feel in the air. In an area of the country where people are not quick to acknowledge others or make friends, it was an extrovert’s dream. Neighbor shoveled beside neighbor, helping here, a side conversation there, laughter and shaking of heads at the seeming impossibility of the job.

Everyone’s goals were the same: Dig out your car, clear your porch, shovel your sidewalk. It was a community feel. I wanted to serve hot chocolate to everyone. It was great.

And then came day two and what had been community became cutthroat. People suddenly realized that if they drove away, their precious parking spot might be taken. Now if you don’t know the city, this won’t make sense to you. But parking spots are precious. More precious than money.

Plastic chairs came out of basement hibernation, put into use as parking space savers. Large, empty, grey garbage cans were placed in the middle of spaces that had been shoveled, some even found orange and white cones normally used at construction sites. People were determined to keep their hard-earned spots.

It quickly became ugly. Community was gone. It was every man for himself. Within 24 hours it had gone from community to cut throat.

Living in a city you accept some things. The good is obvious – walking to the subway, grocery store, long walks on a river that is practically on your doorstep, walking to many coffee shops, book stores, restaurants. You can live without your car.

The bad is that you give up space. You give up yards, green space, and parking space. But theoretically you accept that.

Until you’ve spent 3 hours digging out your car! And then the rules change.That space is yours, dammit!

But for me it’s sad. As much as I love the city, I wish we knew our neighbors better, I wish we had block parties, I wish no one on our street had to put chairs or cones in their parking spaces, instead accepting the annoyance of parking a block or two away.

I wish community didn’t leave so quickly, leaving space for the cutthroat “Hey that’s my space!” yelled angrily at one’s neighbor. Because Nemo wuz here and for a moment, community ruled.


blizzard 2013, Nemo, Boston, Cambridge
Our sturdy PT Cruiser poking out of the snow!








22 thoughts on “Nemo Wuz Here – Community to Cutthroat

  1. My neighborhood in Edgewater/Rogers Park in Chicago ‘saves’ spots with chairs, furniture, you name it. Just for fun, go and sit in someone’s chair some day. You don’t have to have a car to elicit a response. :-)


  2. I’m really thankful that I don’t know a thing about what you are writing, Marilyn. Our neighborhood is small and always helpful, rain or shine. We look out for each other. Recently we had guests (your parents no less) and I wanted fresh flowers. A neighbor whom we don’t know very well had camelias blooming in abundance. We stopped and asked if we could have a few. He picked a bunch, happily gave them to me and told me to come back for more. In fact, he said he would give me a plant! I guess big city living is quite different. Keep on being good neighbors!


    1. Thanks Bettie – I think there are certain things that dampen the often good spirit. I don’t want it to all seem bad – My neighbor regularly tells me to come by for mint leaves in the summer from her tiny garden, and in the summer we eat on the porch and talk to anyone who walks by. It’s just this nastiness that sometimes erupts when people get territorial.


  3. One of the blessings of Nemo for our family was the opportunity to hang with neighbors. I actually got to meet neighbors I didn’t even know before this week.

    It’s a little crazy that it takes something like a storm, for us to realize, “we’re all in this together”. Sandy was the same way for my neigborhood. It was a time for neighbors to stand around, drink beers and talk. Hopefully this can be a good start that leads to something better.

    FYI: Street parking is not really such a big deal in my part of Boston.


    1. Love this – that’s what summers are like in our neighborhood – also as I said, the initial camaraderie was heartening. Do you live in an area with a lot of students? I feel like when people are there to stay for more than a semester. you can build up community far more effectively. Thanks for coming by!


      1. Yeah, you have us pegged. We have mostly young families and older retirees in my neighborhood. On a certain level community has to be intentional. The people in my neighborhood move here, because they want to settle here at least for the time being. This intentionality opens doors for more community.


  4. Years ago a friend of mine who lived in Queens, NY got married at a church about 8 blocks away from her apartment. We all gathered at her place before the wedding, and the time came to leave. A huge conversation ensued as to who would drive – and give up their parking space. We all ended up walking to the wedding — including the bride. I didn’t own a car at the time. I’m not sure I would have given up my space, either.


    1. Part of me shouts a resounding YES! And then the other part of me thinks about what it is to live His Kingdom on earth. And unfortunately too often I’m with the cutthroat crowd! I have a phrase – in fact I may have even done a blog post on it – that I use “Ants in paradise” and it comes from this time where our family was at a picnic and all was perfect – absolutely perfect….! The setting, the food, the laughter, kids in their element. And out of seemingly nowhere came red ants. It was so hard – but such a reminder that utopia doesn’t exist. I’d just like a little more community spirit but I can’t be nice to my neighbors until they are nice back. Oops.


  5. I lived in Boston once. I had the experience digging out and someone stealing my parking place. I put out a garbage can and some lawn chairs to mark my spot. When I got home from work the chairs were gone (stolen) a car was parked in my spot and there was garbage in my formally empty garbage can. Yes people can get a bit cut throat.


    1. Ahhh – so unfair! We tried to reserve a parking spot in Chicago one time with a Christmas tree…..our Italian neighbors would have none of it and we’re pretty sure that a fair number were in the Mafia so it just wasn’t worth fighting for!


  6. Wow! The name Nemo and it’s translation: No one –makes me think of that Abba song, “Your Nobody called today, she hung up when I asked her name. Well I wonder does she think she’s being clever…clever!?” (Wasn’t it Abba that sang that? Maybe not…anyway….) No one stopped by in your neighbourhood! What a test and a revealing of character only No one can reveal! I’m so sorry…


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