I’ve lived in an alley for about eight years. Alleys in Saint Paul are unlike alleys in Minneapolis. They tumble over the hills that turn into cliffs that turn into river. Saint Paul doesn’t plow or treat the alleys in the winter like Minneapolis does, so foot-high glaciers of ice form down their middles, and wind brings all the snow against our houses, buries our cars. Cardboard boxes, plastic bags, and orphaned mittens accumulate in layers of snow, and in spring, the alleys have some of the best and most impressive garbage blooms.
In alleys, you see only the backs of buildings, which are much more interesting than their fronts. A board randomly painted red, a loading dock, a storm cellar rotted through from a recent flood, a pothole where you can look down and wave to the devil. In spring, when water drips from all the ice-dammed gutters down metal pipes, the alleys turn into day-long, one-note harmonica concerts. When it rains for real, white sludge-veins of limestone stream downhill from alley-west to alley-east.
When the power goes out, the darkness in the alley (already unlit) becomes dense until people start putting candles in their windows. We all have phones and flashlight apps, so a power outage is mostly just a good opportunity to pretend the power is out. Candles, wine, blankets, giggling. And, if lucky, a yellow, half-eaten moon. Saturn in the summer, Jupiter in the winter.
Last weekend, there was roasted corn with crema and cumin on a giant grill. Electrical company workers trying to beat a thunderstorm. A painting of a psychedelic bear. A bright-red, broken sofa. A boy screaming “dried-out bird, dried-out bird, come see” and laughing, then starting to sob. A tomato plant in a cracked pot.