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Monday, February 8, 2010

Maybe It's Yours

The knock on our door was one of those ones that instantly scares the shit out of you, even if you aren't one of those people who automatically assumes tragedy or violence is about to occur at the sound of every telephone ring, bump in the night, or doorstep visitor.

It was a pounding, in rapid succession, a closed, large fist, rapping five times on our front door, on a Sunday afternoon following a 2-foot snowfall. My wife and I were upstairs reading, she a piece of F.F.F. (Fucking Female Fiction) and me my mammoth John Irving book. At the sound of the dramatic knocking, she and I both instantly jerked our heads up from our respective literary lands, far different from the others, and looked at each other in real fear.

"Who is that?" she asked me, I suppose rhetorically. How the fuck should I know who it is?

"How the fuck should I know who it is?" I answered, though in question, also rhetorically.

"Maybe it's Girl Scouts?" she suggested half-heartedly as I shakily inserted my book-mark in between pages 421 and 422. Prostitutes in Amsterdam were having sex and there was cum and metaphors everywhere.

"Bullshit," I said, closing the book, "Girl Scouts don't knock like that. Not unless they're Russian Girl Scouts and you owe them money."

I got up from my chair and walked down the stairs in my slipper socks with more than moderate trepidation thinking, "I'm about to be shot dead. In slipper socks."

The trouble with our front door is that there is really no way to see who is on the other side until you are close enough to it that the person on the other side can see you. My wife learned this lesson just last week when I went out to pick up Chinese and arrived home to find my wife, in her pajamas and slipper-socks talking to a clean water activist wearing green cargo pants and carrying a petition form on a clipboard. My wife, of course, is too short to see who is on the other side of the glass, the result of which is that my wife now supports Clean Water Action and we have now been demarcated on the Clean Water Action spreadsheet with an asterisk meaning "sucker."


This is a very ineffective design. There's a peep-hole, but it's been painted over, so you have to resort to sticking your face up against the semi-transluscent curtains that cover the glass panes in the door and, of course, if you can see the person on the other side, they can see you. And make you put your name down on petitions. And shoot you through the glass.

Every time my doorbell rings, or somebody knocks on the door-- especially like that-- I am convinced that I am but moments away from a most disagreeable death. People do not "drop in" on us, the way nobody "drops in" on my parents. Visits must not only be announced, but heavily scheduled. My mother keeps the burglar alarm on not only when she is away, and when she is asleep, but when she is simply inside the house, alone, during the day, say, during her lunch hour. While she sits at the kitchen table, drinking her half-glass of V-8 and eating lean, thin-cut turkey slices out of the wax paper, she can watch her "stories" knowing that she is protected by the ADT community/force-field.

If we had an alarm, I'd do the same thing.

But we don't, and so the only force-field protecting my wife, my dog and little old me is the force-field that emanates from my own vast supply of paranoia. Once, when I was fourteen years old and home sick from school, I was sipping orange juice on the couch and noticed, through the window, a man with a ponytail lurking around in our bushes outside. I leapt up, ran to the kitchen, and dialed the police (an unwieldy seven-digit number back in those days). Within three minutes, four police cars came racing down, lights ablaze from all different directions, converging on my parents' lawn. Officers jumped out and one tackled the suspect-- who turned out to be the new meter-reader, hacking his way through our bushes because he didn't know where our meter was. At least I'm slightly more sane than my oldest sister who, when she was home alone in the early 1970s, called the police on the vacuum cleaner.

I thought fleetingly about that as I turned the doorknob of our door, with its painted over peep-hole. I thought about lying in a pool of blood on our doormat, sprawled out there for the police and medics to see, that they would be joking around with each other, waiting for the coroner, making fun of my slipper-socks. Fuck them, I thought, as I opened the door.

It wasn't a burglar or a hired assassin or a meter-reader or even a Russian Girl-Scout, angrily clutching a tire-iron in her hairy, veiny fist. It was the old guy from across the street, who, two hours earlier, had come out of his house, in true suburban fashion, guilted into cleaning out his own car because we were cleaning the massive amounts of snow off ours. Even though I had just seen him two hours ago, I blinked several times upon looking at him, because, when I opened the door he said nothing to me, and it took me a moment to realize who he was. As is the case with all of my neighbors, we don't talk much.

"Look-a-that!" he finally said to me, stepping back and to the side so I could behold... what was it exactly I was beholding again?

"What?" I asked.

"Look! Look at how I cleaned my car!" he exclaimed, beaming.

I looked. His car was indeed clear of snow, just as ours was. But it was his wife's car. The car that he had originally started cleaning when we were outside wasn't there anymore.

"That's the wife's car, see, I already cleaned off my car-- it's in the back alley-- moved it, ya see."

I saw.

"I see," I said.

"Beeyooteeful job, yeah?" he asked, rhetorically, I presume. Both Italian and Jewish old people from this area say "beeyooteeful." I don't know why. This guy's Italian.

"My son-in-law-- well, my future son in law, he lives way out, waaay out, see-- he gave me this. Best thing in the world for clearing snow offa cars. Here, look!" he said, giving me no alternative as he shoved this weird orange thing on a stick two inches away from my face.

"That's very nice!" I said with my best mock-enthusiasm.

"Touch it," he bade me. "Go on, touch it!"

Even though this was getting weird, I obeyed and ran my fingers along the orange rectangle. It was foamy to the touch.

"Yeah? Yeah?!" he said, his eyes getting wide and his eyebrows going up and down. "You like that? I get another one, maybe it's yours."

Hmm. "Maybe it's yours," I thought to myself. Gee, thanks. Maybe.

"You gotta name, fella?" he asked me. No, I wanted to say, they call me "The Situation." I told him my name. He told me his. It was something Italian. And then he turned around and walked back to his house. I shut the door, double-locked it, and walked upstairs, thoroughly bewildered.

"Who the hell was that?" my wife asked.

"The guy from across the street, who was cleaning off his car with us."

"What did he want."

I thought about that.

"I guess he wanted to brag," I replied. "Maybe."


  1. Neighbors are weird. You should have shanked him... slipper socks.

  2. I really wish you would have told him that your name was "The Situation." Thats priceless.

  3. The Door in the Floor?

    That's good stuff. You definitely don't want to be interrupted right in the middle of Dutch hookers doing their thang though.

  4. Julia--

    Wow-- yes. I didn't know they made a film out of it until you wrote that. I will make it a point not to rent it, though I very much enjoyed "Cider House Rules" and "Garp" both on paper and on film.

    I think my neighbor would make a good John Irving character, except for the obvious flaw being that I doubt he has sex very much.

  5. You know, you can call up ADT and get one of those ADT stickers without buying the expensive alarm system. That way criminals think your home is protected when really all your stuff is free for the taking. It's like, a psychological thing or something,

  6. "Not unless they're Russian Girl Scouts and you owe them money."


  7. Fer Fucks sakes... I am so behind. But, I made it.

    I think this is one of my favourites... from the slipper socks to the random conversations. You make my whole world shake like a bowl full of jelly. Or something.


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