Bewitched, beleaguered and bedraggled
With the move and the rewiring of the house behind us, the last of the major traumas were, for a time, over. That gave us a chance to settle and assess.
OK, when I say “us,” I mean “me.” John actually had to get up and go to work every morning. I, on the other hand, had chosen to give up my downtown office and work from home. The plan was I would use one of the spare bedrooms upstairs, once we had removed the vinyl-textured wallpaper and repaired and painted the walls and trim. But considering all we had just gone through, that kind of project seemed like an awful lot of work, especially for two people who had little or no interest in beefing up their home-improvement chops quite yet. (The echo of the first words out of our mouths when we started this process, “No fixer-uppers,” would continue to haunt us like Glinda the Stink Bomb – which, by the bye, still rears her smelly head on occasion.)
Instead, I set up a makeshift office in a cramped corner of the living room. The space was so small it only fit a table that could hold my computer and a phone, so every time I needed to do something that required a bit of open area – write another $1,000 check, drop my head into my arms and weep – I had to go use the dining room table. The problem was that every time I got up, I found another box that needed unpacking or some surface that wanted scrubbing or a window that demanded my gaze. The space was not exactly what you would call “a room of one’s own.”
Not that it really mattered. One of the plusses of being self-employed is that you can scale back work for stretches of time – say, almost two years to look for a house, or weeks and weeks to plan and prep a closing and a move. Of course, one of the minuses of being self-employed is that you can’t just flip a switch when you’re ready to get back into the game and have an assignment or a project materialize – particularly if you are of the ilk (as am I) that does not seek work but expects it to come to her. So, while I was waiting for the phone to ring, I had nothing to do but settle and assess.
Oh yes, and acclimate. After spending my entire adult life as an apartment-dweller, adjusting to living in a house took some doing. Stairs, for example, were a novelty. I liked parking stuff on the lowest steps and then walking by (or crawling over) whatever was there, en route up, just for the pleasure of doing so. I was also fascinated by how many times I’d get a load of laundry down to the basement only to discover an important garment was missing, requiring me to retrace my tracks up two flights. And even though it was only March, I liked to practice rushing down the stairs and exclaiming, “Oh, Santy! You were so good to me this year!”
But, really, you can only spend so much of your day marveling at stairs. Particularly when there’s a whole new neighborhood to explore – from behind a partially drawn curtain; as I like to call it, my Gladys Kravitzing.
We didn’t at first have much interaction with our neighbors, so we took to naming them ourselves by the various characteristics we’d picked up through observation. Since we saw them most frequently, the dog-walkers were the easiest, such as Two Dog Lady and Red Sox Man. The people two doors over were the Volvos. There was Geary’s Guy and Hot Dog Man, but the one household I couldn’t get a handle on was our across-the-backyard neighbors. There seemed to be an awful lot of activity over there in that lumpy yard, but winter’s forgetful snows kept it under wraps.
Soon spring came and the snow receded to reveal what lurked under those lumps. Not rolling gardens or knolls, as I had hoped, but crap. And I mean crap: a shopping cart, a pool ladder, crutches, a plastic play-kitchen set, old tires, a Christmas tree stand, a charcoal grill, a gas grill, a doll with a smashed-in face, a refrigerator tipped on its side with the door ripped off, a folding chair, stacks of scrap wood and, in the midst of it all, an above-ground pool with the sides bashed in that looked like a giant blue tuna can readied for recycling. That’s not to mention the junked cars, five deep, and the revolving cast of young men, who hung out in their hooded sweatshirts, smoking in the cars, or just standing around. I figured out pretty early on that I was not going to get a welcome-wagon call from across the back 40.
What I was going to do was keep an eye on things. I soon found out what the pool ladder was for: to straddle the hurricane fence separating our two yards, so the kids could use ours for a shortcut. I watched in shock (just imagine Gladys crying, “Abner, Abner!”) as a teenage girl, cigarette in hand, came striding up our neighbor’s driveway, across our yard and up and over the fence – while I was right there with my face pressed to the glass! There was the constant thump thump thump of bass from whatever car the boys were working on – that is, until an engine would blow (and they always blew), and a big puffy cloud of black smoke would drift into our yard and slowly disperse, like the finale of a bad magic trick. Every once in a while a bottle would be hurled into our yard. And I really was tempted to hurl it right back, except for the fact I was scared.
As you can imagine, there were little oily noseprints over every window in our house. And, as you can also probably imagine, I was descending into something of a funk about all this. While both our broker, Rita, and I had had our reservations about this neighborhood, I was already starting to feel at home. I loved our little street and loved waving hello to Red Sox Man and hearing the double jingle of Two Dog Lady’s approach, but every time I looked out the back window, I felt sick.
Then, one fine May day, the dad came home, walked out the door with a crowbar in his hand and applied it in a spray of glass to every window on one of the vehicles – a panel van – while a couple of the boys looked on. Not long afterward, a tow truck came and hauled the van and three of the other cars away. Of course, this was not the end, but it was a respite.
The family and the posse are gone now. A beat-up, white-paneled truck backed up their driveway one night not long ago, and they tossed in a few belongings and just went away, just like that – as though someone had wiggled her nose and made it happen. And you can bet you-know-who had a front row seat for all of it. This was a disappearing act I didn’t want to miss.
Elizabeth Peavey is always in a twitch about something. To find out what, tune in right here, biweekly.