Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mind the questions, not the answers, and damn the torpedoes.

I can honestly say that I did not realize it had been so long since a post.

Granted, I tend to believe (after the fact) that most of my posts are superfluous and unnecessary, with no real meat in them. But I guess it just depends on what one looks for in a post. And now it occurs to me that I might spend too much time thinking about the qualities of a post. So we're just going to move past it.

So the crazy lady next door, Sandra, has recently announced that she is going to stomp me. This comes as no surprise for those of you who are aware of the history I have with Sandra. For those of you who are not, the synopsis is this:

According to Sandra, I strategically waited until she left to go pick up her daughter from school, and within that 10 minute time frame I found a dead black mouse and placed it in her parking spot as a racial threat.

Those are the basic facts. Allegedly (not that I recall any of this actually happening, but what do I know?). Below is a story inspired by the event for those of you who would care to read further:

It was a sweaty and satisfying end to a long day, and the evening proved to be gracious and merciful. I went outside to take a seat on my new perch in the stairwell of my garden-level apartment (although the “garden” turned out to be more of a jungle, bearing muskrat-sized zucchinis and ferocious, domestic-cat-attacking animals of the night, whose other victims I can only assume included the 3-legged rabbit I had seen limping around the property earlier that day).

The cool evening air and the hush of traffic was enough to distract me from the woman yelling at me from the next house over. That is, until she repeated herself, louder this time.

“ExCUSE me! Did you…” she said.

“I’m sorry? I didn’t hear you,” I replied. Yay! I thought to myself. A new friend, a neighbor, one with whom I can share block gossip, one who will invite me in for dinner! Someone to give me the Heimlich maneuver when I find myself choking on a piece of lettuce while eating alone in my studio apartment.

She repeated herself and the tone of her voice sent up red flags and some adrenaline rushing through my blood stream. This was the unmistakable voice of an angry woman on a mission; you could feel the weight of the massive hunk of granite resting on her left shoulder growing heavier with each syllable she spat.

“Did you SEE who put a DEAD mouse in my FUCKING parking spot?”

“A mouse?”

“Did I see who put it there?” I only asked the question because the words “who” and “put” were really throwing me off here.

“You fucking HEARD ME. Who the HELL put that dead fucking MOUSE in my PARKING SPOT!” I knew it was a question by the syntax, but she launched the words through the air at me more like a missile than a query.

“Uh, are you sure it wasn’t a cat?”

“There ain’t no fucking CATS around here.”

“Well, I have a cat. But he stays inside, so I guess it wasn’t him. Are you sure there aren’t cats around here? I think I’ve seen cats here. But I just moved in, so I guess I don’t really know. But I think I saw a cat the other night…” The words dripped out of my mouth like water from a leaky faucet. Perhaps I was trying to bore this scary woman into leaving me alone by ceaselessly gabbing until she got so fed up that she would slam the kitchen window shut and forget I had ever existed.

It turns out that approach wasn’t going to work. My run-on sentences merely acted as fodder for her fury.

“It wasn’t no CAT. Someone waited for me to leave, then came out and put that DEAD fucking mouse where I park my car. RIGHT in the middle. Let me TELL you, I’m the wrong bitch to mess with…” And so on, so forth, and in the words of King Mongkut of Siam, ‘EtceteRA, etceteRA’.

As Sandra (I later learned the demon-neighbor’s name was Sandra) continued with her threats and other various announcements through the dirty screen of her kitchen window, I withdrew into my own thoughts, with only the occasional “FUCK” or “Start a fire like you ain’t never seen” slipping through the filter I had put up against her words. I began to drift, and it occurred to me that I was at a crossroads. I clearly saw the two paths I could take – ignore this woman or not ignore her, it was that simple. And I realized that I had been training for this moment for nearly an entire year.

“WWED?” I thought to myself. “What would Emily do?” This seemed like the most important question I could ask myself.

Why Emily? Because Emily is a goddess. Emily is the answer to the world’s problems.
She has the charm of Paul Newman and the steel resolve of a Mafia hit man. She is sweet and beautiful, with a heart like a bottomless buffet – “Take! Take! Take!” she says with open arms, a glistening smile, and endless hugs and kisses for every soul in line. Emily will tell you that she is not charming, but merely naïve, although I will always argue that just her statement of this fact makes it fiction, for the naïve do not know they are so. Naïveté and ignorance are fruits of the same tree, and Emily is neither of these.

I once watched Emily start a conversation with a rude and vaguely offensive man with whom those of us already sitting outside with him wanted little, if nothing to do. Within minutes she had learned and taught us all more about this man than I’ve learned about some people over the span of years, simply by asking him two questions: Are you healthy? Are you happy? She turned this stranger into another friend in the world, another spiritual fighter on our team. My idea of “stranger” melted away that day.

Some of you may be thinking, “Yes, that’s great, but too much sugar is bad for the teeth.” To that I say two things: we can handle, and could use, a lot more sugar than conventional standards allow, and secondly, one of my favorite things about Emily is the sour to her sweet. Just when it gets to the point where you ask yourself, “Does this girl have no limits?! Does she really love everyone THAT FUCKING MUCH?!!”, you see her air punch the back of some guy’s head for pulling a pan out of the box that she JUST PACKED, the pan that she JUST WASHED.
It is this anchor, but not unhealthy attachment, to the “real world”, the one that most of us embrace too tightly, that makes Emily so amazing. Too many of us hold onto the negative, choose to see people in the lights of their worst attributes, brush off those things that are foreign to us and drown ourselves in the familiar stench of conservative reality. Emily refuses these conventions, but not without acknowledging their existence. After all, the heroine cannot slay the dragon without first admitting that it is alive and kicking.

This is how I know she is not just crazy. Because the first time I ever met her, I was absolutely sure that Emily was certifiably insane. I had never met anyone so…nice. No-strings-attached, no-underlying-motives-NICE. Frankly, it was eerie. So I put up the old wall (you know, the one you whip out in line at the post office) and called it a day. But much to my surprise (and concern), it didn’t affect Emily at all. Like an arrow through the air of a crisp autumn day she hopped the fence and then proceeded to quickly (but oh-so-gently) take it down, pulling it apart and sorting the fragments into piles to be recycled and put to better uses than keeping the beautiful world out of this empty pasture.

And as quickly as I had disappeared into my WWED thoughts, I re-emerged. I don’t have to think about what Emily would do. I know what she would do by instinct. This is another beauty of her being – her joy of love and life is so intrinsic and true that one doesn’t have to think about it at all.

I stepped out of my head and right into the middle of Sandra’s threat to call her nephews on my ass (to teach me a lesson for putting the dead mouse in her driveway), and then she artfully segued into an explanation of the symbolic nature of the mouse’s color.

“Would you like me to pick it up for you?” I interrupted.

This stopped Sandra in her tracks.
“Excuse ME?”

“I said, would you like me to pick up the mouse for you? Would that make you feel better?”

“You can do whatever the hell you want. But that thing ain’t goin’ in my fuckin’ TRASH CAN.”

Now Sandra seemed a little dazed, and while it may have been the effects of whatever mental disorder she suffers from, I would like to think that my neighborly chivalry had something to do with it.

“That would be very kind of you,” she mumbled into the window screen.

At that, I scooted inside, grabbed the first plastic bag I found, and edged my way over to the long-deceased carcass of our infamous rodent friend (whom I had, by the way, named Rudolph at some point along the way). Gingerly I scooped him up and put him into a trash can (I still don’t know which one is actually mine), said a quick “Good night and good luck” as I slammed the lid shut, and went to go tell Sandra of my heroic deed.

I quickly walked back to her kitchen window, only to find that she had closed the glass and left me in the driveway all alone. And while I was relieved that she had decided to find a new target for her suffering, I was more overcome by the disappointment I felt for not being able to end my conversation with her the way I had planned, by asking her two simple questions:

Are you happy? Are you healthy?

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