I actually started looking forward to my visits with Jean. I wasn’t sure if it was more because her stories about my “bizarre” neighbors were so interesting or because I enjoyed that bit of respite from the mountainous unpacking I was still facing.
The woman who lived next door to me was the next topic.
“Her name is Gladys,” Jean said. “Now, there’s a character. She sits on her side porch and talks to herself. I mean, she will have full on conversations with herself. Sometimes, she will just wail and wipes her eyes with a roll of toilet tissue she keeps beside her chair. The next time she will be laughing hysterically like she has just been told the funniest joke she has ever heard. Then there are times when it’s just a casual conversation, complete with hand gestures and pauses like she’s listening to the other person answer.”
“Do you think she’s a paranoid schizophrenic?” I asked. Jean said “I don’t think so. She may be as normal as you or I. Like Leo and his thing about stealing, she just has this thing about talking to herself. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t have anybody else to talk to.”
I wasn’t sure how normal I would say Jean was and I wasn’t even sure that I would call myself all that normal. I knew how it felt to have nobody to talk to. I had been guilty of not only talking to myself but answering myself just so I could remember how my own voice sounded. Loneliness can do all sorts of things to your psyche and maybe Gladys invented an audience so she could hear her own voice, too.
I asked Jean if she knew her story. She said “I don’t know anything about her really, except that she talks to herself. None of us know anything about her. She’s the only person in the neighborhood who never participates in any of the parties. If you see her on her porch and start to walk toward her, she gets up and goes inside her house. I know she has a brand new car that never gets driven and in the winter, she all but disappears because it’s too cold to sit outside.”
Jean had suggested that Gladys was normal. She might not be normal according to my classic definition of the word but who knows? We all have our own little peculiarities. Jean serves coffee in a tiny little tea set. Leo likes to lift things but is basically harmless. Gladys talks to herself but doesn’t bother anyone.
I needed to get back home but I wanted to hear more about the neighbors. Jean was happy to oblige and poured another cup of coffee.
“Have you noticed the house two doors down from Leo? The one with the gigantic bird bath in the front yard?” Jean asked. I told her that I hadn’t really had time to scout the neighborhood yet but “do go on,” I begged.
“Well,” she said. We call him ‘Ditto’.”
She had piqued my interest once again. “Ditto?” I repeated. “Just like that,” she said. “Anything you ask him, he repeats, such as ‘how are you doing today’? He will answer ‘how am I doing today’? Then he will tell you what he’s been up to or what’s he’s building in his garage. If you ask him if he watched the football game last night, it will be the same. He’ll answer ‘did I watch the football game last night’? Then he’ll tell you that he did…or didn’t. I’ve often wondered if he suffers from some form of Turrets syndrome.”
“What’s his real name?” I asked. Jean paused and said “you know, I really don’t know. Nobody has ever called him anything but Ditto.”
I was getting cute when I asked if he had to circle his birth bath five times before he went inside or if he had to lock and unlock his door thirty-three times after he circled the bird bath.
Jean laughed and said “I don’t know but you know, he’s a handsome man. Tall, good-looking and you might be interested in knowing this. He’s single.”
I wondered why she assumed that I would be interested. As I said, she hadn’t yet pried into my private life but maybe the fact that she hadn’t seen a man at my house, or knew that I was doing all the work myself was a tell. I told her that I wasn’t looking for a man and the idea of a talking human parrot wasn’t very appealing.
I was beginning to feel like I was a player in a scene of The Twilight Zone or maybe I was the victim of a Candid Camera episode. So far, nobody in the neighborhood seemed anywhere close to being normal, again, by my definition. As I was walking home, I was wondering. “How normal could a preaching judge, a kleptomaniac, a soliloquist and a human parrot be?”
To be continued________________