The Neighborhood – Chapter Eight

Just as I predicted, the bistro folded after a month of struggling to make enough money to keep the doors open.  They had one last hurrah and everybody in the neighborhood attended, including me and Jean.  She remarked that if they had the kind of traffic they had the last day, they might have survived.

We had continued our regular Tuesday coffee klatches and gossip hour. The word around the neighborhood was that the town tramp and Ditto were having regular trysts and trying to keep them secret, but they should have known that secrets were impossible to keep as long as Jean lived there.

Winter was coming on and there was a noticeable chill in the air, which I loved.  Our gossip hour had turned to the holidays and how the neighborhood decorated their yards.  Jean said “we aim for uniformity as far as the color of the lights on our houses but it isn’t law.”

I was thinking that was a good thing because I didn’t intend to decorate the outside of my house nor the inside either, but I didn’t tell her.

Jean let out a cackle when she said “the town tramp replaces her panties with Christmas stockings around this time of year.  It’s such a hoot.”

“Are the stockings filled on Christmas morning?” I asked.  She laughed as she said “I don’t know.  I guess it depends on who she makes ‘like her’ at the bar.  I did tell you that’s her catch phrase, didn’t I?  ‘I did that so you’d like me’.”

I said “no, but I imagine women of that ilk do all sorts of things to make a man like her.”

The next Tuesday, Jean was atwitter like I had never seen before.  “Oh my goodness,” she said.  “Sit down and listen to this!”

I sat down and told her I was “all ears” as she poured my coffee.

“Judge Carson has disappeared,” she said.  “I mean, poof!  Vanished into thin air.  One day he was here and the next day he was gone and nobody knows what happened to him.  He was married, you know and his wife says she has no idea where he is.”

I laughed and said “maybe he was Divinely raptured.  You know how those God people are.  They take the Bible literally.”

She said “I don’t know but they found his Bible on the corner where he used to preach.  It’s just so strange.  He’s been there for as long as I can remember and now he’s gone.”

“Maybe he moved to another neighborhood,” I said.  Jean said “I could entertain that idea if his Bible and his wife hadn’t been left behind but there’s no way he would leave them.”

I smiled and said “maybe it’s just one of those mysteries that will never be solved…or maybe he wasn’t as Holy as he pretended to be.  You know, preachers are some of the worst sinners, not to mention being chronic adulterers.”

Jean said “maybe but I nor anybody else would suspect any wrongdoing from Judge Carson.”  I looked at her and said “don’t you know that it’s always the people you trust who will betray you?  It’s not strangers you have to worry about.  It’s the people closest to you.  I’m thinking that maybe he ran off with another woman.”

Jean capitulated and said “you may be right but I just can’t wrap my head around it.  It just doesn’t make any sense to me or anybody else.”

She got up to refill our cups, looked at my hand and almost frantically said “wait a minute.  What’s this?”

“What’s what?” I asked.  She was fumbling her words as she said “when did…how did…I didn’t know…”

“What ever is the matter with you Jean?” I asked.  She recovered enough to say “you have a fourth ring on your thumb!”

“Yes I do,” I said.

Still trying to find her words, Jean finally managed to say “but you said the others came from the hands of your dead husbands.”

I looked at her, smiled and said “no. I said they came from the hands of dead husbands.  I didn’t say they were mine.”






The Neighborhood – Chapter Seven

Earlier in the week, I received a flyer about the grand opening of a little bistro just up the street.  There was the promise of door prizes and half price lunches.  A plea for everyone in the neighborhood to “come check us out” was written in bold type.

It was lunchtime so I decided to walk up there.  For an instant, I thought about calling Jean to ask if she would like to join me but as much as I enjoyed her stories and company, I jealously guarded my solitude.

When I got to the corner, I hadn’t gotten within five feet of “the judge” before he turned to me and said “have you come for salvation sister?”

He was like Jean, in that there was no time for a response.  It was like bad journalism.  Run-on sentences, one right after the other and you could hardly distinguish when one sentence began and the other ended.

He had the perfect cadence of a preacher when he asked “have you had hands laid upon you and been dipped into the Holy water of His righteousness?”

I started to giggle but he abruptly moved toward me and said “I can see that you have a black soul.  You are dark and twisted.  Come sister and let me cleanse that black soul that you might enter the kingdom of our almighty God.  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of His grace.”

I smiled and started to walk away.  He said “remember sister, whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed: for in the image of God has God made mankind.”

I couldn’t help but give him a rather flip retort.  “Wow.  That was a mouthful,” I said.  He quickly replied “be not deceived sister.  God is not mocked.  For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.  Thou shout fear the Lord thy God.”

I looked at him and said “likewise, I’m sure but I’m in rather a hurry.  I’ll fear Him tomorrow.  How’s that?”  He quickly and sternly chastised me by saying “tomorrow may be too late.”

I was wondering if that was the same speech he gave everybody who was within shouting distance.  Preachers always tend to read the riot act and assume that we are all sinners.  Most of us probably are but sometimes, at least in my eyes, sin is defensible, especially when you have just cause.

I don’t believe that vengeance exclusively belongs to God.  I believe that you should sometimes get retribution in your own way and if you feel the need, seek forgiveness later.  I had never found it necessary to seek absolution nor had I ever felt the need to have my “black” soul cleansed.

When I got to the bistro, I was surprised to see that only a few patrons were there.  They were sitting at round 50’s style tables, complete with bygone era napkin holders and sugar containers.  The waitress had on a short skirt with a little apron around her waist and she was on roller skates.

There was a counter with bar stools upholstered in red vinyl and a retro soda fountain.  I found the whole set-up rather charming but I felt sure that once the novelty wore off, it would most likely go out of business.  I was also pretty sure that before that happened, since it was in the neighborhood, Jean would have colorful nicknames for the owner and employees.

I sighed as I thought “this is really nothing to write home about,” so I gave them empty wishes for much success and left.

As I walked by, the judge once again fixed his gaze on me.  Before I began my judgment of him, I only remembered hearing him say “sister, there is evil in your heart.”

I was thinking “okay, he’s just your average Joe…medium height…medium build and age appropriate thinning grey hair.”  He was clutching his Bible with a wedding banded hand, which to me doesn’t mean anything and like most men, thinks he’s entitled to feel superior.

I wondered what kind of evil was in his heart.  What was his reasoning for standing on his self-erected pedestal to pass judgment on others?  I found it offensive when someone was quick to make assumptions, predict damnation and threaten ever-lasting hell.

Still spewing out his ominous rhetoric and condemnations, I simply smiled and walked away but not before turning to take one last look as his eyes followed me.


To be continued_______________

The Neighborhood – Chapter Six

I had almost gotten my house in order and only had a few more boxes in the basement to unpack.  They were going to require special attention so I had procrastinated a bit.

Jean no longer had to insist on our weekly visits.  The next Tuesday, I strolled over to her house for my cup of coffee and the “gossip hour” as I came to call it.  “There’s only one more neighbor that I haven’t told you about,” she said.

I admit, it was like knowing you were nearing the end of a book and not really wanting the story to end but books should be finished so I was ready for the last chapter.

“I don’t know if you have noticed the house that sits back from the road and is almost hidden by a row of trees,” she said.   I told her that I hadn’t noticed.  “It’s a good thing it’s hidden by the trees.  If you get close to the house, you can see a strand of Christmas lights strung across the front porch and there are panties hanging from it.

It was almost another one of those “blowing coffee out of your nose” moments but fortunately for me and Jean’s table, I wasn’t in mid-sip. “Panties?”  I asked.  “Yes,” she said as she giggled.  “There are all kinds and all colors of panties.  We don’t know if they are symbolic of conquests or if she just grabs one on her way up out.  Her name is Veronica Guice and we call her the town tramp.”

I laughed and said “well, I guess every neighborhood has to have at least one.  I mean, given we have a preaching judge, a kleptomaniac, a soliloquist, a human parrot, a know-it-all and a serial killer, why shouldn’t we have a tramp?  Do go on.”

Jean in true form, closed her eyes and began.  “She has dyed red hair and I’m not talking about movie-star dyed hair, I’m talking about dyed hair with grey roots that all but screams ‘I’m a tramp’.  Remember the line in Gone With The Wind…’I ain’t never seen that hair color before’?  Well, there you go.  I’ve never seen that hair color before either.”

“She goes up to the Lounge every night, except Sunday of course because it’s closed, and drinks and shoots pool with whoever is buying.  She’s well known for latching onto some poor lonely schmuck who’s had too much to drink and after he has paid her tab, she plays the ‘you’re so handsome, you’re so special’ game and gets him to ‘loan’ her money for her taxes or house payment or whatever.  As long as he keeps writing checks, she keeps paying attention to him.”

“Does she pay them back?” I asked.  Jean let out a hearty laugh and said “I imagine she pays them back one way or another.”

“She used to dress up in her hooker clothes, as we call them and prance back and forth in front of Leo’s house.  She knew about his inheritance and was hoping he would notice her, I guess.”

“And do what?” I asked.  “Steal her?”  Again Jean laughed and said “maybe. Who knows?  But he never noticed her so she set her sights on Ditto.  I told you he was a handsome man, didn’t I?”

“You did,” I said.  Jean leaned down and whispered “I think they might have hooked up a few times…pardon the expression but Ditto wasn’t desperate enough to fall for her antics.”

Then she said “can you imagine?  She’s screaming ‘yes! yes!’ and he’s echoing every word?’  Jean had a sense of humor and I appreciated it.

Of course, I was thinking “there are ways to shut a man up…and I knew what they were.”


To be continued____________________




The Neighborhood – Chapter Five

On my way home I was thinking, “okay.  We have a preaching judge, a kleptomaniac, a soliloquist, a human parrot, a know-it-all and a resident serial killer.”  I felt like I had just stepped through the looking glass.

Some people might be amused or alarmed or, as was I, completely indifferent toward the plethora of personalities living in the neighborhood. I had always appreciated diversity and I had my own propensities, although nobody yet knew what they were.

The next week, via her usual story-telling, Jean “introduced” the neighbor directly across from me.  “We call him “double-take,” she said.  “His name is Don…or Donna, depending on the day.”  I was laughing as I listened.

Without breaking stride, she said “he’s one of those ‘higher-ups’ for the Shell Oil Company, although he’s semi-retired.  I think he pretty much only works when he wants to.  He’s been a confirmed bachelor his entire life but he loves all the women and all the women love him.”

I interrupted her and asked “what’s the Don and Donna about?”  She said “oh.  He sort of likes to wear women’s clothes and be called Donna.  He just has that little eccentricity but we all adore him.”  She laughed and said “last year, he came to the neighborhood party wearing a sun dress, a long blonde wig, a floppy hat and a strand of pearls around his neck.”  She opened her eyes and said “I don’t have a problem with it.  I find it rather charming.  I mean, haven’t you ever wanted to dress like a man?”

It took a few seconds for me to say “not that I recall.”

She continued.  “You might see him working out in his yard, wearing a tube top and short shorts or you might see him wearing jeans and a t-shirt.  It just depends on ‘who’ woke up that morning.”

I asked her if he dressed like a woman when he went to work.  Jean said “that, I don’t know.”

I was really starting to wonder if Jean was having me on but I had witnessed Gladys doing exactly what she had described, so maybe the stories were true.  I knew people were strange and as I said, we all have our own stories but this neighborhood seemed to be a little more bizarre than I expected.

I asked Jean if she had come up with a nickname for me yet.  “Oh, yes,” she said.  “I call you three-ring.”  Again, I was echoing Ditto when I said “three-ring?”

I was wondering to myself, “does she mean a three-ring circus?  Was she comparing me to a trick-performing elephant or even worse, was she comparing me to a clown?”

She said “it hasn’t escaped my attention that you wear three gold bands on your left thumb.  That’s why I call you three-ring.  I’ve seen people wearing thumb rings but I’ve never seen anyone wear more than one.  Might I ask their significance?

I looked her dead in the eyes and without blinking said “I pried them off of the cold, severed hands of three dead husbands.”

For the first time since we met, Jean was totally gobsmacked.  It took her a few seconds before she burst out laughing.  “That’s a good one,” she said.

“I’m glad you liked it,” I answered with a smile.


To be continued________________






The Neighborhood – Chapter Four

I decided to walk by Gladys’ house to see if she was on her porch and sure enough, she was sitting there talking away.  I tried not to look like I might approach her since Jean said if you did, she would get up and leave.

I couldn’t really make out anything she was saying but just as Jean said, she seemed to be having an agonizingly painful conversation with herself.  She was wiping her eyes and covering her mouth with her hand as if maybe trying to muffle her sobs.  I wondered what had happened to this woman to make her escape into a world of make-believe and I didn’t think by any stretch of the imagination that she was anywhere close to normal.

The next Tuesday, as usual, Jean began to tell me about her immediate neighbor to the left.  She said “we call her “four-ells.”  I said “do you have names for everyone in the neighborhood?  Judge Carson, Leo the klepto, Ditto and now there’s someone called four-ells?”

She laughed and said “her name is Ann.  She is a sun worshiper and the only time you see her in pants longer than her underwear is in the winter.  She looks a lot like Tweedledum.   Shes very rotund in the middle and has these little leathery lizard legs.  All four of those words start with an ‘L’ so we call her four-ells.”

“Do you call her that to her face?” I asked.  Jean laughed and said “no, we call her Ann.  I don’t know much about her but she’s really sweet.  She’s always willing to help if you need anything but because she’s always in the sun, her face looks like an old catchers’ mitt.”

“Then,” she said emphatically, “there’s Martine.  She lives on the other side of you.  Honey, have you ever met someone who knows everything there is to know about everything there is to know?  Well, that’s Martine.  Her real name is Martha but she changed it so it wouldn’t sound as she says, so old-fashioned.”

Jean was cracking up as she started telling me about her.  “She will let you know in a hot minute that she knows more than you do about any and every single thing from lawn care to car engines to how to shingle your roof.  It doesn’t matter if you are Oxford educated, you don’t know squat and she will let you know.”

“Anyway,” she went on.  “She took the test to be on Jeopardy and passed. She was telling everybody that she was going to be the most winning contestant ever seen, even better than that Ken Jennings fellow.”

“She was bragging about being flown out to the studio and how after she won, she just might decide to stay and start mingling with movie stars.  She was a little hard to take sometimes but we all wished her the best luck possible.”

“What happened?” I asked.  “Obviously, she returned to the neighborhood.”

“Well,” said Jean.  “She didn’t get a single answer right.”  Jean was laughing hysterically by then and said “she blamed it on a faulty signaling device, saying that when it finally ‘worked’ she was so shaken up, she couldn’t think.  She claims the whole show is rigged and favors male contestants.”

By that time, I admit that I was laughing too.  Jean said “the show finally aired and I’m not sure but I think you could hear collective laughter throughout the neighborhood.  It took several months for her to more or less re-emerge and we decided to never talk about it, at least not in front of her and of course, not at the neighborhood parties.”

“Speaking of the neighborhood parties, when do you have them?” I asked. “We usually have them in the spring,” she said.

She started to say more but I interrupted her and asked about the neighbor who lived in the house at the end of the street.  I had noticed that house, due to the overgrown “jungle” on both sides although the front lawn was carefully groomed.  The house didn’t really tacky up the neighborhood but somehow, it just looked out of place.

Jean handed me my second cup of coffee and I was in mid-sip when she just as nonchalantly as she could, said “oh, that’s hacksaw Henry.  He’s our resident serial killer.”

Coffee spewed out of my mouth and nose like an erupting geyser.  When I finally stopped coughing up both of my lungs, I sounded like Ditto when I repeated “our resident serial killer?”

Jean said “well, the rumor around the neighborhood is that he chopped up his entire family with a hacksaw, put their body parts in oil drums and threw them into the Florida Everglades.  You know that nobody is ever found in the Everglades.”

I was stupefied.  I asked why he wasn’t in prison.  She said “there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him.  They didn’t have bodies and he told the authorities that his wife left him, took the children and changed their names.  You know that without a corpus delicti, it’s hard to make a case.”

“Does he come to the neighborhood parties?” I asked.  “Oh sure,” she said. “We don’t want to end up in a barrel in the middle of the Everglades.  We’re cordial but nobody really carries on much of a conversation with him.  I have personally never talked to him.”

I found that statement interesting, especially considering Jean’s vociferous personality.

She said “he just sort of walks around with this eerie grin on his face, like he knows that we know that he got away with murder.”  She laughed when she said “and this is funny.  He always brings a rack or two of ribs and we always think twice before we eat them.  For all we know, they could be human.”

I looked at Jean and said “now, HE sounds like my kind of guy!”


To be continued_________________


The Neighborhood – Chapter Three

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________________

The Neighborhood – Chapter Two

The next week, Tuesday rolled around and I went to Jean’s house.  As much of a “nosey-nellie” as she seemed to be, I was surprised that she hadn’t yet insinuated herself into my personal life, which was fine with me.

As we were sipping our coffee in the tiny little tea set, I couldn’t help but laugh when in her usual fashion, she closed her eyes and started to ramble on about the neighbor who lived two houses down from her.

“Now, we call him Leo the klepto.  You do know what a kleptomaniac is, don’t you?  Of course you do.  He will steal anything that isn’t nailed down.  He steals the silverware from restaurants and then goes to the bathroom and steals the toilet tissue.  He has stolen yard decorations from the neighborhood and once he knocked on a door up the street and asked to use the bathroom. Being a small town, we’re pretty trusting people, you know.  Anyway, he went into this young couple’s house, used the bathroom, went through the cabinet and stole the woman’s pregnancy test.  But the best or worst, depending on how you look at it, was that along with the test, he took her grandmother’s false teeth.”

She laughed out loud and I admit, so did I.  She continued, “he’s basically harmless and when he takes something from one of us, say like a lawn chair or a gnome from our garden, or somebody’s false teeth, we just walk over there and take or ask for it back.”

I said, more or less to myself than to Jean, “so I’m thinking I probably shouldn’t hang out my seasonal flags?”  Jean said “oh, you can hang them out but when they disappear, just be prepared to go get them back from Leo.”

“Is he suffering from dementia?” I asked.  “Oh, no.” she said.  “He just goes through these phases where he feels the urge to steal.  He used to work up at the Salvation Army Thrift Store but they had to let him go because he kept stealing the shoes.  Now mind you, he didn’t care if they were men’s shoes, women’s shoes or children’s shoes and he didn’t even care if he got a pair.  He just stole shoes.  They were trying to help him and even tried to ‘pray away the affliction’ as they called it but it didn’t work.  He lives off of a pretty good inheritance, which is why it’s so strange that he steals.  We just let him be and keep a sharp eye peeled when he comes to the neighborhood parties, which by the way of course, you will be attending.”

Jean was certainly what you would call brashly assertive but her amusing way of talking made it a little less annoying.  I was actually starting to enjoy hearing her stories about the neighbors.

Again I thanked Jean for the coffee and the company.  “I need to get back home and do some more unpacking,” I said.  “I’m trying to get things organized in the basement and it’s going to take a while.”

Jean surprised me when she said “you need some help?  I’m pretty good at unpacking.”

I declined but told her that I appreciated the offer.  What I didn’t say, even though I enjoyed her stories, was that her incessant talking would probably drive me insane if I had to spend more time with her than it took to drink a tiny cup of coffee.

She said “okay then.  See you next Tuesday.  I insist.”

As I walked across the street, I was thinking “so far, I’ve learned that there’s a hell fire and brimstone preaching judge who stands on the corner and a kleptomaniac who lives two doors down from Jean.”  Suddenly this quaint little neighborhood was looking a little more interesting.


To be continued_____________