Thursday, September 22, 2011

Letter to a Long Arm

Dear Police Officer, 

I promise to tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help me. 

My husband and I do not host costume parties where plastic bags of crack cocaine are traded in dark kitchen corners for blow jobs and blow pops. Nor are we the type to attend shin digs where assault rifles are purchased from musty walk-in closets or the velvet-lined automobiles of actual mobsters. We have never been so obliterated by the consumption of cheap alcohol that we've agreed to assist an amateur tattoo artist in aborting twin fetuses from the loins of a passed out prostitute in some filthy basement dwelling. 

With my right hand over my heart and the other saluting an American flag, I swear that we try to be the best law-abiding citizens possible. Therefore, I hope it was worth the $50 tip we were told you get for ordering a truck to tow our car with a recently expired registration ON A SUNDAY from the center of town to the outskirts of town so that we, the negligent car owners, could be charged $180 to retrieve it. I'm sure this punishment probably makes perfect sense to you, sir, but for Free Speech's sake, I'd like to break it down for you so that you can see why your actions are so unbelievably infuriating to me. 

You're walking around town with your cocky straight backed swagger, I imagine, searching for license plates with orange "11" stickers. When you see our car, you excitedly plug the plate into your database. "Expired Registration," it reads. You call your favorite tow truck company and tell them to drive the five or so miles from their parking lot to the center of town. Pick up this car, you tell them, and move it to your lot. They do. A few hours later, my husband gets out of work. He's exhausted and sticky, covered in fresh coffee stains. He paces the sidewalk. Where the hell is his car? He wonders. A girl with a clipboard asks him if he cares about the environment. He tells her that he can't find his car. She walks away, wishing him luck. Has anyone with a clipboard asked you, officer, if you care about the environment? Scott walks to the police station. At the station, he is informed that because his registration is expired, his car was towed. Because I am in Boston, he takes a $12 taxi ride to the parking lot where our car is held hostage. It is nearly 6PM now. Inside the lot's office, Scott begs the tow truck guy to stay open for five more minutes so that he can update his registration online in order to pay his $180 fee and get his car back. The guy waits. Scott updates his registration, pays the guy the $180 plus the additional "after hours" fee and with empty pockets, he drives home. 

Is this supposed to be a lesson on "the harshness of the real world"? Because if that's the case, you're a bit mixed up. You're supposed to be the good guy. Not the ski-mask-sporting gunman bashing a baseball bat onto the windshield of our bank account balance.  I understand the importance of enforcing the law, but come on hall monitor, sometimes people just need to take a piss. 

I hope one day you have an accident. Not an injury or death necessarily. Just some serious embarrassment. I hope you forget to put the toilet seat down and fall in. Scream out and cough to cover up your feminine yelp for help. Wipe your dripping backside with an entire roll of toilet paper. Throw the wads of TP into the toilet bowl. Drop your deuces onto the soggy paper pile. Flush. And as you are buckling your belt and adjusting your pistol, the water rises so alarmingly high that your face starts to sweat and you find yourself wiping your brow with a piss-covered shirt sleeve. Brown water reaches the seat despite your revolting last resort to scoop up the poop and paper. Men at the urinals and sinks turn to watch shit water cascade onto your black boots. They hear you cry out, "THIS ISN'T FAIR! I'M A GOOD PERSON!" Well, unfortunately, in this world where you wear a badge, uniform and gun, that doesn't matter. In your world, good citizens are fined heavily (on our budget's scale) for small mistakes. Here, shit can soak and crust the tops of your socks regardless of how quickly you shovel shit from the top of crap-puking potties. Because you know what you've proved to be? The police officer that rappers write rhymes about. Yes, I feel discriminated against. I feel discriminated against for being a genetically fallible human being. We all make mistakes. You, as a law enforcer of human beings need to remember that.  The people who pay you to protect them are not angelic Ghandi creatures descended from virginal desert nuns. Besides, aren't there more important laws out there to enforce? Like drunk driving, domestic violence and library book thieving? Isn't there something more productive you could be doing than walking around town, ON A SUNDAY, plugging license plates into your little electronic device like an old lady at a nickel slot machine?

I believe in strict laws and most of the time, I believe in this country. I believe in the theory of police enforcement. I'm glad we have it. I'm grateful that I can dial 911 if I'm being chased, hounded, mauled, molested, murdered or badgered. I understand that the safety provided by the police force is crucial to my happiness and that I can generally trust police officers to not abuse the authority granted to them. I'm just saying, give me a little written warning. Wouldn't you rather protect the "police officer" title for a few more citizens? Isn't it hard enough with publicized racial profiling and viral video leaks of police brutality?  Because this makes me want to write my own rap song or start my very own verbal riot. CHECK YOUR CAR'S REGISTRATION DATE OR YOU'RE TAMPERING WITH YOUR MONEY'S FATE. I wouldn't start this poorly written rap riot because I think it's dangerous for anyone to forget to check the date of their car's registration, but so that you, sir, might spend an entire shift failing to find one expired registration. So that you would see the negligence in spending an entire day NOT stopping that fat homeless guy from standing beside the ATM machine saying, "What you mean you don't have any money, I just saw you take out $40." 

I mean, please tell me you didn't apply for the police academy to become a meter maid. 

This Citizen 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Nuisance

I prefer to write words that are like the legs of little ballerinas: secretly strong with vintage beauty and emanative grace, but right now all I really want to write are clumsy run-on sentences where my bottled up belligerence flies from my fingers like the glistering yellow goop of burst blisters. A note has been taped to the front door of our apartment. “I don't know if you know this,” the note reads, “but your dog is a nuisance to the neighborhood. She barks the entire time you are not home.” I crumple the snobby scrawl inside my fist like a vexed detective trapped inside the grainy gray walls of his pipe-smoking genre before storming from the kitchen to collapse onto my bed for an old fashioned fit. 

Forty-seven seconds later, Scott leans on the doorframe, watching me wipe my one summoned tear. 

We will fix this, we declare, pumping our bicycle pedals to the pet store. With backs bent, we grasp our handlebars and side by side, discuss whether this neighbor has written condescending notes to all the houses on the street with barking dogs, landline answering machines, surround sound televisions, continuous construction work and garbage disposals. 

The ride soothes our hostile humiliation. 

At the store, we choose a collar that will send a small startling shock to Penny’s neck whenever she bellows out a bark. 

When home, Scott clicks the collar around Penny's thick mane and sends her from our bedroom to scare Mark's sister, who's just arrived. As she bursts from our bedroom, four full woofs rush from my dog's muzzle, followed by immediate whimpers, which then fade to a soft silence as Penny adjusts to this sudden and seemingly cruel bark-free existence. 

One drunken night, a few days after our pet store purchase, Scott sets out to test the bark collar's level of barbarism. Meticulously, he presses the collar's metal prongs to the center of his naked neck and begins to bark. Mark, Amy and I stand by, gawking at this suspenseful and yet strange audacity. After three or four deep bona fide barks, my husband yelps and stumbles backwards. Several seconds later, once our cackles have quieted, he reassures us that his shrill scream was not from pain, but merely from surprise. We, therefore, deem the experiment a success.     

Both women, downstairs and next door, want to get us out of earshot and out of sight. They miss the old woman who lived in the apartment before us, we presume.

This past April, Amy builds an herb and vegetable garden to the left of the back door. Rustic with dark chocolate soil and yellowish green tomato sprouts, this tall wooden box of future food pretties this previously plain piece of backyard. A couple weeks later, Scott and I push our grill to the other side of that same door. 

The next day, Downstairs Lady's lowly flowerpot (from the front porch) sits suspiciously beside our grill. I suspect she's trying to claim back this space she never thought to use before. 

A few days after her pot placement, Downstairs Lady asks Amy to move her garden. She's bought a basketball hoop for her son and wants to put it there, she says. Amy complies and Mark moves the entire garden arrangement to the only other place available: a shady spot at the top of the driveway. 

This strange woman's unequivocal bossiness throws me into a repetitive rage that night when Amy informs me of this most recent request. “A basketball hoop? There? Five feet from where we park our cars?... A basketball hoop.” 

One week later, Mark sits alone in the basement playing with his Lego's while Amy, Scott and I sleep upstairs in our beds. At around 11 o’clock that night, Downstairs Lady notices the music Mark is playing and it causes her to be so upset she calls the landlord in Pennsylvania. Take note: we live in Massachusetts. “Call them.” She demands, but Mr. Landlord asks that she speak with us herself. She she doesn't feel comfortable doing that, she says and hangs up. Then she decides that Mr. Landlord is "going to chicken out from calling” us and leaves her apartment to tell us to be quiet. When she discovers that the music is not coming from our apartment upstairs but from the basement below hers, she clomps down the dirty wooden stairs and the first thing out of her mouth is, “I’ve already called the landlord. Your music is too loud.” She then sort of snickers the part about the landlord chickening out from calling us (as if Mark will side with her) and begins a new tirade on how inappropriate his music is.  

Mark, ripped from his sublime solitude, looks up, and with utter befuddlement, slowly clarifies, “You called the landlord?” 

She doesn't understand the concept of renting an apartment.  Doesn’t understand that we don’t have to do the things she’s requested. That we've been the friendly cooperative neighbors she hasn't been. Sure we can turn down our music. Sure you can sensor the sound waves and we'll avoid playing lyrics littered with mother fucking shitty ass damn swears. Sure I can take the back stairwell when I walk Penny in the early morning because the front stairs creak. Sure we won't use our front porch light because it shines near your bedroom window. Sure you can have the good parking spot because you’re “the oldest.” Sure Scott can help the delivery guy carry in your dresser. Sure we can take the trash out. Sure we can move our garden. Sure you can take up more than half of the basement because you had to downsize from a house.  Sure you can set up a basketball hoop on the hoods of our cars. 

Downstairs Lady likes to have someone to hate, something to complain about. We have been that for her, I think. "I just can't stand that I want to avoid someone who lives downstairs from me." I say to Scott loud enough so that she might hear me through our open windows because I just don't care anymore. Scott says then that I can decide whether she bothers me. This stumps me so I go to the bathroom to rinse off the green facial mask I have applied to the pimples that have formed due to this unnecessary domestic stress.

With pockets of dog treats, a plastic bag for possible poop and music playing in my ears, I walk Penny to town. As we trot together, the sun shows itself for the first time today and it is warm and so are the faces of everyone we pass. That's when I realize that maybe I also just needed something or someone to complain about. Maybe I've had Downstairs Lady just as she's had me, like secret Santa's at some horribly crappy Christmas party. As this realization belly flops onto my brain waves, thick tension in my shoulders and chest loosens. Scott is right. I can choose to not complain about her and in doing so, I choose me.

Drawing from his interpretation of Downstairs Lady's inability to communicate clearly, Scott proposes a plan: we roommates will regard Downstairs Lady as a socially disabled person. (You need not be offended by the use of the word, "disabled," for this tactic is to prevent the flipping of tables, the screaming of fighting words and from the throwing of things like rotten tomatoes from Amy's garden.) Ultimately, the plan encourages us to not be frustrated by her frequently rude comments and requests, but to pity her for her written and verbal impotencies.      
A few months later, we are awarded, it seems, for these efforts. However it is possible you will think we are insensitive and even cruel for the satisfaction we feel for the following events. 

On the ground below, in the blue tint of twilight, two small dogs join by one obstinate jaw.  

"Oh NO!"

"Stop! STOP!"

"OH NO NONOOOOOO!" The woman next door wails from her wheelchair behind the railings of her side porch. Her tiny gray lamb-like dog (her beloved best friend, who is without a leash because he is always) wines in submission to the dog that lives downstairs from us, a characteristically insane canine who is also without a leash because he has, we learn later, bitten through his backyard dog run. 

When the scuffle started, a moment before, both dogs were growling and barking and as soon as Wheelchair Lady started screaming and Downstairs Lady began yelling, both dogs went into a full-fledged furry ferociousness.  

Penny stood on her hind legs, her front paws clinking a crowd of white votive candles on the windowsill. A small bark escaped her muzzle, but her collar startled her to shush, and she retreated behind the couch to lay inside the cool shadow of the cornered coffee table.  

Wheelchair Lady's puppy is limp now, dead or playing the part. "Stop it! STOP IT! NOOOO!" Wheelchair Lady projectile weeps, wheeling in and out of her kitchen to hide. A middle aged man, a visiting friend of Wheelchair Lady's, works to pry the dogs apart, skittishly circling the attempting homicide, reaching for the lifeless pup. 

"Shit! She bit me." He says, pulling away his hand.

After three awkwardly cacophonous minutes of violence, the man manages to free Wheelchair Lady's stiff pup and carry it to the wailing woman's lap. 

"She won't be here tomorrow." Downstairs Lady's wobbly word falls out and forward onto the cement walkway between the houses where there is now drying droplets of red. Next door, the kitchen door has closed, leaving a swift sudden stillness.   

With eyes and mouths stretched to the seams of our hairlines, Scott and I back away from the window of our second floor apartment.  

"That dog is a maniac." I whisper.  

"I'm so glad that had nothing to do with us." Scott says. 

A few minutes later, we watch, again from our window, as the gray haired man, now with bloodied paper towels around his hand, carries the puppy on a pillow.  

"Doesn't look like it's moving." Scott says, while Wheelchair Lady gets into the car and drives them away.

A few days later, Wheelchair Lady’s Puppy, cone-headed with stitches in its neck, returns home on its pillow throne. I haven't seen anyone walk Downstairs Dog in days, I say, starting apartment-wide rumors that Downstairs Dog has either been sent away, as promised, or been taught to use a litter box. A couple nights later, I get the courage to ask Downstairs Lady to retrieve her cold dry laundry from the dryer (usually, I just wait). I knock on her back door. Downstairs Son opens it and behind him, Downstairs Dog's claws scamper across the dusty wooden floor for me. The door is slammed shut in my face, leaving me in the dark stairwell to listen while Downstairs Lady scolds Downstairs Son for opening the door before putting Downstairs Dog into its crate. She then opens the door two inches and says something about needing to keep her dog in his crate, you know, she says, after what happened. I nod my head and say, "I was wondering if you, if you could get your laundry out of the dryer?..." Proof that I should also be regarded as socially inept.

Weeks later, Downstairs Dog is sent away to "a farm in New Hampshire." This isn't the first time he's done this, killed or attempted to kill a smaller animal. We're told the night of the near murder when we bump into Downstairs Lady and Downstairs Son at a play in town. I give our neighbor a surprised look. Not because I'm shocked her dog has killed or attempted to kill before, but because she expects some sort of sympathy from me.  

Now, at the end of August, we must move. Six months we have shared this second floor apartment, all five of us: Mark, Amy, Scott, Penny the dog and I. Sharing this small kitchen with its tall dark wooden cabinets, large double porcelain sink, a short fat refrigerator that has the tendency to freeze fruit and a white gas stove with black metal burners. Six months of sitting at our blue tiled kitchen island, drinking white wine, chopping vegetables, and making pots of coffee and sausage leek soup. Six months sharing our dining room table where Mark's pencil sketches of zombies, dinosaur monsters and sharks fight naked, heavily equipped mermaid Amy's. "He's gotten really good at drawing my boobs." She smirks. Six months of sharing one living room with a television designated almost exclusively for violent apocalyptic video games. Countless hours of Mark and Scott leaning into the amber glow, fiercely clicking fingers to kill and steal the rations of fictional fortune teller gypsies, elfish hunters and starving rabid children. Months of Amy working in the sweltering triangle-shaped attic, building her wedding dress of feathers, brass rings and clasps, white pleated cotton, a pale pink corset and cream-colored lace on a headless mannequin. Fraying antique lime fabric hangs from the rafters like a material mote meant to keep Mark from seeking out her slowly assembling gown. Six months lying in two separate beds in two separate bedrooms, split by walls and a bathroom. Nights where we'd all lay laughing at our dark ceilings while blunt dessert flatulences honk like smothered ducks from beneath our cotton sheets and feather down comforters. Or like the other night when Mark called me into his and Amy's room to watch him slap Amy's underweared ass. The point was to get Penny to do that cute thing where she stops domestic violence by pushing the aggressor's hand away with her muzzle. However Penny wouldn't really do it and so it just turned into Mark slapping Amy's bum while I stood in the doorway, laughing at this odd, unintentionally violent act. Six months walking home from dinners out in town like the time we ordered two pitches of red sangria at the pizza restaurant and Mark climbed that metal fire escape ladder in an alley and I nearly peed myself on the cracked sidewalk in front of our apartment because Amy made me laugh. Six months sitting on the front porch drinking coffee. The porch Mark wanted badly to pee off of, but was prevented by Amy one early morning. Prevented because this "porch" is not really a porch, but a room of windows that faces a neighborhood of middle aged homeowners. I had been on a walk with Penny before the sun had risen and as I walked into the kitchen I saw a blur go by. I thought it was Scott. With my headphones blocking all surrounding sound, I kicked the kitchen door closed and as I did Amy leapt from the hallway, scaring a full body spasm out of me. She wore a tank top and underwear, her usual pajama ensemble, and landed in the kitchen like a savage gorilla. "Did you see Mark?" Her coarse morning voice demanded. "He might have gone that way." I said, pointing to the living room. While I took Penny's leash off and my heart beat softened, Mark shuffled back through the kitchen. Amy followed. "He wanted to pee off the porch." She said. Apparently he once expressed interest in peeing off the porch and this morning, while she was half-asleep, she heard Mark mumble that he had to pee. She then noticed that the shower was going. Knowing Mark would not ask to pee while Scott was lathering up behind our transparent shower curtain, Amy drifted back to sleep. Seconds later, she woke to an empty bed. Still somewhat asleep, she stood and ran to the kitchen and then ran on to the porch where she stopped Mark from peeing off the porch, which is again not really a porch. "Just ask him." Amy told him in the kitchen. "Scott, can I come in to pee? I won't look." Mark asked. A side note to this story is that when Mark was a college student he had a plant in his dorm room, a thriving plant. When Amy met Mark she thought it was strange that a boy who could barely take care of himself could care so well for another living thing. It wasn't until later that she learned that this plant was "watered" solely by Mark's urine. Six months gathering rent from between couch cushions and savings accounts to mail to our landlord, a man who took the second syllable of his title too literally for after several threats to remove our kitchen sink disposal or shove our dog inside a travel crate, has cast us out by suddenly raising our rent by $200 a month and requiring a lease too far into all of our vagabond futures to be feasibly possible. Usually Scott is the speaker of our house, however he is in Israel when we receive this news from our lord of this overpriced land.

After a week of silence, I write to him. 

"We have worked very hard to be good, quiet tenants here at 31. We are respectful neighbors (once we fixed the barking problem) and we keep to ourselves. To be quite honest, the four of us really love living here and want to figure out a way to make it work. We chose this apartment because of the flexibility of the month-to-month lease and the affordability of sharing the $1150 rent. It feels like you really just want us to move out and I'm not sure why. Raising the rent by $200 after we've only been here for six months is, well, kind of ludicrous." 

While awaiting for a response to this, I eat an entire green bell pepper over the sink in the kitchen. "I just ate an entire green pepper." I tell Amy and we laugh.  A little while later, I receive this response, 

"Rachel - More for me to do in transition..."

Now, despite the dog fighting frenzy, these women, Downstairs Lady and Wheelchair Lady, cling to the concept that they can like one another. Downstairs Lady has sent off her old dog for a cuter quieter one and has already introduced the tiny pup to Wheelchair Lady. When the women speak to one another now, their voices crank to their highest pitches. This is how they'd like to live. That's fine with me. I won't have to be here to witness it much longer.

"MAAAAAOM! I'm going to take my shower now!" Downstairs Son yells every night around 8PM. 

Or, from the yard with the new tiny copper colored pup, I no longer have to listen to this routine hollering. 


"Yeah?" Downstairs Lady responds from inside the apartment. 

"Is she supposed to poop?" 


"Is she supposed to...Oh! She pooped! She pooped, Mom!"

"She pooped?! Yaaaay! What a good guuuuurl! Wanna come inside? Yay!" Downstairs Lady squeals from the doorframe. 

That poor puppy. I can leave whenever I want to really, but not that little mill pup. No wonder the last little guy went postal, probably figured pound prison or even death by a large needle would be better than his mundane existence with daily walks never exceeding its itty bitty backyard.   
"Downstairs Lady?" I'd love to bellow from our moving truck.

"Yeah?" She'd yell back, her lips pressed to the plastic panels of her air conditioner. 

"I'm gonna move out now." 


"I'm gonna move out!"

"You're gonna move out? WHAT A GOOD GUUUUURL!"

"Downstairs Lady, you are batshit crazy."

I'd also like to write this little note and stick it to Wheelchair Lady's ugly front door.  

Dear Wheelchair Lady, 

I don't know if you know this, but your voice is a nuisance to the neighborhood. You cackle and holler like a banshee the entire time I am home. Maybe someone should put you in a crate? Or, if you'd like, I can lend you this red choker necklace of my dog's. It clicks fashionably in the back and has shockingly beautiful metal prongs that must be precisely placed over the front of your throat. 

Let me know and I'll drop it into your mailbox!   

 The Girl Next Door with the Bangs