Tag: neighbors

Before’s and after’s

trimming trees

This morning when I was out walking the dog, we passed a woman I’d seen at a wedding over the weekend. I don’t know her but I see her all the time, walking her dog or with her kids or out running. Always with her hair pulled back, a scrubbed-looking face, in jeans or running shorts or dog-walking gear like she had on this morning, a Labradoodle by her side. I can’t believe Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize Labradoodle.

But at the wedding she was stunning. Simple dress, hair down, just a little makeup, luminous. I couldn’t place her at first, until my friend said, “You know her. She’s got the Doodle.” When we passed each other, the dogs sniffing in other directions, I said, “Now I know what you look like all glammed out.” I realized too late that it sounded creepy. Like I had something on her. All I meant was that I hadn’t realized how beautiful she was. But that’s also sort of creepy. Like, who cares? We don’t even know each other.

The fruit trees in our yard got trimmed yesterday. We’ve been waiting and waiting for that to happen, because they were far too high, their spindly branches reaching well above the power lines that run along the back fence line in the alley. There were all sorts of delays, even after we’d booked the tree guys, because of ComEd and scheduling and weather. But finally yesterday, in all that wind, they came and reshaped them into the small dwarf fruit trees they were meant to be. I’ve always had a hard time saying dwarf. I’m still not sure which is right. Do you pronounce the “w” or not?

Afterward I went out into the yard, expecting to bask in the glow of our newly proportional surroundings. Instead, the yard felt suddenly smaller and more bleak. The garbage cans in the alley seemed closer, crowding into view. The yard felt sad. “What happened?” I asked. “It’s supposed to look nicer now.” Dave didn’t answer. He was inside. It was freaking windy and cold outside.

At the reading last night, I was almost stupidly nervous beforehand. I keep telling myself I don’t get nervous at these things because you get to hold your script and you’re only being yourself. But still. Dave and I got there early as instructed, and I introduced myself to the hosts. One of them said, “Yeah, we met before, when you did a story at This Much Is True.”

“It’s the same story,” I joked.

“Really?” he looked at me seriously.

“Yeah, I just have the one,” I said. I backed away before I could say anything else. Luckily Syd came in. I tried to talk to her normally but my nervousness kept twisting my tongue. She opened a shopping bag to show me a gift-wrapped box. “You get a goff?” I asked. It was loud enough that she didn’t seem to notice. “Yeah, I’ve been running errands,” she answered.

Another friend walked up and remembered meeting Syd at our old book club. Syd said, “I’m going to see if I can find my book club book before it starts.” I didn’t want this friend to think we were excluding her from our no longer existent book club so I said, “Syd now in real bockup.” The friend smiled and went to her seat.

A third friend showed up and gave me a peaceful incense talisman she got at a retreat over the weekend. I sniffed it a few times before I went up. And after I went up I wasn’t nervous anymore.

One good lie

blurry crowd
What’s not to believe?

I got an email inviting me to audition for a show filled with lies. For the audition, I have to tell a three-minute lie, as outrageous as I like. How hard can that be? So I accepted and figured something would come to me. But now the audition is just days away and I’m starting to panic.

I’ve come up with two so far, one about a friend’s strange restaurant behavior and one about accidentally killing my piano teacher. Both sound good in my head, but when I start telling them out loud, I trail off. I lose my sense of purpose, which at least tells me something about why I like true stories, even when they’re not outrageous. They’re true, so they reveal something about something, even if I don’t always know exactly what the something is. But what does lying reveal? So far, I’ve lied only to hide things. But then again, a lie is just a fictional story and I’ve written those, so this shouldn’t be any different. But it is. I’m thinking about cancelling my audition, but I don’t want to chicken out.

Last night my brother Rolando came over. His friends have opened a hardware store, Matty K’s, and we were going there for a sort of gardening pep rally. Rolando came early to bring us gifts of dog food. Their dear old family dog passed away last month, so they had boxes of treats and bags of food which I coveted. My plan was to pass it on to Zoe’s new owner, because the Katharine Hepburn of Horner Park has also passed on, and Zoe was now living with one of the B’s.

There are two B’s, B-e and B-y. For months we’ve emailed each other to schedule Zoe’s walks. We’ve also tried to plan a dinner together, because the Hepburn sisters gave us checks to dine at Blackbird, as a Zoe thank you. We’ve tossed dates around and B-e even made reservations twice, but something always comes up. Yet when Miss Hepburn died, we found ourselves suddenly able to wrangle ourselves and husbands and bottles of beer and whisky for pizza at a local BYOB. It was soon enough after Miss Hepburn’s death that it didn’t feel real, and we had a boisterous time.

I planned to email B-e and tell her I had food to pass on for Zoe – it’s even her brand – but B-e had already emailed to say she’d brought Zoe back to live with Miss Hepburn’s sister. She convinced her that we didn’t mind continuing the walks, and Zoe is good company and good protection. So in a little while I’ll go over and pick her up for a walk. But first, I need my lie.

Last night, after Rolando parked the car and we had dinner, we walked over to Matty K’s. We passed a man dressed in a plumed page’s costume. He looked exactly like a royal chicken, with a plumed headpiece and puffy satin middle and tights. I wished I had my phone out, but he didn’t look like he would appreciate a picture. He was smoking a cigarette and adjusting his headpiece. We continued on to the store, where we had cookies and root beer and got fired up about gardening.

When we left, the royal chicken was still standing on Western, greeting people going into an event. If this were a lie, something outrageous would happen right here. But because it’s true, all I have is a blurry picture, because I grabbed my phone in time but didn’t stop to focus because I was afraid of getting yelled at. I don’t know if I’m cut out for lying, if I don’t even have the nerve to get a decent picture of an outrageous apparition placed right in my path like a golden egg.

It’s like this

Like boots.

I went to pick up Zoe. I put Django’s boots on first, because of the salt. We walked over there. It was cold. We went up and Marianne was just coming in from shoveling. Her face was rosy, like a storybook child’s. Katharine Hepburn and her sister were at the kitchen table. I said hi and Marianne leashed up Zoe. Elaine said, “Look at Django’s boots. They’re so cute!” “You should see her with her coat on,” I boasted extra loudly, like an intrusive home help lady from a British mystery novel.

Back outside, I felt bullied by the cold. I walked the dogs up north, aiming for a mailbox so I could mail my letter. But my hands were starting to ache, like the last gasp of water in the tray before it freezes into ice. I was so cold I started to whimper, so quietly that passersby didn’t notice, so quietly that even the dogs didn’t turn around. I decided to stop home and warm up.

My hands were so numb I could barely unlock the back door. The dogs bounded in. Django stopped on the rug and waited for me to take her boots off. Zoe jumped up on a counter, looking for snacks. I whimpered more loudly now, “Ow. Ow. Ow,” as I pulled off Django’s disposable balloon boots.

I rubbed my hands together briskly, like a Buddhism teacher on Lawrence Avenue once taught, reminding them what circulation feels like. As they thawed, Dave came in the back door from rehearsal. He offered to walk Zoe back with me, noting that Django didn’t need to go out again.

He was right, and certainly I didn’t want to wrestle Django’s boots back on, but when she followed us to the back door I said, “I think she wants to come.”

“No, she just doesn’t want to be left behind.” Dave opened the back door and both dogs pushed out past us. “See?” I said, “She wants to come.”

At the bottom of the stairs, Django immediately ran back up and inside, but I ignored that. “Let’s just take her.”

“She’ll get cold,” said Dave.

“It’s only three blocks,” I said. I figured we wouldn’t have to carry her until we were on the way back.

Dave leashed her up and we started walking. When we got to the first salty stretch of sidewalk, I tried to walk fast, like that kid from the Bazooka cartoon who paints the fence quickly because he’s running out of paint.

Django stopped and held up a paw. “Come on, Django,” I said annoyed, “There’s hardly any salt.” Zoe and I were already at the end of it. But Django held up two paws, switching among them to keep herself upright. “Django, come on!” She started shivering, like an old lady.

Dave picked her up and shook his head without shaking his head, like a statue of a person who is about to shake his head. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Go on back. I’ll be home in a minute.” I continued on with Zoe, who plowed happily through snow, salt and ice like a draught horse. When I got to Katharine Hepburn’s, the kitchen was as dark as night. I let Zoe in and wondered if it would be rude to just leave. Then Miss Hepburn’s sister came in from the hall. “My boots are snowy so I won’t come in,” I explained from the back door.

Miss Hepburn’s sister told me briefly about Miss Hepburn’s upcoming surgery and effusively complimented Marianne’s shoveling and asked politely about Dave’s playing and my projects. She is the most civilized person I have ever known, like Maggie Smith in Tea with Mussolini. She gives me hope for 92, or 93, or whatever she may be.

I walked home without whimpering, just like a person with their hands in their pockets.



tree stump Not pictured: Tree.

“Can you believe they cut down that tree?”

“I know, it seemed perfectly healthy, didn’t it?”

“And why do the signs say Tree trimming when they never trim trees like the one out front with branches that hit passersby in the eye, but they chop down entire other trees just because they lost one branch in a storm?”

“It’s sad.” He and his dog are walking north; we’re walking south. He pauses another moment and tells me about a neighbor who had the city chop down a tree because the roots were damaging her pipes. Instead of dealing with roto-rooting the pipes every year, it was cheaper and easier to get rid of the whole tree. Years later, when she was old, her caregiver would set her out front in a wheelchair. The lady would sit uncomfortably, squinting into the sun because the shade that would have shielded her was gone.