Neighborhood

Snowy frozen bush night

January 20, 2014 – Today I fought with a snow bank. The damn trash can was frozen to the side of the house by the snow dropped from the roof. It was trash day and I haven’t put the trash out for a couple weeks so that thing is full. But now I guess I can’t because it won’t move and the closest thing I have to a shovel is a broom. I tried attaching with the broom but ended up getting the broom stuck in the snow and I felt like the entire neighborhood was laughing behind their curtains. The car started and the defroster worked. So that’s good at least.

 

January 25, 2014 – I bought a box of big trash bags. Since I can’t get the stupid trash can out of the snow, I figure I’ll stock pile my trash in the bag until next trash day and just set the bag out there. I’ve seen other people do it and haven’t noticed any bears or wild things roaming around. There are some dogs around here because I hear them bark sometimes at night when I come home. But I think it’ll be okay.

 

January 27, 2014 – Set the trash bag out for pick up as planned. Left for work around ten and it was gone when I got home at nine. Also, it looks like the snow plow person plowed my driveway. That’s kind of nice. I got out of my car and looked around like I should find him or her and say thanks. Tired from working I guess. Silly. It was quiet as a mouse except for those barking dogs. I guess they hear my car at night.

I see cat tracks in the snow on my porch that look like whatever it is hangs out until I come around the corner and then takes off. I mean they are fresh tracks so it must leave right before I park or something. Listen to me – like I’m Davy Crockett or something.

Work was long and busy. Same as always. Came home; turned on the heat; cooked some ramen noodles for dinner. Will probably stay up too late reading; fall asleep on the couch and hit the pillow around two like always.

 

January 30, 2014 – The snow really makes things seem super quiet. It’s actually driving me a little batty. Today I took the day off and slept in. Woke up around eleven and rushed to turn the heat in the living room back up. Damn blinds by that window are warped and I forgot to put my housecoat on. Didn’t seem like anyone saw me but I rarely see anyone outside, just feel them. Weird. Goose bumps and all that.

Scrambled some eggs and actually opened the blinds and stared out into the clear white lot next to me. I bet the landlord is going to be pissed about those tire tracks. Someone must have been driving drunk, or maybe some kids were being stupid. There’s a huge three-sixty carved in the lot and then it looks like they drove straight at my rent house and past my back window, through the side yard to the other street next to me. Can’t believe I didn’t hear that. Must have been really deep in sleep. Plus the electric heater in the bedroom is pretty loud. Still. Creepy.

 

February 2, 2014 – Landlord called me at work today and asked about the tire tracks. I told him I had noticed them after the fact, but had no clue who it was. He said he’d called the police to investigate and they’d asked around at various houses. No one knew who it was.

Damn dogs are barking. They usually stop by now. Hope they shut up before I got to bed.


 

This piece is roughly edited and nowhere near complete.  It originates from the writing exercise called, “Journalism,” in Brian Kiteley’s book, The 3 A.M. Epiphany.  It’s supposed to tell a story without telling it through a narrator journal, where the narrator might not see the underlying story either.

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The Politics of Esteem

Havre Train Station - Amtrak

On a 20 hour train ride from Spokane to Minot I overheard a conversation that resulted in my sadness and poor outlook on the human race – myself a member.  Somewhere around Havre, MT two women got on board with a wealth of other new passengers.  Those of us who had treasured our two-seat comfort were disappointed, but it was to be expected sooner or later.

These two women were fascinating to watch because, although they shared a common language (accent) and geography, they were the epitome of night and day.  Julie was thin, fit, and of average stature.  Janice was shorter and rotund, and her shirt revealed her backside whenever she bent over to get anything out of her bag.  Julie was stylish in her stone washed jeans, layered fashion t-shirts, and textured Justin boots.  Apparently Janice and her husband used to live across from Julie and her husband years ago.  And today they had met at the Havre train depot, both of them headed back to Minnesota.

In listening to their conversation, I learned that Julie is a cancer survivor.  Janice sent her a card after she learned about her former neighbor’s plight months ago.  She asked if Julie got it.  She did.  She had just decided not to respond.  Who knows?  Maybe surviving a near death experience like cancer makes you simplify and you worry less about social expectations like returning a correspondence.

During their initial exchange, Janice made several attempts to reconnect.  She even settled for getting their husbands (who apparently used to be good friends) back in touch.  Julie’s husband was up in Canada on his Harley enjoying a ride so that he wouldn’t miss Julie as much while she was gone.  I got the feeling that Janice’s husband still works.

Growing up, my parents were never really the social butterflies you see on those sitcoms where neighbors talk to neighbors over the fence and have the occasional barbecues.  And even today, when I move to a new place, its very difficult for me to be neighborly.  But Julie and Janice, from the clues in their conversation, had been the kind of neighbors that take baked goods to each other and collect each other’s mail when they’re out of town.  I was having trouble liking Julie as this went on.

Julie said words that were to be expected when Janice spoke.  She replied at the appropriate times and even came and leaned on the empty seat in front of us near the end of the conversation to face her “friend” and engage fully.  But Julie spoke a different kind of language with her body language, the words she chose, and her tone.  In Julie-language she quite obviously said, “I’m so far past you … so much better than you … this won’t go anywhere after we get off the train.”  Her replies near the end said, “I’ve been there, done that,” or “Oh, I can do you one better.”

Julie has beaten cancer and she is happy to talk about it to anyone that wants to hear.  She likes the way they look at her after she tells them.  As soon as a fellow passenger (a rather artsy looking Seattleite with long, well kempt hair and Birkenstocks) heard a name he recognized, he joined in the conversation.  Visually comparing the two, Julie quickly dropped Janice like a hot potato.  Janice may not have noticed, but I did and for some deep seeded reason I felt pissed.

Doug and Julie realized they had several relatives in common and began talking about what a small world it was and how uncanny it was to discover each other.  Julie got the attention she’d been seeking, in the package she preferred.  I know the label is used more commonly on men, but I have to say that Julie was a tool.  I watched as Janice slowly settled herself in for a long train ride next to a total stranger (me) who didn’t like to talk much.  Was I projecting some underlying sadness of my own in this social defeat of Janice’s?  Perhaps.

But with each conversation, each one so unlike me to instigate or perpetuate, I was speaking to Janice in Julie-language.  “We’re real, dammit.  We matter.  We GET that everything in life doesn’t work out perfect and fit in neat little designer Justin’s or Birkenstocks.  Our joys are just as important as anyone else’s.  Our pains are just as relevant.  We may not have been to the chemical warfront and returned to tell our stories over scars and glasses of fine wine.  But cancer comes in many forms.  Self-serving social cancer can hurt people too.  We will pray for Julie’s condition.”