Neighbor Story

Smith Magazine has a section called What's Your Next-Door Neighbor Story. I like to read the submissions a lot and it made me think about the various neighbors I've had in my life - and I've had a lot.

This is my neighbor story:

In my apartment in San Francisco, my only window looked out across an alley where I watched a woman put on her makeup at the kitchen table every morning and saw a man ironing in the evening. I didn’t gawk or anything, but when it’s your only window, you look at what you look at.

One evening, the man waved across the alley. I waved back. The next morning, the woman waved. I waved back. This became a little ritual, our waving across the alley when we saw each other.

After I lived there for about 6 months, and had been waving at my neighbors for almost the same amount of time, the man yelled over to me, “Hey!”

I was surprised, but I yelled back, “Hey!”

“Do you think you could throw a couple of eggs over here?”

I guessed that the distance between the buildings wasn’t more than 20 feet. I said, “I’ll give it a shot.”

I got my carton of eggs out, popped the screen out, and opened the window all the way. I leaned out as far as I could. He leaned out, too. I tossed the first one wide and it fell five stories to the alley floor. I tossed the next one perfectly into his hand. The third was a near miss. I threw it pretty well, but he couldn’t get a grip and that one went down, too. But the fourth made it safely into his hands again. The whole operation had been carried out in silence – maybe because we were both concentrating pretty hard. When he caught the second surviving egg, he yelled, “Thanks! I owe you 4 eggs!” I leaned back inside and closed the window most of the way and went about my evening.

A couple of days later, the woman motioned for me to open the window. I did and when she yelled, “I have your eggs,” I realized that my neighbor was a transvestite. What I’d thought had been two people was one person. I never encountered my neighbor anywhere but across the alley. I never even knew his name. But we continued to wave for the rest of the time I lived there, although the egg-toss was never repeated.



I have always been fascinated by ruination and disintegration and abandonment - as far as places and things go, anyway. Abandoned buildings, cars, train/subway stations, suitcases - whatever. Even just looking at pictures of abandoned things is captivating to me.

I don't know where this fascination comes from, but I feel an affinity for the places. I can hear the people who lived, worked, carried, rode. The things that are left behind in the act of abandonment are also riveting to me.

Why was that teddy bear inessential? Did you mean to leave your glasses? Did you leave willingly? Why did you leave?

Sometimes the answers to these questions are obvious, but other times, less so.

My first encounter with what I'll call a rural ruin was when I was about 10. I was with my friend Madeleine and her parents. We were driving from Ft. Worth to Vicksburg and somewhere in Louisiana, as we were stopped at a small gas station in the middle of nowhere, Madeleine's mom, Nora, saw an abandoned shed. It was obviously abandoned because it was falling down, but she wanted to go look. So we got back in the car and drove down the road toward the dilapidated structure. A driveway ran past the shed on one side and we drove down it, through some overgrown trees and fields. In the overgrowth was an abandoned old farm house. Although, now that I think about it, I don't know what they would have been farming there. Maybe it was just an old house. A standard looking old house that had been white at one time and one red shutter remained covering half a window. There was a porch on the front of the house and a huge spider web covered one whole end of it.

Nora, who was also apparently fascinated by the abandoned building, got out of the car and walked through knee-high grass around the house. Madeleine and I stayed next to the car until she came around the house, having circled it completely.

I remember there was some discussion between Nora and Maddie's dad (Will) about whether it was safe to go inside. They must have decided it was okay because we went inside.

The quiet was what got me first. When the bustle of the family is gone, quiet remains. After that, it was the staleness of the place. A lot of the windows were broken, but the smell was still musty and old.

We had gone in the back door, which was the kitchen door. The kitchen was dirty, but mostly furnished. An old wood table with no chairs was against a window, an old refrigerator with the freezer door missing stood against a wall next to a space where the stove had been. A baker's rack stood next to the door that led to the dining room with some dishes on it. The cabinets had some remnant pots and pans and a box fan plugged in in a corner with a fly-swatter leaning against it.

I could feel the emptiness in my chest and stomach. It was a life left undone - mosquito trapped in amber.

We made our way through the whole house. I could probably describe every room in detail, because it impressed me so much that it was sort of a museum to the person/people who had lived there and left.

As I get older, my attraction to the forsaken seems to increase. I think because I understand better now why a life in progress might be left behind. I know that sometimes the things that went with that life become superfluous. Even in commercial-type buildings (which I've had occasion to visit much more often than abandoned houses), the things that are left when a company moves or goes out of business are interesting. I've even had a couple of pieces of second-hand furniture in which the former owner left things - notes, pens, pictures, and a stuffed pink elephant - all of which seemed significant.

Even as I feel an affinity for the remnants of others, I am more and more able to release my own superfluity. I sometimes wonder what, upon finding a piece of my life, the finder thinks or feels. I wonder if they have the same breathless feeling I get when I find something in a drawer or pocket at the second-hand store, if, for a moment, they imagine a life for me, like I do for others. And then I can't help but wonder if they imagine more for me than I have.


Brain Afire

My brain is restless. It doesn't seem to matter what I'm doing, there are 2,000 things flying in and out of my head lately.

Matt asked me this morning as we sat at breakfast if anything was wrong. When I said no and asked why he asked, he said, "You've just been really quiet for the last week or so."

I guess I have been inside my head a lot. It isn't that there's anything particularly weighing on me, I just can't quite quiet the mind. I think about books I want to read, have read, the story I started and haven't finished, the places I want to go, the places Matt and I have plans to visit this summer, when I'll ever be prepared to be a mother, what we'll name our prospective kid, what to make for breakfast/lunch/dinner, how I'll ever hear all the music I want to, where we should live, whether I should dye my hair, what to do with my hair besides put it in a ponytail, etc.

I have been wracking my brain to figure out what to put over our bed since Matt is afraid of having anything that weighs more than 4 oz. there in the event it were to fall. I haven't come up with anything definitive, but I've been considering painting something there. Or, getting some of those vinyl sticky things for the walls.I've been considering embroidering a set of towels with some of my wicked awesome embroidery patterns. And I've been looking for a new bedspread/comforter/duvet cover for our bed. I can't stop.

I guess this kind of thing just happens every now and again. I know for the better part of last year, most of my mind and my time was taken with Matt and me finding each other again and then all that went with it, so I guess now I'm kind of catching up. It's fun, but a little much.


Connectivity Problems

I've been having connectivity problems. Not in my relationships, but in my computer. Or router. Or possibly in the modem. Maybe it's the cable company (although they claim no such thing is possible). The thing is, it's really pissing me off.

I'm reduced to 28.8 kbps dial-up speed with almost everything. Now, in the scheme of the world, this problem is relatively small. I realize there are many millions of people who not only do not have internet access, but have no electricity or clean water. I'm not comparing my irritation to the actual problems of large percentages of the world. However, I am about ready to go to the cable company and punch someone in the nose.

I have a new modem that, until a few weeks ago was fully operable. My router was the first suspected culprit when this debacle began, but since, in an effort to work around the problem, I connected the modem directly to my computer and the problem persisted, I cannot blame my router. I have been on the phone with the cable company for what totals many hours over several days. They "test" the speed and tell me that everything is fine. Better than fine. One of the times, the woman told me that my connection was "testing at speeds even higher than you pay for."

I don't know exactly what they're testing when they do these alleged tests, but it isn't making things better. My next remedy will be to get a new modem, but I'm still relatively sure that the problem is somewhere else.

I would look up this problem on the internet, however, with my connection speed being so low, I can't. Literally. Pages regularly time out. So I'm reduced to blogging via email from my phone while I'm on hold with the cable company (again) to have them exchange my "faulty" modem.

Five Things

Five things I like:
  • the smell of books
  • hot showers
  • cool breezes
  • panoramic views
  • opening a new toothbrush
Five things I don't like:
  • cramps
  • hot days
  • cute shoes that just don't fit
  • sweetened tea
  • when my favorite t-shirt begins to fade, regardless of the fact that I wash it with special detergent and never put it in the dryer
Five things I did yesterday:
  • bought a book (Child 44) for my husband
  • went to the grocery store
  • ate half of an enormous-yet-delicious sandwich
  • bought Forever Stamps
  • made spaghetti sauce
Five things I wish I could do:
  • buy a house on/near the coast of California
  • argue with my husband without crying - for some reason, no matter what we argue about, I end up crying and it irritates me
  • fly without the assistance of an airplane
  • make a living as a writer
  • be more outgoing
Five songs on my all-time playlist:
  • Cemetery Gates - The Smiths
  • Minnie the Moocher - Cab Calloway
  • Goodbye - written by Steve Earle recorded by lots of people, but my favorite is Chrissie Hynde's
  • Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain - Willie Nelson
  • Left & Leaving - The Weakerthans



I love the new Gmail themes. I just wish there were a few more. My favorite is the ninja theme. I get excited when I get a new message because the the little picture at the bottom changes throughout the day. I'm a nerd.


One Breath

Matt and I came in from lying by the pool this afternoon and Matt immediately pushed me into the bedroom. We threw off our damp suits and flopped onto the bed. As I took a deep breath I smelled summer on us: sunscreen, heat, sweat, traces of chlorine. I fell asleep with a feeling of deep satisfaction and happiness just from those smells. We napped as the sun left a perforated line through the blinds and woke up to take a shower and continue our evening, relaxed and happy.

Time to Spare

I have a lot of time on my hands right now. Hours and hours a day, free to be a productive person. I find that when I have a lot of time, I don't get nearly as much done as when I have less.

Lately I've been reading Hannah, Just Breathe a lot. I love her blog. I also read Nicola Six and Daily Meh.

Boy Meets Love is also pretty cool, I like his taste in music mostly and it's a quick read. I love to read these blogs because it reminds me how much I love to write.

I love to write and yet I don't do it very often. It's lame. I while away hours reading other people's writing. I tell little stories to myself as I go about my day and especially when I'm walking or riding my bike (which will be an evening activity until about October now because it's gotten hot). In bed at night, after Matt falls asleep, I compose little stories, book reviews, music reviews, etc. But somehow, I'm so not busy that I don't get anything done.

Okay, I get lots of stuff done, but nothing that I want to get done. I have a sweater about half-done, a couple of scarves in various states of incompletion, a thousand pieces of paper that I have cut out of newspapers and magazines, some of which have been applied to their intended collages, but most of which are still in manila envelopes waiting to be pasted to a box or a canvas with their friends.

I have about 100 stories started an a bunch of blog posts sitting in draft form, languishing away while I do a whole bunch of nothing. What's wrong with me?

I've thought long and hard about what's wrong with me. I feel like I'm living a fake life right now. It's stupid because it's the only life I get and I need to make better use of it, but I have trouble with that sometimes.

So now that I've done more of something besides what I think I should be doing, I will stop and perhaps knit a couple of rows.


Missing the Point

There’s a woman I see with regularity at my yoga studio. Sometimes I’m in class with her and sometimes we just pass in the locker rooms. She is, what can only be described as, a Bikram Bitch.

First of all, I realize that everyone is looking for something a little different from each class. That’s fine with me. Everyone responds to the temperature in a different way, too. Some people like it hot. Some people prefer it cooler. This woman, BB, I’ll call her, apparently likes to be hot.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in the corridor outside the yoga room before class. A woman came out of the room where class was going to be held and said to the instructor, “I don’t’ know if you know it, but it’s really, really hot in there.” The instructor said she’d take a look and when she came out, she said to the woman, “Thanks for letting me know. It was up to 120 in there!” Now, again, I know that the 105 is a kind of guideline. But I feel like a 15 degree deviation is in need of correction. If the room was only 90 degrees, I’d think that needed fixing, too. But I digress… Anyway, a few minutes later I was lying on my mat, pre-class, and there was nearly a throw down in the yoga room between BB and the other woman. I don’t know exactly how it started because it started with whisper shouting and I wasn’t really paying much attention until it went LOUD.

BB said, “If you don’t like it hot, I don’t know why you come to Bikram. It’s supposed to be hot!” Other Woman said, “120 is too hot. You can put more layers on if you want to be warmer, or you can go to the hot side of the room.” So BB said, “You’re missing the point of Bikram!”

A few days later, I was finishing up a class and she was coming in. I heard and exchange wherein BB told a woman who said, to no one in particular, that class had been hard for her, “I don’t know why you bother. Your practice is really weak.”

On another day, a new person was in class being raked over the coals, but still giving it his best. After class she said to him, “You’re really disruptive to the class when you sit out postures.”

Talk about missing the point.



I've been missing California.

Tonight I really wished I could climb in the car and take Sunset to PCH and then drive all the way up to Oxnard. I miss that drive. I have two favorite drives in SoCal. This drive and the drive from Mulholland and Cahuenga on Mulholland out to PCH and up to Santa Barbara.

I miss the smell of the ocean and the late-night fog rolling in from somewhere deep in the oceanic darkness that stretches west until it's east again.

I miss driving around LA in the wee hours of the morning. Even Los Angeles seems empty around 3AM.

I miss Runyon Canyon and Griffith Park. I miss the Greek and the smell of flowers. I miss my neighborhood and the diversity. I miss the silky air and movies in the cemetery and the farmers markets.

I want to smell the ocean and feel the sand between my toes. I want to throw my board in the water and surf for a few hours. I want to spend an afternoon at Duke's and watch the sun set over the ocean.

Well - as my grandmother used to say, "Wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which on fills up first." This longing will pass. It will. But tonight it makes my jaw ache and my chest tight and I will go to sleep and dream the things I can't have right now.