Posted in Life

Get to know your neighbors

I now have a pretty good idea where the best parties are in our neighborhood.

I was out walking the day after Christmas when I spied with my little eye a beer keg on a front porch. Smiling to myself, I remembered changing out many of those in the fraternity house. We were always on tap. That’s one of the reasons you joined a fraternity in the 70s in Pennsylvania. A keg like that holds about 7 cases of beer. That’s not so much for a house full of guys watching football on a Monday night. But it’s a lot of beer for a Christmas gathering at your home!

Less than half a mile down the road, I saw a second house with a keg out front by the garage. I felt like I was walking down College Avenue across the street from Franklin and Marshall College, basically a fraternity row where each house had a few empties out on the front porch. No “bah humbug” in my neighborhood. Just like a post-dream Scrooge, these folks know how to keep Christmas!

Now chuckling to myself, I thought, “That’s why you want to get to know your neighbors!”

Walking on, I thought, “Why don’t we get to know our neighbors?” I know a lot of mine because I’ve been in our house for over twenty-five years and been out walking a dog (or two or three) just about every day. But it hasn’t been easy. Most people pull in the driveway as the garage door opens, and walk into the house as the door closes behind them. Unless I’m there at the right moment, I never see their faces or have a chance to say, “Hello.”

Or, if I leave an empty keg out front, I’ll bet I get to know them better.

Posted in flash fiction

Welcome to the neighborhood

“What’s that monitor for?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “The old lady just left it here. I don’t even know if it works.”

I reached behind the twenty-three inch screen and pressed the power button. The screen immediately lit up with a dozen little views of the outside world. I looked at them for a moment, and then I stepped outside. I hadn’t noticed them before but there were security cameras at each corner of the house, one aimed at each door, and others covering the yard. When I went back inside, I realized I could see anyone approaching from any direction any time of the day.

When we looked at the house and drove around the neighborhood, we felt like a very safe place to life. None of the neighbors we talked to mentioned any problems with break-ins. Why had the previous owners invested in such a high tech system?

“Look, I can tap here and fill up the whole screen with one camera view. Oh, and look, I can zoom in and out, too. And pan across the yard. This is crazy. Wait a minute, that looks like some kind of night vision mode. And what’s this?”

Tapping the icon brought up a whole bunch of file folder icons. Each of them was filled with footage from each of the cameras. Whoa! Years and years of security footage from every imaginable angle.

I tapped on an icon and saw the backyard. I watched the grass grow for a few moments. A rain shower flooded the side yard. Squirrels chased each other on top of the fence.

I tapped a third and watched people and traffic passing by the front of the house. You know, the usual. Kid on a scooter. Ice cream truck. A cat. Mom with a stroller. Amazon truck. Pretty boring.

“Now that’s interesting…” A camera panned back and forth, zoomed in and out trying to find the focus. Suddenly, there it was, two people shouting and pushing each other inside the house right across the street. I couldn’t look away. She pummeled him. He tried to cover up. Spit and blood flew everywhere. They shifted out of sight for just a moment. When they came back he had his hands on her neck!

The video cut out. I just stared at the blank screen. When was that? How do I bring up a time stamp. Did anyone call the police? Should I call someone?

Bring-bring-bring. I think that’s my doorbell. The screen switched to the front door camera.

It was them.

Her hair was a mess. His eye was swollen shut. Blood dripped out of his nose! Her blouse was ripped. And they looked pissed.

Bring-bring-bring. They weren’t leaving. Thy stared at the camera. They knew. They knew I was watching.

What do I do? Grab a bat? Call 911? Here goes nothing. I took a deep breath and slowly turned the deadlock. They stood back as I cracked the door.

“Yes?”

“Hi. We saw you moving in the other day. We just wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood. We brought you some cookies.” Tupperware. Figures.

“Uh, ok. Thanks. Can you just leave them there? I’m not feeling very well.”

“Hey, no problem. Let us know if you need anything.”

I bolted the door and watched the video of them walking hand-in-hand back across the street.

I flipped on the camera, popped open a beer and sat down.

A door slammed. Something flew across the room.

Round two.

Posted in Life

The main event

husband-wife-fightingA few days ago I promised to write about my favorite fighting couple, my downstairs neighbors when I moved into my first apartment in Middletown, NJ. I still remember the name on their mailbox: Barlog. The name always reminded me of the Balrog in The Lord of the Rings, and Gandalf’s bold stand to protect the fellowship of the ring when he shouted, “You shall not pass!” But I digress.

I was twenty-one years old, had just graduated from college, and began my first job at Bell Labs in West Long Branch, NJ, an overflow site from their much larger but not large enough Holmdel location. The relocation office helped me find a small, affordable apartment just a few miles away, and I moved in to begin my young adult life.

These were the only neighbors I actually met there. They were nice enough at first. But the paper-thin walls and floors of the apartment soon revealed another side. They absolutely, positively hated each other. Now, if I stepped a little too heavily in my living room, they would pound a broom handle on the ceiling to let me know I was too noisy However, when the bell rung and they starting going at it, I could clearly hear every insult and obscenity they would fling at each other. I could also hear the sound of plates and pots and pans being thrown when the conflict escalated.

The one day that sticks in my mind was a fifteen-round main event one Saturday. It started early. I was up anyway, and went out for a run. When I returned an hour later from a longer than usual run, the arguing was still going on. Louder and louder, dish after dish, the back door flew open, slammed shut and the husband roared off in his car, and his wife stood outside screaming at him to never, ever return. Inside, she wailed and lamented at her plight. But only for a few moments. Just like that, his car roared back back around the corner, he stormed back into the house, slammed the door again, and they picked up right where they had left off. I left, probably to go practice trumpet at church or something. When I returned, it was quiet. Maybe they were exhausted. Maybe a TKO. I never found out.

I didn’t fulfill my year long lease there. I found another place to rent in Neptune with a friend of mind from church. I don’t miss them but I’ll never forget this couple who certainly were committed to a violent and abusive marriage.