Monday, November 16, 2009

The House Across the Street

I was doing some engraving today that requires heavy-duty concentration (very expensive pieces)when I noticed this 30-some-odd white guy come out from behind my house & walk up my drive toward the street. He stood on the street looking around then proceeded away. I made a mental note of what he was wearing & his appearance in case a police report might be required later. Ten minutes later, my head down into the machine and my loupe to my eye, my screen door banged with a knock. I just about jumped out of my skin. It was the guy. "Have you seen a really little kitten", he asked. I stepped outside (sharp calipers in hand, does that make me parnoid?). He explained that he just moved into the house across the street & when he took out the trash today, he thinks his new kitten may have slipped out. He's had the kitten 3 days. It's small, he didn't know how many weeks old, but it's the same color as a cat he had seen in my yard (Cujo). I hadn't seen it, and I had been working in the sunporch all day, engraving. I told him to check at Catherine's-she puts out food for strays, and her yard attracts cats.
I resumed my work and as I worked, I thought of the same scenario played out in late September. A sixty-ish guy smelling very strongly of alcohol, knocked on my door looking for his cat. He had had the cat 5 years & was terribly fond of it. He had moved in the day before and intended to keep the cat in for a few weeks until she got acclimated. His wife went out to smoke a butt and let the cat out purposely, thinking it should just get used to the new environment. He called and called, but she didn't come. He was very distraught. I directed him to two neighbors who are out of work and who are crazy cat ladies; they would be more likely to spot the cat than I. I agreed with him that felines need to acclimate slowly to a new home and told him that I had put mine on a harness & leash the first few times out. We live on a busy street & there are frequent animal carcasses. A day later, he knocked again: kitty had come home-could he borrow my harness? I gave it to him and showed him how to put it on her, told him to keep it. He said he didn't like the apartment or the town. I never saw him again and I assume he moved back to his more rural town.
Two people in the same house in six weeks who move in and lose a cat within a day.

Then I started thinking; is my fate to always have a weird house across the street? This house in this small town has several units: I can't tell if it's 2 or 4. There is a never-ending parade of people moving in and moving out. Over the summer there was someone who played violin; he or she practiced in the afternoons, never at times that would bother anyone. It was lovely to listen to and do my work with music in the background. And then it was gone. I wonder why this one house always has trouble keeping tenants upstairs; the downstairs family has been there at least 7 years. They keep to themselves but their dog is always chained to the porch. A forlorn little terrier, my cats have no fear of him & taunt him by strutting on the doorstep, knowing he cannot reach them.

When I lived in the big, ugly city, the weird house across the street was a six-apartment tenement up the street a bit more, across from my friend Sue. There was an endless procession of moving in and moving out, children left unattended and hollering, drinking, fighting and blue lights in the night.
When I grew up in the big, beautiful city, the weird house across the street was a six-apartment tenement right across the street. We had no relationships with any of the myriad people who moved in or out, unlike every other house on the street.

As I worked and thought about all the weird houses across the street, I realized they have always been there and the theme is always the same. Absentee landlord who doesn't care & lets the place get rundown. Misfit tenants who take the place until they can find something better; they seem to move out the minute they do. And anything must be better, because they stay a month or two, a year at most.

Always having a weird house on the street has made me into a wary neighbor; the residents are never invited into my home, although I do interact civilly when necessary. Male residents of these houses make me conscious of my need to hold a sharp object in my hand, such as my keys or my calipers; I am pretty sure my voice registers in alto when I speak to them, and that my city accent comes out loud and clear. I've never had a major problem with the transient people in the weird house, but I don't intend to start now.

Does every neighborhood have a weird house? Or is it just a phenomenon I've discovered?
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