Fighting Roommates and Wayward Dogs

My neighbor from the rental on our east side is walking up and down the street yelling, “PACO!  PACO!”  His pit bull, the one who never gives a warning bark and moves in a blur once a target has been sighted, has escaped again.  Paco made his move tonight around 8:30.  Breaks for freedom usually occur around three in the morning when Joe, his owner, is drunk and lowers his guard.  One can tell how drunk Joe is by the slurring of his “Paco”s as he wanders up and down the road calling for his missing doggy.

I used to worry about Joe and his haphazard lifestyle.  He lives at loose ends and tends to run through roommates at six month intervals.  They usually leave following late night shouting matches.  The language gets loud, abusive and threatening, and I sometimes wonder whether I’ll wake one morning to discover police cars and yellow tape next door.

The latest blow out happened a few weeks ago, and it began when I heard scuffling sounds followed by Joe saying, “Now where do you think you’re going?”  I assumed he was wrangling his dog inside his gate to his back yard, but instead it was his roommate attempting to run from Joe at five in the morning.  I couldn’t make out what they were arguing about, but the fella shouted, “I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you!”  Joe mocked, “Oh sure, you’re gonna kill me.  Yeah, why don’t you try it?”  Roommate sputtered in fury and slushed, “I’m gonna slit your throat!”  Joe mocked him again and said, “You owe me $150, bitch,” and, “This is my house.”  I heard more scuffling sounds, and a woman stepped out onto the carport and yelled in a high pitched whine, “Stop it you guys!”  Roommate must have broken away–I heard his work truck door squeak open and the motor grind.  Joe attempted to stop him, but the man drove off.

He returned an hour later, and Joe and he sat outside and made their apologies.  Peace at 6 a.m.  Yeah.

Some might wonder why I didn’t call the cops.  It’s a matter of growing indifference.  I did call 9 months ago when Joe and another roommate, Ray, got into a loud argument on their front lawn.  Joe came home at 3 a.m. and started to pound on doors and windows.  He had forgotten to take his keys when he went out on a drinking spree.  Ray didn’t answer right away, and Joe pounded so hard on Ray’s bedroom window that he shattered the glass.  I decided at first to ignore the commotion when Ray burst outside and started to curse Joe.  I thought, “If they want to get into a fistfight, let them.”  But the argument escalated until Ray said, “Oh, you’re the big man with a gun.  Why don’t you shoot me?  I don’t give a damn.  Shoot me!” I called 911.

The cops arrived a few minutes later, and by then the argument had calmed down.  I saw Ray and Joe go in for a man hug just before a squad car pulled up.  No gun in sight.  An officer talked to them and offered to take Joe to a hospital as his hand was bleeding from a glass cut.  Joe declined.  Finally the cop said, “Is everything warm and fuzzy between you two?”  Joe and Ray muttered something, the cops left, and the two men went inside.

I gave Joe a ride to a gas station a few months ago when he needed fuel for his generator.  Hurricane Irma had toppled a tree onto his house that stripped his power line away.  He told me that he had rented next door for seven years.  I said, “Wow!  That long?!  We’ve been here since ’92, and we’ve seen a lot of folks come and go.  We called the lady just before you, ‘The Screamer’.  She was always yelling at her kids at the top of her lungs.  We could hear her inside her house with our windows closed.”

Joe smirked and said, “Well, I bet you’ve heard a lot of screaming from me too.”

“I didn’t mean that,” I said.

We rode on in silence for a minute or so, and then he said, “It’s these roommates.  I can’t get them to pay rent.  This latest guy is two weeks late.”

“That sucks.  And your power’s been out for aweek,” I commiserated.

Joe laughed and said, “Well I just keep rolling.  Whatever comes my way, I just keep rolling.  What else can I do?”

Paco remains at large, and I hear Joe shouting far down the road.  I wonder how many times he will wake me up tonight, but don’t doubt that this could go on for a long time.

 

 

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An Odd Night Out (The Beer Garden Botch)

I walked into a local restaurant and saw five folks dressed in business attire standing by the bar. A harried forty year old woman wearing a too short German peasant dress rushed out of the kitchen with a platter.  She reminded me of one of my aunts at a family function attempting to manage a crisis.  A long line of tables were pushed together down the middle of the room, and about forty people chatted, drank and picked at their food. The waitress flitted and hovered from customer to customer, but never smiled or offered a pleasantry.  Steamers hung across the room:  cartoon cut outs of German men in lederhosen and Alpine hats were suspended row upon row.

No one greeted or offered to show me to a seat, so I wandered to a table near the back and waited for a server to approach.  Loud German drinking songs played on the sound system, and the odd mix of folksy cheerfulness set to a frenetic martial beat made the tunes slightly unnerving.  No one came to bring me water or a menu, and I realized that while the lone waitress had seen me, she had no intention of coming anywhere near.

I debated leaving, but decided to try the beer.  I strolled up to the bar and saw that they had five selections on tap.  The bartender looked like a 1970s stoner with bags under his eyes, a stubbly beard and stringy, long blond hair.  He poured me a large mug of porter, and I sat at a stool by the window.  I sipped the brew and found it watery but inoffensive.  A middle-aged couple exited, but didn’t head to their car.  The woman sat in a chair in a row of chairs set up on the sidewalk for smokers.  She buried her face in her hands, elbows to knees, and her shoulders began to shake.  Her partner, a lumpy man with a torso shaped like a potato, stood helplessly nearby.  I looked away.

The angry waitress pushed more tables together with the help of the manager (?), and glared at me as she worked.  I couldn’t tell if she had wanted me to help her, or whether she had taken offense when our eyes met. She scurried back to the bar to try to shoo the carousing customers to the tables, but they ignored her, drank their beers and continued their conversation.

I finished my porter and went back to the bar counter.  I asked the bartender if I could order food.  He said, “Sure!  What do you want?”  I shrugged my shoulders to let him know that I hadn’t seen a menu yet, and he grabbed one for me.  I chose a pork schnitzel, a dark honey beer, and a side of a cabbage dish.  He surprised me when he delivered the food five minutes later.  Pre-made and fired up in a microwave?  A man walked up and asked for a Bud Lite, and the barman explained that the restaurant was a micro-brewery and served nothing but the five selections on tap.

I sat at the bar and stared at the evening news on a wide screen TV, sound muted, while the room buzzed with conversation and the German drinking songs plunged forward one after another.  A sign at the back of the bar read, “If you’re still standing, you need another beer.”  The schnitzel tasted okay but required dedicated sawing with a dull knife to tear off a chunk.  The cabbage had been spiced with chilies and melted in my mouth, but the beverage had the flavor of a lite beer spiked with honey.

The angry waitress came to the bar and directed her formerly suppressed rage at the bartender.  They exchanged curt snarls in a running skirmish.  Once the waitress looked past the barman to the window and called out in an accusing tone, “Hey, has anyone called an ambulance yet?”  I turned and saw the woman who had been sitting in a smoker’s chair lying on her back on the sidewalk.

A man, not her partner, knelt beside her and held her hand.  Another man draped his arm across the comforter’s back to comfort him.  The woman stared at the sky, and her eyes looked glazed.  Some customers standing near the door ignored the drama outside and stood sipping and chatting about sports and business.  They were about ten feet away from the stricken woman, but studiously ignored her.  Next to me at the bar, a young business woman with black lacquered hair and bright red lipstick flipped through screens on her smart phone and muttered about so called friends who had failed to meet her.

An ambulance arrived, and a paramedic gave the woman on the sidewalk an injection.  When they lifted her onto a gurney her head lolled toward me, and her eyes were half closed.  They loaded her into the ambulance and closed the door, but didn’t rush off.  A paramedic stood with the potato torso man and took notes for ten minutes.  Potato man looked worried, weary, but not panicked, and I got the impression that similar scenes had happened before.

I paid my bill and left to run a few errands.  I picked up a good porter at an ABC on Semoran and headed to a Walgreens to fetch prescriptions for Judy.  I had hoped for a night out with a bit of a diversion, but as I drove home I kept thinking, “I like my wife.  I should have stayed home with her.”

I felt like Dorothy Gale wishing for Kansas.

Don’t Mess With Gramps

In the 1930s, my grandfather lived down the street from a beer garden.  He wasn’t a teetotaler and didn’t mind if others had a good time, but grew tired of the disruption of hooting and hollering drunks and the debris they left behind.  One summer night, a car full of women pulled up in front of his house.  He sat on his porch smoking a cigarette and heard their drunken conversation as they got out.  He was hidden in darkness, and the women had no idea they had an audience.  One lifted her skirt, squatted down and left a deposit on the lawn.  They laughed as they tottered away to top off their evening at the beer garden.  Grandpa fetched a shovel from his garage after they had gone, scooped up the pile and deposited it on the back seat of the ladies’ sedan.  A few hours later he heard a car door slam followed by screeching, cursing and crying.

Grandpa and Grandma rented for many years before Grandpa’s business began to generate a comfortable income.  Grandpa liked to fix things and to garden, and he left every house in better shape than he found it.  One time he put new tile down in the kitchen.  The landlord came by for the rent, saw the improvement, complimented Grandpa and thanked him.  A month later he evicted them.  My grandfather figured out that the landlord wanted to use the gleaming kitchen floor as an enticement to lure renters willing to pay more.  Grandpa moved his family out to a new location, but before turning in the keys he tore up the tiles and left the broken bits for the landlord to clean up.

Grandpa eventually bought a house on Pritz Avenue.  Ten years later, the city of Dayton put an east/west highway through the town, and bought out the place through eminent domain.  Grandpa got less than the worth of the house, but made do with a story-and-a-half he purchased a mile away in Belmont.  The new house sat on a corner, and Grandpa found tire tracks running across his lawn on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  Some motorists liked to cut the corner.  Punks in a hot rod made a point of churning deep ruts into his lawn one night.  Grandpa began to collect stones about the size of bowling balls.  When he had ten or so, he placed them at intervals at the edge of his lawn along the corner where cars cut through.  He painted them white to give the wayward drivers fair warning, but took some satisfaction when he heard tires blow and axles grind late at night.  Word eventually spread, and Grandpa’s lawn went untouched.

My Grandpa’s shop sold and installed Venetian blinds, curtains and valances.  One day during the beginning of a hectic holiday season, a woman wearing a fur coat and pearl earrings came up to the counter and gave Grandpa a list of demands.  Her house had to be redecorated before Christmas, and Grandpa must put aside his other jobs and give her preferential treatment.  She was an important person.  Grandpa told her that she’d have to wait her turn, that he wouldn’t bump other orders.  She exclaimed, “But my family is coming to town and I need this!”  Grandpa put down his pen and pushed aside her order form, pointed to the displays in the showroom and said, “Lady, there isn’t a single thing in this store that you actually need.

 

 

My Wife Doesn’t Support the Arts

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It all started with her African violets.  Judy asked me to watch over them while she went away for a few days to a plant physiology conference.  I put them in my bedroom, admired the round forms of their leaves, and decided to do a series of charcoal drawings.  The series went well as I recorded the gradual descent of the stems, the drooping and dropping of the leaves.  When she returned I showed her the drawings before I returned her plants, and I waited for her to praise how closely I watched over them, how I put all my powers of observation into making a faithful record.  Instead she cried, “You didn’t water them!  They’re half dead!”  Her outburst shocked me.  How could she not understand that true art is about the cycle of life and death, the drama of mortality?  Her plants may have given up their lives, but they had made a worthy sacrifice for Art.

I decided to ignore her odd sense of priorities and married her, but the early days of cohabitation were fraught with tension.  Judy objected one day when she found me in the kitchen mixing painting solutions (varnish, stand oil, paint thinner) at the dining table.  She exclaimed, “We eat there!”  “Of course we do,” I replied.  “Are you saying that a table has only one function?”  She couldn’t find an adequate response to my query, but I agreed to mix my painting media on the back steps.  I thought, “This is how it starts.”

A few months later she asked me where the hammer was.  She’d rummaged through the tool chest and the drawers in the kitchen and couldn’t find it.  I said, “I’m using it in a still life.  Don’t touch it.  I’ll be done with it in a month or two.”  She shook her head in disbelief and failed to comment on my innovative use of nontraditional subject matter in a genre filled to overflowing with fruit ‘n flower paintings.  I began to wonder if I’d married badly.

DSC_0260 (2)Cat and Hammer, Oil/Canvas, 1985

Three years later she forced me to shut down my studio in a spare bedroom in our duplex apartment in State College.  I had to relocate to a cold and drafty basement and work wearing a coat during the winter months.  At the time of my banishment Judy was seven months pregnant and refused to listen to my objections.  She said, “We have to get the baby’s room ready now.”  I began to suspect that she placed more importance on family than on Culture. So bourgeois.

And then one day about six months later, she came down to the basement with a load of laundry on one arm and our daughter on the other.  I thoughtfully interrupted an intense painting session to warn her to not step on a tube of oil paint that I had left, for a no longer recalled strategic purpose, on the floor drain in front of the washer.  I gathered from the pained look she gave me that she thought that I should quit working and move the tube.  I gallantly ignored her unreasonable expectations and began to rework a difficult passage that I’d been struggling with for days.  (The demands my paintings made on me often left me exhausted and mentally battered, but I had become used to making sacrifices.)  I barely noticed when she slammed the lid to the washer and retreated with baby back up the basement stairs–stomp, stomp, stomp.  “Some people,” I thought, “have it so easy.”

This morning I set up my French folding easel in my bathroom and began a palette knife self-portrait.  I spent an hour or two.  Judy wondered what kept me out of sight for so long, and I asked her if she’d like to see how I had managed to turn yet another room into a studio.  She stared at my work arrangement and the newly begun painting, but instead of expressing wonder at my ingenuity she said, “I guess this means that you’ll be using my bathroom a lot.”

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My wife.  The muse.

I Showed Her

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My wife told me that she wanted to rearrange the kitchen, to move the fridge to the north wall and put a small table in its place next to the kitchen sink.  I said, “No.  I do most of the cooking, and I’m used to having the fridge close to the work counter.”  The argument ended, but when I came back from a short trip to Gainesville the deed had been done.  Judy got our two kids to help her push the fridge to the north wall while I was away.

When I returned I walked in the door, hugged the kids, kissed Judy, and suspected nothing.  But when I went into the kitchen to grab a beer from the fridge by the sink,  I found it elsewhere.  I spun around and saw her smiling at me.  I protested, but she said nothing.  Instead she gave me a challenging look as if daring me to come up with a reason to move it back.  I said, “You know I’ve been planning to paint a mural right where you put that fridge.”

“Mural?  What mural?” she asked.

“A landscape…of a place you like…It’ll be a reminder.”

“The Smokies?” she asked.  “You’ll paint a mural of the Smokies!?”

“Sure.  You pick a picture from our last trip there.”

We pulled out a photo album, and she chose a scene with trees hanging over a path cutting through a wood: dappled light, intricate interlacing of branches and foliage, contrasting textures of boulders, tree bark, leaves, sky and dirt.  I looked at it and gulped.  I knew that a subject that complicated would take months.

“Are you sure you want that one?” I asked.  “What about this distant view of the mountains in fog?”

“No.  This is the best.  Can you do it?”

“Of course I can.” I answered feeling a bit nettled.  Did she think that I was an amateur?  “Now can I move the fridge back?”

“I’ll help you,” she said sweetly.

I began to paint the next weekend.  I marked off the boundaries with masking tape and laid out my composition with a few lines.  I blocked in big color shapes.  Two hours passed, and I realized that I had barely made a dent.  But anything for a just cause.  The fridge must stay in its rightful place.

The mural took three months to complete, and I was weary of the project by the time I laid down the last brushstrokes.  I knew that I could drag it out a lot longer if I felt like punishing myself with a lot of tedious detail, but decided that enough was enough.

I called Judy into the kitchen and said, “It’s done.”  She stared at it for a long time, and then she hugged me and said, “Thank you.”  I knew that it reminded her of a family trip to her favorite place on earth.  I tried hard not to feel  happy for her, but failed.

I put away my paints, and while I cleaned my brushes I tried to reclaim some vengeful satisfaction.  I had thwarted her plans to change the kitchen.  I hadn’t let her get away with a sneaky maneuver.  I had outwitted her even if it had taken a long time to pull it off.

I was the man…in charge.

I showed her.  Yeah, I really showed her.

 

Tippy: Still Waiting for Revenge

Tippy swore at me and promised revenge.  He overheard me begging the night manager to leave early.  I had an allergic reaction to some chocolate I’d eaten that afternoon, and now my nose ran constantly.  I told Jerry, “Hey, I can’t even make a pizza without dripping into the sauce.”  Jerry smelled a rat, but couldn’t deny that I looked a mess with swollen eyes, a red nose and hives breaking out on my arms.  He gave me the nod.

Tippy crowded up to me as I punched out and said, “I’ll get you for this.”  He and I had been scheduled to close that night, and the kitchen at that moment resembled the third circle of hell.  A dinner rush raged on with no signs of stopping.  The July heat topped off the hot air radiating from the ovens and turned the kitchen into a 100 degree sweat shop.  Goo, cheese, and sausage scraps covered the pizza making stations, empty ingredient bags littered the floor, dunes of flour drifted up to the base of the dough mixer.  Tippy knew that my replacement wouldn’t work as hard as I would, and that he’d be responsible for putting a slimy disaster back into spic-and-span order.  I waved bye-bye as I danced out the back door.

The next time we worked together, Tippy told me how it took him two hours after the restaurant closed its doors to clean up the kitchen.  He glared at me and said, “I had to work with fucking Dave.”  I said, “Hey, I was really sick.  I wouldn’t have been much use.  Dave was a better deal.”  Tippy scowled at me.  We both knew that I was full of shit.  Dave took downers and worked in slow-mo, hid equipment he was supposed to clean, and took parking lot breaks in his El Camino to sip whiskey from a flask hidden under the driver’s seat.

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Tippy lived in a rathole wood frame house in East Dayton.  Both sides of my family had lived in his neighborhood back in the 1930s when it had been an enclave for German Catholic immigrants.  Now it was a Little Appalachia populated by the descendants of folks who had moved from Kentucky and Tennessee to work in factories during WWII.

Tippy was the first in his family to attend college.  I encouraged him to stay when he confessed that he wanted to drop out of the engineering program at the University of Dayton.  He felt overwhelmed by the material (“Everyone does,” I told him.) and from feeling like an outsider (“Hey, I’m the first generation in my family to go to college too,” I said.  “Those snobs aren’t any smarter than you.”).

**********

Tippy invited me, Debbie, Kenny and a cashier back to his place one night in November.  We drank beer, smoked and played UNO.  Folks got hungry around 2 a.m., and Tippy asked if anyone could cook.  I volunteered and raided his fridge.  I made omelets spiked with cheddar cheese, onions, peppers, and ham lunch meat.  I toasted bread and served up breakfast.  Tippy ate a mouthful of omelet, and said, “This actually tastes good.  You can come by any time and make me a meal.”  I asked him how much he paid.

Debby finished her third beer and began to talk about her mother.  Mom had lived a few streets over until someone murdered her–robbery gone bad.  Debbie knew who the man was, but couldn’t prove a thing.  But she’d get him.  One day.  He was going to pay.  But for now she had her little pumpkin, her baby boy, and nothing gave her more joy.  She pulled out her wallet and flipped it open to a sleeve of photos, and little Pumpkin looked up at us and laughed with an open mouth and crinkly eyes.

We played a few more rounds, finished the food and the beer, and headed home.

Tippy stopped me on his porch and said, “Don’t you still owe me for something?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,”  I answered.  “That Dave, he’s a great guy.”

Tippy scowled and said, “I’m gonna get you for that.”

 

 

Entourage: The Dangling Men

Nancy liked to dangle men, to entice them to come nearer and then hold them at a distance.  She often had two or three hooked at a time, but felt no guilt in trading one for another on a whim.  One time she had made a date to meet a new boyfriend at a restaurant.  An old beau saw her cross the parking lot and called her over.  Nancy made out with him in his car while her latest waited inside for her to make an appearance.  Latest became aware of her treachery.  But when he confronted her she just laughed and said, “Oh Brian, we’re not really dating, are we?”  Brian told her that he thought they were, and she laughed again at his foolishness.

She was attractive, intelligent, and had a good sense of humor.  Boys and men had made moves on her, had given her The Look, from the time she turned fifteen.   It must have been wearying to brave the constant attention and pressure, to sort through all the options.  She had to weigh the merits of her would-be suitors and hope that her scales had been properly calibrated.  And she must have wondered whether any of her gents really wanted her, the total sum of her, and not just the glittery package.  In the end she probably threw up her hands and decided to make love, sex, desire into a game.  She was the queen, and members of her entourage became her pawns.

Eventually she slipped and fell in love with an owner of a record store.  He was fifteen years older, however, and didn’t see any future in the relationship.  Steely Dan’s, “Hey Nineteen” played on the radio at that time, and the record man made it the theme of his argument when he broke up with her.

Nancy didn’t know how to deal with rejection.  All her training had been in holding men at bay, not at winning them back, and certainly not at mourning their loss.  She latched onto another record store owner, a mild-mannered stooge closer to her age, and began an affair.  She got pregnant, and they married although neither loved the other.  They named their son, Graham.

She called me up one day and spoke to me in her most charming, winsome manner.  “It’s been so long, Dennis.  I’m just dying to see you.”  Brian told me that he too had received an invitation a few days earlier.  Nancy was trying to reassemble her entourage and begin the game again.  She considered marriage and motherhood as slight handicaps that had been added to give her a deeper challenge.

I kept my distance, though I once gave in to curiosity and visited her and her toddler.  Graham was round faced, sandy-haired and good-natured.  He liked to gurgle and bang his spoon on the tray of his high chair.  Nancy seemed distantly amused by her baby and acted as if he were an odd creature who had somehow, through a series of madcap mishaps, become attached to her.  “Oh Graham,” she said, “You’re not really playing the drums, are you?”