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Encounters Both Mundane & Strange (a.k.a. Midnight Neighbours)

Stephen and I have taken to taking late-night walks because the dog cannot (possibly will not) walk in the ungodly daytime summer heat.

Over the course of these past weeks and months, I’ve come to notice certain neighbours: Midnight Neighbours, who seem to only come out at night to do their various neighbour/nighttime things.

(Midnight being, of course, a name. I don’t always see them at Midnight, and they do come out at other times of the day. Midnight just sets the context and is specific to my POV).

(Also: “Midnight Neighbours” seems both descriptive and cool).

(Doesn’t it?)

 

1. Green Bin Hilda

Her name may not be Hilda. I don’t know for sure what her name is, but I once heard someone call out to her from her bungalow and the name sounded something like “Hilda.”

Lit up by the awful yellow streetlight, GBH’s seemingly disembodied head can be seen hovering in the corner of the front window facing the street. She watches. She’s a watcher.

She is also a rummager.

Twice now on garbage days, after Stephen, the dog and I walked well past her house, GBH rushed outside and across the street so that she could take a peek inside the green bins left out in the night for pick up in the morning.

(Mind you, the city’s green bins are built to deter raccoons: to open them, you have to grab a black handle that juts out from top and turn it just so.)

I watched the watcher. She scanned the contents of the bins, moved an item or two around, nodded approvingly, shut the lid and then walked back across the street and into her own house.

We’ve never spoken about it, GBH and I, and us. We’ve never spoken, GBH and I, and us, and eye contact has been spotty at best.

Still: why?

Why those bins, Hilda? Just those bins, Hilda? I have so many questions, though I admit they are only variations of the same.

Why, Hilda? How come?

Oh. And also: Hilda, would you ever approve of the contents of my green bin?

Could you?

 

2. The Sculptor

The Sculptor is a rather affable guy decked out in ripped jeans who plays one-man street hockey with a tennis ball and a makeshift stick that is too short for his tall frame, causing him to chase the ball with a practiced hunch and shuffling gait. He never falls.

I have never encountered him sober. He typically has a Bud Light in hand and, when he is not busily engaged in street hockey, he will raise it to toast you as you pass his property, which a lot of people must do because it lies on a direct path to transit.

Other times, he is working.

There are elabourate rock “sculptures” strewn all about his otherwise overgrown front yard: squat objets d’art of stacked river rocks that strike me somehow as being a gathering of disenchanted “rockmen.” A union meeting perhaps? Or maybe some sort of townhall meeting for sexist quartz and granite. Whatever is going on, The Sculptor can often be seen moving the rocks/men here and there; adding to them, taking things away or incorporating the occasional wind-chime or hubcap among their accumulated masses acquired from who knows where.

Once, while I was checking my phone in front of his house, he yelled at me from somewhere inside:

“NO PICTURES. DELETE! DELETE!”

He must have seen the light against the darkness of the streets. Or maybe he too was a disembodied head in a the window. Hard to tell, because the streetlamp by The Sculptor’s house is busted.

I wonder what my face must have looked like, illuminated by the screen of my smartphone.

It has never occurred to me to take a picture of the rockmen, though I admit it does not surprise me that he would get riled up at the prospect of anyone doing that. The Sculptor’s sculptures are his and his alone.

 

3. Basketball Shorts

Basketball Shorts is not young, not small and not an athlete. His clothing is merely more of a uniform consisting of an assortment of tank tops and the same pair of basketball shorts, the kind that just skim the tops of his the crooked domes that make up his kneecaps.

His primary function seems to be that of sitting in front of his house, on a too-small faded plastic chair, making intense eye-contact with passersby. He lives 2 streets across and down from us and I appreciate the distance, truly.

The other night, at around 11:15PM, we passed him walking our dog as he was walking his, a tiny Yorkie. He continued on his way and we on ours, walking past his house, to the corner and then turning to go down the opposite block. Stephen and I were far along down the block, many large houses away, when we paused in our conversation at the sound of some distant babbling.

A man’s voice – B.S. on the corner, at the intersection we had left as we turned away from his block. We couldn’t see his face. We could barely make out his form, but as his outline is quite distinctive I’m sure it was him, there, in the flesh. Him and no other. He no longer had the dog (or at least, I didn’t see it).

To get to where he was, he must have backtracked, gone past his home to end up at that corner.

He was frustrated – angry even – and talking to…who?

Us?

We were far enough away from him by this time that we would be little more than vague figures on a dark street. Had he gone out looking for us (because he would have had to, not knowing our intended path)? I didn’t see anybody else there, in his general vicinity, but then why talk at somebody’s back from a distance if you’re trying to make a point to them, whatever that point may be?

“I saw you…you moved the pylon! I know where you live! This is ridiculous! Pylon there – You moved…pylon! Pylon! Ridiculous!”

Code? These peculiar words were carried to us by the wind, and were the only ones to reach us from his remote though incessant chatter. Although, to his credit, there are some pylons set up around his block due to some city work being undertaken there this summer. He had something there at least.

Know where you live? A threat? I doubt very much he knows where we live, have never seen him on our street, though in addition to living 2 streets across and down from us, he also appears to live in moments like these.

Or perhaps not. His voice had the quality of a broken reed jammed into the mouthpiece of a rusted saxophone: it sounded thin, out-of-practice, forced. He, being the most able (or willing) of our Midnight Neighbours to wander the furthest from his house, seems also, unlike Green Bin Hilda and The Sculptor, to be the most unsettled because of it.

Another possibility: he wasn’t talking to anyone – no one – at all. Maybe that, in the end, is where he really lives, speaking of bringing things home.

 

 

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Filed under City Life, Dogs, People, Relationships, Routines

To Death

At a certain indefinite point, I became, and remain, wary whenever someone invokes someone else’s name in relation to my memory of that person:

“Do you remember X?”

Yes, or no. Maybe?

“They died.”

This keeps happening: I learned my mother’s cousin died this way. I learned a friend died this way. I learned two former co-workers died this way. And another friend; they died this way.

One way or another, they died this way:

“Do you remember X?”

“They died.”

I learned a stranger’s friend died this way while she was speaking to another friend as we all rode the streetcar together:

“Do you remember X?”

Yes (in this case, yes).

“They died.”

I say wary. Wary, yes, but not offended, or indignant, or upset. Just primed now, for the inevitable.

***

There are, I suppose, other ways to learn that someone’s died, but they seem to be lacking in conviction (if not intentionality):

I have some terrible news. There’s something I need to tell you. This isn’t going to be easy, but…

Maybe not conviction, then, but something closer to certitude, declaration…substantiation. Status. All of these things and not one of them.

They died.

Alternatively:

They’ve passed. They are no longer with us. They’ve been called home.

Again seems lacking; again seems beside the point.

(Are you sure?)

(“Home.” There’s that word again. Home.)

They died.

If there’s a better way to say it, I’ve not heard it.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Death, Family, Friends, Language

Jiggety-Jig

I am always a little apprehensive about “coming home” to my parents’ house – a place where I am a little more than a guest, a little less than a resident.

But even now, as I try to figure out Life in The Big City, I come home and it only takes a beat before we get back into the rhythm of Things.

Many times.

Every time.

 

One time…

“Hi, Mom.”

“Ah, you are home.  Who drove you?”

“Kris did.”

“Ah.  Where is Lou-wee?”

“I left him with Stephen.”

“Stephen’s not coming?”

“Nope.”

“Who’s watching Lou-wee?”

“Stephen!”

Really??  He know how?”

“Yes.”

“You sure?”

“YES.”

[beat]

“Ah.  OK!  You like owls.”

“I guess.  Yeah.”

“I went shopping with your Aunts.  In Toronto.  I got you keychain.”

As long as I don't stare directly at it in the sun, I even get to keep them eyes.

It, um, matches my eyes.

“It’s…nice.”

“It’s an owl.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Put keys on it.”

“I will, Mom.”

“Do it now.”

“I’ll do it in a bit.”

“I want to see your keys on it.  I don’t like wasting money.  Do it now.”

“FINE.”

Truth is, I can really only handle the responsibility of the one key.

Do I really only have the one key?

“Why you like owls so much, anyway?”

 

Another time…

“Hi, Dad!”

“Ah, you home!  Hm.  No Lou-wee?”

“Not this time.”

“Hm.”

“Hey! What are you making?”

[beat]

“Noodles and soup.  Ha, ha!  NOODLE SOUP.”

“That’s a big pot you have.  It’s a vat!”

“Lots of family, lots of soup.”

“Cool.”

“Before you leave again, I make springrolls!  Unless your mom says no.  Then I make MANY MANY SPRINGROLLS.  Ha, ha!  OH!  You remember Mom’s cousin?  Your aunt?  The one that used to live with us?”

“Yeah.”

“Remember?  At the old house?”

“Yes…”

“She died!  We go to funeral this weekend.”

“She…wha…”

“SOUP’S DONE!”

 

And then there was the time…

“Ngọc!  When did you get home?”

“Last night.  It was late, so I just went to bed.”

“Ah. Who drove you?”

“I took the bus.”

“You didn’t take Lou-wee?”

“I left him with Stephen.  Dogs aren’t allowed on the bus, Mom.”

“Not even you pay extra?”

“Nope.”

Really??

“Yes.”

“You sure?”

“YES.”

[beat]

“Ah.  OK!  Here.  Bash this coconut for me.

“Um.  Sure.  How?”

“You know,  just like you’d bash a fish.”

“Oh-kaaaaaay…”

bash

                      … bash….                              …bash…

                                               …bash…                 …bash…

             .…bash…

“What is ant-polly-gee?  You done study that yet?  You have job?  When you get married?  You getting too old not to have babies. You pay too much for apartment, why not use money for mortgage instead?  I need you write letter for me and phone these people and pick up these things.  Next time, try pay extra. How you spell R-E-C-I-E-P-T?  Your dad made too much soup last time!  Can you vacuum downstairs before you leave and go to business school?”

“I DID NOT MAKE TOO MUCH SOUP!”

“SPRINGROLLS EVERYWHERE!”

[audible sighs heard over coconut bashing][1]

 

You can, indeed, go home again.  It is a small comfort surrounded by very big inconveniences.

And swimming in noodle soup.

Hey. I didn't say it was bad soup.

When consolation is delicious!

 


 

[1] “Sigh..BASH…sigh…BASH-BASH-BASH!!!”

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