Saturday, June 2, 2012

Hey Mister! Can I Borrow Your Grilled Cheese?

"Hey! This is your neighbor Cathy!"

I'd never seen her up close, but I had once seen her, though without knowing it. She was the size of a child, smaller than her 11 year old daughter; and as our houses are 600 feet apart, my eyes are going bad and the few times I'd noticed them they all looked like ants, I'd always assumed my neighbor was a widower with three kids as all three short people dressed alike.

"I know this'll sound wierd".

"Oh, I don't know about that". I was trying to be neighborly in my curt sort of way. A few weeks before this call I'd had a pond in my backyard, a pond that stretched over some 25 acres; a shallow thing, home to egrets and heron, muskrat and seasonally passing ducks. And her husband had found the beaver dam that had created this ecological wonder and pulled it apart, allowing the pond to drain and eventually disappear because, as he said, "I just had too much testosterone that day". So I wasn't fond of my neighbors at that moment, the damp slew my rear windows were aimed at was still a source of pointless obsession and heated discussion between myself and my house walls.

"Ya think I could borrow a few pieces of bread? Like say, 6?"

Before I could mutter HUH? she continued, "See I promised my kids I'd make them grilled cheese sandwiches when they got home from school, and I got so involved in the TV I completely forgot I didn't have any bread."

"O'Shea's sells bread", I offered, assuming she'd catch my drift and hang up with a harrumph.

"Yea but Gary has the car and I can't get anywhere. Say! If you could drive me I'd gladly get my own bread!"

I try to be nice, really I do.

"Yea, I have six pieces of bread but you'll have to come get them, I'm busy in the garage." I wasn't really, but I wanted to make it clear I didn't have time to drive some wiggy chick to the local tiny town convenience store so she could buy staples, instead of her just waiting for daddy to come home and the big happy family could make the trip together. Nor was my good nature without limits. She could have the bread, but I'd be damned if I'd deliver.

"Goody! I'll be right over!"

It was a hot summer day and I had the windows open or I'd never have heard her screaming at her son to run to my house and get a loaf of bread. She'll be right over indeed.

Her son tromped down my 600 foot long driveway as if his shoes were pile drivers and he was setting rebar. She'd yell at him to stop being an ass, he'd yell back "shuttup mother or else". It might have been entertaining except for his and my history.

He couldn't have been more than 12 when one day as I was walking my property line, doing what we country mice call "an estate walk", (admiring each little blade of grass we own) I heard the words "Get off our land!"

I spun my head around yet saw no one, so I simply continued up the hill until I heard it again, "get off our land", this time more insistent, and with an added "or else".

My first thought was Hatfields and McCoys, then I saw Jerry Springer...ok, i'm a little wierd I admit. Finally he said it as "boomy" as he could, trying to deepen his shout so as to really, really scare me, but as he was barely pubescent he only sounded like a calf with constipation. "MooOOoooOOoooOo" is what I head more or less, but I knew the words were really "get off our land or else!"

This time I spotted him. He was standing in the dining room behind the window screen, nearly invisible as screens are opaque in the sun but there was a triangle of shade creeping down from the roofline, and his head, hands and rifle were clearly visible now that I refocused.

Hatfields and McCoys it was, the kid was pointing a gun at me while demanding I leave his property. But, I wasn't on his property and gun or no gun, I wasn't about to lose what's left of my manhood over running from a twerpy kid who probably couldn't hit an elephant with an elephant swatter.

We argued a bit, he backed off and I hadn't seen him since 'till he'd come slamming his little tennis shoes down my drive in search of carbohydrates. But I had heard of his exploits. He'd been banned from another neighbor's house for threatening violence after having been told no in response to some idiotic request; violence toward another child first, and then the female adult in the residence. He'd been punished and had apologized, but I knew that was for show; the kid liked to have life his way, and wouldn't take no for an answer so long as he thought he could win the confrontation. And as his mother was smaller than he, and his father had long ago taught him the proper punishment for women who get out of line (educated guess based on overheard screaming), he didn't lose many confrontations.

I couldn't wait for the punk to ring my bell, I was standing on my stoop with a half loaf of bread in hand, wanting to throw it at him so as to keep his eyes off the position of my doorlocks and the height of my windows. But I relented, the kid was only 12, his parents were an alcoholic mess, his father abusive, his mother a psychic vampire...he was just a product of his environment and I needed to give him a break.

When he got to my stairs I stepped down to meet him toe to toe. There was nothing wrong in demonstrating that I was four of him and two of his dad, just in case he fantasized my doom someday when I'd made him angry by being within his karmic energy circle.

"Here's the bread, have a nice day" I said, being as brief a jerk as I could be under the circumstances.

"Mom wants to know if you have any cheese" he countered. "She forgot, we don't have any cheese either...oh and butter she said."

Let's see, bread, cheese, butter...all the ingredients for hmmm...grilled cheese!

"So is your mom a little loopy today?" I didn't expect an answer, it just blurted from my mouth like acid reflux.

"Yea, she's drunk as always" he said while staring at his feet.

"Ya like hot dogs?" I said after a really long and incredibly uncomfortable pause.

"Yea, I like hot dogs ok".

I stepped inside my manse and moved quickly to the fridge to snatch a package of dogs, and then nearly hopped back to the door as if had I dawdled the kid would be inside my house memorizing its weak entry points. Shameful perhaps, it was just a kid.

"Sorry man, I don't have any cheese" I said as I threw him the package of brats. "But do me a favor" I added as he looked up at me and sneer/grinned. "Tell your mom not to do this again."

"Ok" he muttered, and again I felt like a jerk. I should have walked to their house and asked her what the fuck was wrong with her and her husband, shouted that they were ruining the lives of two kids who had no where else to turn but to self defense.

But I couldn't, I'm not the morals police, I just live here.

As he turned to go I said "if you kids are ever hungry, you can come here and I'll find something."

"She just forgets sometimes" he said, defending what he knew was indefensible. "She tries, she's just not very good at being a mom".

My mother wasn't like that at all, she was nearly perfect at being a mom. But her occassional bouts with her illness made her less a protector and more a burden, and I knew well what this kid was telling me.

"Sometimes adults suck" I said, "sometimes you gotta take care of them."

"I do, but I don't wanna" he said. "I just wanna play".

"I know" I said as he turned away and trudged back toward his own house, this time bypassing the driveway and walking straight through the six foot weed grass that smothered the landscape between his house and mine.

"And don't you ever point a gun at me again kid," I thought to shout after him; but I stood silently and remembered how hard it is to raise yourself, even for a few months at a time. What he was becoming was not good; but I could only hope he'd find his way with the help of some relative or social contact as there was really nothing I could do but hope.

"Hi Cathy? This is Ron. Listen I was making spanikopita and I wondered if you had a few eggs, a shitload of spinach, some green onions, parsley, vidalias, nutmeg, dill and salt....oh and butter....ooo and filo, I almost forgot, I'm outa that too! You do? Cool, I'll be right over!"

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