Things I’ll Miss, Things I Won’t

My wife and I live in a tiny house.  Not as small as some of those tree house/doll house thingies you see on TV, but very small nonetheless.  There is a bathroom just inside the front door, and there’s a decent-sized bedroom.  Between the front door and the bedroom is a small space that serves as kitchen, living room and office.  When I step inside the front door, it’s 18 steps to our bed at the farthest end of our humble abode.

We have enough room for a table and the falling-apart love seat that came with the place.  The love seat is my wife’s office (she works from home and spends about ten hours a day there) and where she eats her meals; she rests her laptop on a folding tray table.  The table is my office (where I do my writing, that is) and where I eat my meals.  The TV is wedged kitty corner on top of a bookcase and next to our printer.

Workspace

My office workspace/kitchen table

My wife enjoys working remotely, and I can see the appeal (even though my own attempt in that vein was less than a positive experience).  She can work any hour of the day or night (even in her PJs, if she so desires), as long as she gets everything done.  It definitely saves money on gas.  Also, we can travel at will, wherever there is a wifi connection.

As for me, I’m glad that I work downtown rather than being stuck in our little space all day.  Yes, even with the price of gas.  Even though I have to get up at 4:30 in the morning in order to snag my handicapped parking space.  Even though more than once I’ve nearly met my maker while merging onto the freeway in the predawn darkness.  Even though it takes me 45 minutes to drive the 12 miles home in rush hour traffic.

We have now lived here in our cozy mouse hole for 2½ years.  I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be here.

The best thing about our little place is that the monthly cost is far less than the inflated rents charged for the privilege of being wedged like sardines in a can known as a Sacramento apartment.  And we enjoy the luxury of having everything included — electricity, heat and A/C, water, trash collection, cable.  We experience extraordinarily hot summers in this part of California, and it certainly is a relief to be able to blast the A/C without worrying about a $500 electric bill (what we had to pay in June, July and August when we lived out in the Mojave Desert).  This time of year, however, it gets cold.  One wall of our place is attached to the owner’s garage/workshop, and I don’t think there’s much in the way of insulation.  This situation is further aggravated by the wonky thermostat that we can’t get off the “temporary” setting, hence converting the air temperature from toasty to freezing several times daily.

This place was originally built as a mother-in-law suite, out in back of the main house where our landlord lived with his wife and four kids until recently.  When the landlord’s in-laws decided not to live here, he began renting it out.

My wife likes the place because we’re behind a big iron gate that opens and closes electronically (so far, I’ve only hit it once while attempting to back out of the driveway).  She says the gate makes her feel safe.  Well, there’s a lot of crime in this area (can you tell me of an area where there isn’t?).

Recently, our landlord sold his painting and cabinet installation business.  He had quite a few employees, and he was exhausted after years of supervising them here at his workshop and at installation sites.  His kids were growing up fast and he felt that he didn’t spend nearly enough time with them.  He is relishing in the opportunity to start afresh in Arizona, where the kids’ grandparents are close at hand.  I hear he’s looking for some other type of business to run.  How exciting to start a new life!

Thankfully, our landlord is not selling his house, at least not for now.  He will be renting it to two women whom I believe are distantly related to him.  This means that we get to keep our itty bitty love nest.  We’ll stay here as long as we can, but our guess is that it won’t be too long before he sells the entire place.

Having one’s landlord reside just a few yards away comes with its pluses and minuses.  In some respects, we’re rather sad to see the family go.  But honestly, some things I will miss and other things I won’t.

What I’ll miss:  Having the landlord just a stone’s throw away when the toilet starts leaking, we get attacked by ants, the dishwasher or microwave go wonky, or one of the recessed lights burns out (replacement of a bulb requiring the climbing of a ladder).

What I won’t miss:  The used car lot vibe.  Some days I’ll come home and find two enormous work vans, two of my landlord’s personal vehicles, and my wife’s little beep-beep of a Ford all wedged into the driveway.  Some days we have to park on the street until a vehicle or two can be moved.

What I’ll miss:  Having the kids around.  They’re still a bit shy around me, but they absolutely adore my wife.  And they get excited when my five year old grandniece comes to visit.

What I won’t miss:  The piles of toys, bikes, tricycles and four-wheelers seemingly strewn everywhere.  We’ve learned to dodge the daily detritus of a flock of kids, although we periodically end up stepping on something (an action figure, a toy truck, a grape) or running over something with a tire.

Bikes

The bike pile

What I’ll miss:  The little things.  Showing the landlord’s wife (who home schools the kids) a shortcut for teaching the multiplication facts, receiving a surprise gift of strawberries, handing out ice pops to the kids in the summer, listening to Jonah excitedly telling me a story in incomprehensible baby talk.

What I won’t miss:  Being unable to do laundry for three days in a row because the washer and dryer in the garage are blocked by a work crew busy with a big painting project.  Contending with sickening paint fumes for days on end when cabinetry for multiple accounts is being painted at the same time, just on the other side of our wall.  Stepping around and over cords and generators used to run the electric equipment used in the landlord’s business.

Painting

One of the landlord’s recent painting projects in the garage just on the other side of our bedroom wall.

What I’ll miss:  The animals.  Zoe, the German shepherd.  Tiger, the striped kitty.  And the flock of chickens.  My heart was warmed when, at first, we were told that the family was taking all their animals with them to Arizona.  Gradually, however, I discovered the truth.  Zoe was given away to a nephew.  (Hopefully she’ll be able to run around and get more personal attention in her new home than she does here, locked up in her pen all day.)  The chickens and their coop were given to the neighbor lady.  And, so far, I hear that they’re still planning on taking the cat with them.  I sure hope so.  My wife, who doesn’t even like cats, feeds Tiger all the time, and he follows us around every time he sees us.  Wherever you end up, Tiger, I hope the rest of your nine lives are purrrfectly content.

Zoe

Poor Zoe! 

Hayden and Tiger

 My grandniece with Tiger

Chickens

The hen flock, just outside our front door.

What I won’t miss:  The animals.  Zoe is a really good dog who ended up with a bum rap incarcerated in doggy jail most days.  We routinely bring her our leftovers from restaurants.  My wife makes her chicken broth ice pops when it’s 110 degrees outside (and goodness knows how much hotter in that thick German shepherd coat).  Zoe, I won’t miss hearing your signature first bark, followed by a whine when you’re shocked by that electric collar.  Cruelty!  I won’t miss seeing you throwing yourself at the aluminum fencing, begging for a little attention from someone.  Tiger, I won’t miss trying to figure out where you’re hiding so that I don’t accidentally run over you with my car on the way out to work.  And as much as I’m charmed by the clucking and pecking of the hen flock, I won’t miss the steady parade of chicken poop left on our porch.  Watch where you step!

Good luck in Phoenix, guys.  May blessings be upon you.

 

Yappy Hour

A nondescript black-and-white dog is our neighbor just across the chain link fence situated a few steps from our front door.  I’m sure he is a wonderful pet and a good friend to his people.

There is just one problem:  He is a barker.

I’m not talking about once in a while either.  Just like us, dogs get excited, upset or hungry.  And just as I have become accustomed to my one-year-old grandniece expressing these emotions by screaming her head off, I fully expect our canine friends to express themselves in the only way they are able.

But not every night.  And I mean all night.

I suspect that this dog is lonely.  Most of the time, he is outdoors in a wire dog pen, by himself.  I don’t think I’d be too happy about that either.

Dogs are gregarious creatures, just like humans.  The former naturally travel in packs with a defined pecking order, while the latter naturally congregate in families and communities.  So leaving dogs alone for extended periods of time doesn’t seem fair to me.  They just want to be with their people.

My wife says that some dogs are just yappers.  While this is undoubtedly true, I don’t believe this is the case with our canine neighbor.  I know this because when he is taken inside, blessed silence descends upon hearth and home.

Honestly, I am amazed at this dog’s capacity for barking.  I am blessed to be able to sleep even with television, music and conversations going on all around me.  I’m guessing that the explosion of a bomb or two would not wake me up (and if it did, I’d go right back to sleep).  My wife, however, is not quite so lucky.  That dog’s infernal barking will wake her up at one o’clock in the morning, and at two, at three and at four.  One would think that, at some point, the poor dog would start to get hoarse and would eventually lose its voice, er, bark.  Do dogs get laryngitis?

Several years ago, I read horrifying reports that some apartment dwellers in my native New York City were “debarking” their dogs to prevent their pets from being evicted from the high-rise rabbit warrens where they reside in close proximity to many hundreds of neighbors.  I recall being confused at first.  To me, the word “debarking” has always meant to step off a conveyance such as a ship or a train.  It is the opposite of “embark.”  I was taken aback when I learned that, in this case, “debark” meant to surgically alter a dog’s larynx so that a full-throated bark is converted to a tiny squeak.  The phrase “cruelty to animals” comes to mind.  And no, I don’t approve of declawing cats either.  How would you like to have your fingernails forcibly removed?  Barking and scratching are natural functions of dogs and cats and, well, if one’s current living situation isn’t conducive to these activities, I’d suggest purchasing a goldfish. 

In fairness, I should disclose that, even here in rural northern California, we don’t exactly live in the quietest of environments.  Freight trains come through here at all hours of the day and night, as do eighteen wheelers exiting the freeway just a few blocks away.  As for our neighbor dog, he does not confine his incessant barking to the nighttime hours any more than the vehicular traffic or the freight trains do.  Every hour is yappy hour.  Here I sit in the middle of the afternoon; as I am not wearing my headphones, my background music consists of my little grandniece’s Elmo video and an endless chorus of “Woof woof woof!  Woof woof woof WOOF!”

As you may imagine, we’ve been mulling over the possibilities for handling this situation appropriately.  When I say “appropriately,” what I mean is a course of action that would be fair to both the dog and us, preferably something that will not unduly upset our human neighbors who care for the dog.

The problem is that we don’t even know our human neighbors.  Admittedly, our track record with neighbors is not the best.  In Modesto, we tried to be at least nominally friendly with the woman and her tattooed-from-head-to-toe boyfriend whose welcome mat was about three steps from our own.  Until, that is, we stopped seeing him around and learned that he had been arrested for beating her up.  In Fresno, we lived directly below two sisters who made a habit of getting drunk, having horrific, screaming arguments and breaking things.  We finally called the cops on them.  Out in the desert, the couple directly across the street from us disappeared with their two kids right after we learned that he had been hauled off to prison, charged with molesting his daughter.  So you can see why I am more than a little bit gun shy at the prospect of just showing up with a smile and a hearty “Hi!  I’m Uncle Guacamole from across the fence!”

One would think that I would occasionally see the neighbors come and go as they make their way about their daily business.  But I haven’t.  I’ve never so much as seen them step outside to feed their dog.  None of the expected waving across the fence has occurred, much less the syrupy cup of sugar borrowing behavior popularized by Jane Wyatt and Donna Reed on the family sitcoms of my youth.

I suppose we could just walk around the block and introduce ourselves.  While this might be the most direct and reasonable approach, none of us seems inclined to this course of action.  As my nephews and nieces would say, “Awkward!”  Rumors are that the property was previously occupied by decidedly unsavory tenants, that drugs were involved, etc.  So I think it’s fair to say that we are not likely to show up on their doorstep with a freshly-baked pie.

We could always contact law enforcement and file a nuisance complaint under the noise abatement ordinance.  That is, if such a law even exists in this county.  I have no clue.

Looking online for suggestions regarding how to quiet a noisy dog, we found ideas ranging from spraying the dog with water (if I were a dog, I think that would just annoy the crap out of me) to blowing a whistle set at a pitch that only dogs can hear (I’d just bark more if my ears were killing me) to tossing an open jar of peanut butter over the fence.  I had to laugh at this last one.  The dog might think he’d died and gone to heaven, at least for a little while.  But without a single glass of milk to be found, well, I’d say this tactic would likely be an effective method of bark reduction.  Maybe we should try it.

Of course, the age-old question remains unanswered:  Creamy or chunky?

 

My Brother’s Keeper

shake hands

The little house across the street from us stands empty and forlorn.

Being so recently vacated, the red and white For Rent sign has not yet been staked into the lawn.  The window blinds need to be replaced and the roof shingles need some attention, but other than that, it’s a cute bit of a home complete with standard issue lawn and driveway.

Until last week, the occupants were a young couple with two children.  The boy looked to be a rambunctious two year old and the girl a first or second grader.  I often saw her with her backpack, heading off to school in the morning about the time I’d leave for work.  I’d see him tearing breakneck down the sidewalk on his trike or spinning and tumbling on the lawn.

The kids’ parents were poor.  I only stopped to talk to the man once; he told me they used to live here in town, then moved away.  Things didn’t work out, so now they were back to give it another shot in our hot, remote desert outpost.

He bussed tables at a chain restaurant at the other end of town.  She was a cashier at a local store.  I mentioned that I never saw a car in their driveway.  He told me that they didn’t have one at the moment.  They used to have a car, he related, but it broke down and his brother, who was supposed to fix it, sold it instead.

There was usually a shopping cart around, sometimes two, often overturned in the driveway or on the lawn.  We would see the woman pushing it down the street, sometimes with a kid in it.  She had to walk half a mile to work; he walked more than a mile each way.

They played music at high volume, usually rap.  If one of the kids left the front door open, the thumping bass would blare into the street, loud enough to be felt in our bedroom.

The couple fought a lot.  They would scream obscenities at each other, sometimes over the music, then start yelling the same ugly words at their little boy and girl.

I don’t remember the names of the man and the woman, although he told me once.  I’m not particularly good with names.  Or maybe I wasn’t paying attention.  Or maybe I just didn’t care.

Last weekend, a U-Haul van appeared across the street, its garish orange blaring out little known facts about a Canadian province, blocking our view of the little house.  Two men were carrying out belongings and loading the truck.  Then the vehicle left and the house stood empty.

On Friday, my wife had walked across the street with half a box of fruit-flavored ice pops for the kids.  The kids and the mom both thanked her profusely.  The kids were hanging around on the front porch while the woman talked with the interviewers who had come by to complete their investigation.

The father was nowhere to be found.  Our next door neighbors informed us that he had been arrested following allegations that he had molested the little girl.  He was in jail.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t been paying attention; looks like none of us did.  I was shocked and saddened to hear what had happened to this couple’s daughter.  And yet, I pray for this man.  I can’t remember his name, but God knows it very well.

I pray that the mother and her children will be able to pick up their pieces once again, bound together by a love that exceeds all adversity.  Wherever they’ve gone, I hope they have a better life than they did when they lived across the street from us and we rarely said so much as hello.

Whatever.  Nothing we could have said or done would have prevented the tragedy that occurred, right?  We couldn’t have possibly have made so much as a dent in their enormous problems.  Right?  It was better that we didn’t get involved.  A caring word from us couldn’t have made the slightest difference.  Uh, um, er, right?  Right?

Wrong. 

I recall the time my wife was away for a week.  Arriving home after work, I thought about taking the family across the street out for tacos so I could get to know them better and save the woman from the need to cook, for one night anyway.  But they weren’t outside and I felt uncomfortable about walking up to their house, ringing the bell and impertinently injecting myself into their lives.  They might think I was offering them charity and be insulted.  So I never did go over there.

“Don’t be a stranger,” I told the man on the single occasion that we stood in the street, between our respective rental houses, chatting.  “I won’t,” he replied.  But he never crossed the street and rang our doorbell either.  So strangers we remained.

The LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”  And he said “I do not know.  Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Genesis 4:9