Saturday, October 11, 2014

"There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear."         ~  Buffalo Springfield

It was summer…  delicious summer… I could sleep in until 7AM, even 8, if I felt like it! School was out, and we were all moved into our first house. When people wanted to sell their house in Happy Hollow where we'd just moved, they didn't need to advertise it. Not at all. That neighborhood was so desirable that word of mouth would sell the house before a "For Sale" sign could be hammered into the front lawn. 

And now we lived there on 58th Street! It was an 80-year-old 2-story all-brick Tudor home, small but uniquely one-of-kind, as every house in Happy Hollow was. The driveway was long and curled down around the house to the garage that was half underground and half above ground. Figure that one out for yourself! On the first floor there was a tiny master bedroom, a large bathroom with an enormous claw-footed bathtub, a kitchen with stairs leading down to the basement, and a dining room with a paned glass door into the kitchen and another one into the living room. Both had the old glass door knobs.  I loved those door knobs in each and every room. And oh, that living room… 

When you entered our house, you were in an entry room surrounded by authentic diamond-paned windows. From there you walked into the living room. The shape of that living room had been copied from the floor plans of a shrunken Medieval catherdral. The "apse" was our brick fireplace. The "transcept" was a door to the patio that fronted our house. If you stood with your back to the fireplace and looked at the 2-story wall at the other end, you'd see a "leper window," just like all Medieval cathedrals had. Of course, in this "leper window," you wouldn't see a swathed leperous face staring down at the nave. Instead, the only thing you'd ever see were the feet of anyone who walked across the 2nd story hallway. That entire tiny living room was surrounded by windows, and they looked out on the biggest, best pine tree I've ever had. I should have named him, but I was young and new at life, and I never even thought to do it.

Now, besides the "leper window," the upstairs had a bedroom and a playroom with a bathroom inbetween them. That whole upstairs was only ever used when family came to visit. Today, the playroom would be my "studio." But this was then

Richard would leave the house for work every morning (5 1/2 days a week, mind you) in one of his perfectly tailored 3-piece suits, briefcase in hand, to catch the bus to work. That was the cue for our big Old English Sheepdog, Clancy, to give me the "It's time for my walk, Terry" look, and off we'd go.

Our house was better than any dream I'd ever had when I was a young girl. Now, the property next-door to us was a mass of wild trees, straggly bushes, and creeping ivies covering every bit of ground so that you couldn't really tell the front from the back. The large, curvy, white 1930's house looked like something that Norma Desmond would have lived in… you know… that old movie "Sunset Boulevard" with William Holden. I never saw a soul there, but it was built on a large, large half-circle lot. I wasn't thoughtful enough to name my pine tree, but I sure did have interesting ideas about who it was that owned that runned-down palacial property…

As soon as my head hits the pillow, I'm asleep… never had a problem with that in my life. But one night in our cozy little house as I lay dreaming, some discordant "music" started in my head… It was a violin, scratching… It wasn't music, at all. It was screetching, sawing, a seething noise, and I was awake, frozen and scared, but awake.

I tried to wake Richard, but he told me to go back to sleep, so I didn't.

I crept out of bed to the window, afraid to pull up the shade. What might be there so close to that window of ours? You know… curiosity, the cat… you know… I finally knelt on the floor, raised the shade an inch or two, and there he was, strolling along the sidewalk in front of our house with a violin under his chin and no clothes on… none at all… skin… bare, bare skin and a huge mop of black curly hair. That was it... the back of him, the entire back of him.  That's  what I saw as he strolled down the street past the other next-door neighbors' house. 

No lights went on over there, and none snapped on in our house, either. It was 3 o'clock in the morning, and the nude, wandering, would-be-violinist ambled past our window and kept going on to screetch to others.

I went back to bed, frozen, waiting for the stroller to wander back past our house to that weedy, palacial mystery of his own. And he did that very thing.

And no, Richard never woke up. And Clancy, all 88 pounds of Old English Sheepdog, never woke up, either. I was left alone to shiver all night at what we'd moved in next-door to.

On the other side of our little brick house there was another mystery, but it was a silent one. Every morning I'd wake up and fix breakfast. Every morning Richard would get up, eat breakfast, dress himself immaculately, grab his briefcase, and leave for work. Every morning Clancy would give me his most searching Old Engish Sheepdog look and off we'd go so he could hunker down and poop on top of the carefully clipped hedge of an unknown homeowner two blocks down the street. Clancy loved his stool! 

It wasn't until nearly noon, though, that the man who lived next-door on the OTHER side of us would emerge from his front door and jump into one of his many cars. He looked like Hollywood! No 3-piece suit. No briefcase. No hurrying. He'd just stroll out of his front door, rev up whatever car he'd decided to drive that day, and squeal off down the street wearing a relaxed pair of jeans and a colorful shirt. Who was this unmasked man, anyway? At least he didn't carry a violin with him...

"Richard! I think that guy next-door is a criminal!"

"A criminal, Terry? Why would you think that?"

"He never leaves his house before noon (I was exaggerating just a bit here), and he has soooo many cars! No regular guy could ever own that many classic cars. I think he's a con man or something… no, not a con man… He's a Mafia guy! That's it!"

"A Mafia guy, Terry! A MAFIA GUY??? Where do you think we live, in New York City? Get a grip! See you tonight after work."

"But everyone else on this block goes to work at a normal time, except HIM! There's something bad about that…" I whispered.

Time passed and the Mafioso next-door kept up his leisurely pace, and kept driving his band of cars at their revved-up 'get-away" pace. Silly Richard… he'd never lived Back East like I had, near NYC, near the "rackets." Richard was a corporate attorney, not a DISTRICT attorney!

And then one day I met the lady who lived with the Mafioso. She was nice, especially for a gangster's moll. Of course, I'd never knowingly met a "moll" before, but she sure didn't act like the "molls" I'd seen in the gangster movies. She had the most beautiful hair that she would wash and then just let dry into glorious black curls that surrounded her pretty face like an angel's hair would do.

I really liked Sheila, and we got to be friendly. In fact, we'd sit on her front porch that whole summer and talk about everything under the sun. It was a long time before I noticed the wedding ring on her left hand, though. Now the dilemma… If they were married, what do you call a gangster's WIFE? I guessed you'd call her his... w i f e…

It must have been a year or so later, by the time that we all became inseparable friends, that the truth came out. Sheila and Walt had been watching Richard leave our house every morning, nattily dressed with briefcase in hand. Over the weeks they had decided that their new neighbor MUST be a "hit-man" for the Mafia because they just knew that briefcase he carried every day had to be hiding a gun! That suit and his clean-cut image was the perfect disguise for a "hit-man!"

And what about the Mafia gangster Walt? He had is own successful advertising agency, and he could go to work whenever he wanted, dressed however he wanted, because his business was all his own. And he didn't need a gun to do it! Once he did dress up in a bear costume for a TV ad, though. His clients LOVED that ad! So did Richard and I!

Terry, get back to what you do best… Decide on a good name for that gorgeous pine tree.  Your detective skills are sorely lacking, my dear!

Oh, and by the way, Sheila reminded me, again, yesterday that she and Walt never heard the screetching of the naked wandering violinist from next-door on that frightening night… But he was there… really… he WAS!  Really, truly...


  1. Interesting story! But I want to hear the scoop about the naked neighbor with the violin!

  2. Oh, that's funny! I didn't know that's how you met Sheila and Walt! Our imaginations are fertile ground!

  3. I forgot to add that , Cindy. It's not a happy ending, but it is very interesting… After I get home next Sunday from Santa Clara, and after I rest up, I might write the ending to that whole business. It's not got a happy ending, though… but parts of it are pretty funny!