Sunday, November 2, 2014

"Why do 'slow down' and 'slow up' mean the same thing? Why is the third hand on the watch called the second hand?"  ~  George Carlin

Why would our next-door neighbor knock on our door on a cold winter night, and then come in, take his shoes off, lay down in front of the fireplace, and plant both his stocking feet on our wall?  That was the question... 

We'd never met him, this man who lived inside the half-circular house on the huge over-grown, tree-strewn, creeping-vine-covered plot of land on the other side of the fence! We'd never even seen a living soul come in or out of that house… unless you counted the naked psuedo-violinist who wandered down the street that dark night, torturing that poor violin with the bow.

He'd knocked on our door one night to borrow a battery, he said... not for a car, if he even had one, but for his flashlight. It was so cold outside that I asked him to come in, of course. When I said, "Warm yourself by the fire," I assumed he'd stand in front of it, and maybe turn around to warm his backside, too. But that, we'd just found out, wasn't his way.

Richard gave him two AA batteries, and he left… warm feet, and all.

It was about a month or two later in early spring when he knocked on our door again and said, "I've got to go on a trip. Would you feed my cat for me while I'm gone?" and threw a set of keys over to me. As soon as I said, "Yes," he left for parts unknown. 

The next day, when Richard got home from work, I begged him to go with me to the house next-door while I fed the cat. But he said, "What are you afraid of, Terry? It doesn't take two people to feed one cat!"

What was I afraid of? What was I afraid of? Hmmm… that was the question… What did I expect to find, anyway? How silly of me to be afraid to go into a house to feed a cat. I liked cats… I LOVED cats… even though I was deathly allergic to them…  and cats liked me. Of course, when my asthma kicked up and I'd be sitting straight up in bed trying to breath and sleep all night, every night, for the next month, it might be a nuisance. But what's a stiff neck and a sore back, while gasping for air, when you're teaching 7 classes of high school kids to draw everyday, all day!

It was a high round-topped wooden door that I approached with key in hand. That door looked like a door in one of the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales. I went into the house, and the cat meowed and rubbed my leg, and then she rushed me into the kitchen for some din-din.

I won't describe the kitchen because it might be dinner time for some of you readers. Suffice it to say, the cat's bowl was the cleanest plate in the house, and it hadn't ever been washed except by the cat's tongue. 

Aw, c'mon, Terry, dish the dirt!!! NO! On that first afternoon in our neighbor's house, I was supremely ethical. I would NOT explore the cave… I mean the house. It was none of my business! After all, I was a high school teacher! I must always live according to the highest ethical standards. That's what I preached to my students, and I must live by those standards, even if I, alone, of all the people in these sacred United States……  Aw, SHUT UP, Terry! What did you do on the second day? 

The next day was a whole different story. I wasn't being nosy, though. It was the mysterious dotted line that wandered its way up the enormous two-and-a-half-story wall, from the desk below up to the strange wrought-iron stairway that lead to another round-topped door halfway up the middle of that 2-1/2-story wall. The dotted line was at least 30 winding feet long, going sideways and upwards. What was it? Why was it dotted? Had someone graffittied those dots that went nowhere? Why would they do that in their own house? And what was a room doing halfway up a 2 1/2 story wall with only a wrought-iron stairway to reach it? 

Well, Terry! What was up in that room? 

How should I know??? Do you think I would hazard a 2 1/2 story wrought-iron stairway that was only anchored on one side of the wall? OK, I DID try it, but when I put my foot on the first step, the entire stairway swayed and creaked, and I swear one of the bolts fell out of its hole-in-the-wall and clattered to the floor. 'Nuff said!

Once, this house had been a showplace! That huge half-round front room must have been a small concert hall. It still held a gorgeous grand piano that was decaying under carpets of dust. I tapped one of the keys, and it didn't sing, it screetched. The rest of the room was a rectangle that could have effortlessly seated 24 refined music afficionados. The wood that encased that part of the main hall was teak and cherry wood, too. The room looked just like Gloria Swanson's house in "Sunset Boulevard." But we were in Happy Hollow in Omaha, Nebraska.

And, yes, there was another staircase, an elegant circling stairway, and I did walk up those stairs. Were you chasing the cat, Terry? Is that why you went upstairs? What do you think? That cat never left the kitchen except to greet me at the front door about 4:00 PM every day and lead me to the cat food cupboard door!

Up those stairs were bedrooms, and about the 4th day of me "helping my neighbor," I went up there to look. There was a cavernous master bedroom and others, too, I guess. I would have looked at more, but it was the second room whose door I opened that stopped all my snooping. It was such a small room with a bed that had been slept in the night before… you could tell. There were clothes spattered across that bed and over the floor… teen-aged boy's clothes. That must have been the naked violinist's bedroom. 

That room was private... none of my business… NONE! And finally, I realized… How dare I! That house was none of my business… NONE AT ALL! Who was really the creepy neighbor… who, indeed! At least the cat would never rat me out.


  1. Terry! It just never fails....I read your blg entries and, when I get to the end, I always want more of the story you are telling! This was a real mental picture story.....I could imagine myself taking all the steps with you!

  2. You couldn't have said a nicer thing, Jan… especially because YOU are a writer, too. Thanks so much. What you said means a lot to me.

  3. P.S. Later that semi-circular house was bought by an architect and his wife. I'm sure he "architected" it into a lovely domicile, but he never invited us or our next-door neighbors in to see how it had changed… :\