Tag Archives: neighbors

Dirty Laundry

It’s been one of those weeks where work suddenly went from 100 to 1,000 and none of us could figure out if we were just recovering more slowly than usual from the post-Thanksgiving food coma or if work really had picked up exponentially. I found myself constantly chanting calming mantras more in the style of George’s “Serenity now!” in Seinfeld than like a person attempting to access her higher self. My Higher Self does seem to go off to a mountaintop and leave me when the going gets tough. Witch. And even though Higher Self had abandoned me, I was still trying to be good and not manage stress with cheese, chocolate, and wine, my weapons of choice. As an alternative, after work I was looking forward to seeing a friend who makes me laugh–the perfect antidote to work stress, right?

Then he had to cancel. Uh oh. My wafer thin determination to do the right thing melted faster than a communion host in a guilty Catholic’s mouth.

Right. On to the grocery and liquor stores.

I secured them without mishap and headed home not feeling nearly as guilty as I should have, but the universe wasn’t quite done with me yet. As I pulled into my driveway, my headlights illuminated a carpet runner hanging from my upstairs neighbor’s balcony, which, by the way, had been greeting me all week. This time there were also three additional piles of throw rugs clustered around my front door.

Serenity now!

You see, the laundry situation started this summer. Laundry was hung out on the balcony nearly every day, all summer long. Just on the railings, mind you, not on a clothes line or racks which would actually keep them, you know, near your house. So all summer long I pulled into my driveway to see various towels, socks, jeans, men’s underwear (yes, lucky me) on the ground huddled around my door as if they were trying to escape the neighbors. I can’t say I blame them. I came face-to-face with one of the glassy-eyed residents of Laundry Fetish Central and realized I wasn’t dealing with your garden variety annoying neighbor. She came out on the stoop, looked around blankly, and then stared at me as I retrieved my mail. She didn’t speak.

“Yes?” I asked.

“Oh. I thought you were the visiting nurse,” she answered slowly, even though there were no cars anywhere in sight on the street. No cars except for my car. In the driveway. Where I park it. Every day.

Then as I was walking to my door with mail in hand, she swiveled her head slowly to the mailboxes. “Oh, did the mail come?” So many ways to answer that, but I decided walking away was best. Not that she even noticed.

All summer I was tempted to leave the laundry where it fell, but they seemed to forget it was out there, and, anyway,was the one who would look like white trash with laundry peppering my walkway. So sometimes I threw it back up on their deck, and sometimes I hung it on the railing to their front door. Neither way stemmed the laundry tide.

I figured I just needed to hang on until the weather got cold, but they just seemed to shift from clothes to rugs. The long one in the picture above has been there all week and has been rained on twice. As much as I try to imagine it is a royal banner to welcome me home to my castle after a day out riding on a beautiful steed (serenity now!), I can’t quite get past the big stain and the 80s colors. My friends and I have been trying to figure out what’s really going on. Is this really a laundry fetish or something else? Do they “take in laundry” like a depression-era housewife trying to make ends meet? Is that even a thing anymore, “taking in laundry”? This summer I did see one guy in front of the house taking laundry from the house and then folding it in his car. Is it a drug-induced obsession or are drugs so cheap you can use them to pay for laundry? Is it a literal laundering scheme, like they distribute drugs in pockets of cleaned and folded pants and shirts? Dang, I should have checked those pockets this summer.

Because we watch too much TV, we were convinced we were on to some novel trend of people on drugs doing laundry for nefarious purposes, so I Googled “drugs and laundry.” But as you’d expect, the references were primarily more of the pedestrian metaphor variety. What a disappointment. Still we think there’s more to this than a laundry fetish. I mean, who does that much laundry without a dryer?

Or it could be just the universe messing with me and poking me like the Annoying Orange–Hey! How about some work stress? Hey! How about a friend canceling? Hey! How about some more freakish laundry? Higher Self finally showed up and joined me in the car, and as I stared at new piles around my door, I realized the only thing I could do was laugh–heartily at myself.

As stressful as my week at work was, it was because the actual work seemed to pile up. It was not like that job I had a number of years ago when I worked for a woman we referred to as the dementor. I will see my friend again at some point and laugh, and as weird as Laundry Fetish Central is, I’ve had worse neighbors.

Plus, it’s bound to snow soon, and then the rugs will get covered up like a real laundering scheme. Now that’s some serenity.


Dead Squirrels and Killer Bees

I recently posted this picture on Facebook, shortly after it appeared in my front yard. I’m not against such things—after all I planted silk tulips in the snow banks this winter—a classy broad, I am not. And my neighbor across the street has a similar decoration that is just a straight-on pinwheel. That’s simple and a classic, so I’m cool with it. But this thing in my front yard…presumably my upstairs neighbor put it there, but it looks to me like a drunken demented garden gnome has come to life to build an army of clown bicycle-riding killer bees, and this one is the prototype. What? It could happen. Although I also can’t deny the plausibility of another idea my friend posted–that it was an alien monitoring device. I’ve watched enough X-Files to know that is exactly the way aliens would try to hide in plain sight. You’ve been warned, and you’re welcome.

But it was another comment a friend made that brought rushing back a memory that I clearly have put out of my mind. He wrote, “Whatever it is, it’s better than the ‘taxidermied’ squirrel.”

Oh, god, that squirrel. Stuffed in a not-professional, but home-made kind of way. Nailed to the tree branches. Be glad this was before cell phone cameras.

About 15 years ago my then husband and I bought a condo in Revere. It was four blocks from the ocean, was affordable, and featured a mix of contractors, ice cream truck owners, recent immigrants, old-school Italians, and good old fashioned white trash. OK, so maybe the white trash label is a little harsh. With my own lack of housekeeping skills and love of Cheez Whiz and crock pots, I could be accused of it in certain circles. There were some neat, winterized seaside cottages in the neighborhood, but my condo seemed to be surrounded more by tumbledown dwellings with swayback rooflines. The one next door, which housed the people responsible for the stuffed tree squirrel, produced a scent of ode to feline piss, detectable from the street.

Actually now that I think about it, most of my friends reference that squirrel at least once a year or so, and to them I send out a group apology—clearly they can’t forget about this thing, and it seems maybe to even have scarred them some. I’m not sure why I can forget it— maybe I was still trying to cope with the loss of my gentrified, cool neighborhood in Somerville where we could no longer afford the rent. I was already far away from writer-infested coffee shops and over-priced bistros, so a taxidermied squirrel just seemed like one more thing to endure. The squirrel was also quiet and didn’t impede my daily activities, so I could cross it off my list of “Neighborhood Things to Be Concerned About.” It was kind of a long list, but here a few highlights:

Plant killers. My downstairs condo neighbors were a couple in their 50s, working class, and chronically underemployed. At first I felt sorry for them because I assumed their situation was due to age discrimination. The constant stream of perfectly healthy plants that showed up on a weekly basis in the trash cans, however, should have tipped me off that there might be other forces in play. More on that later. The woman worked at a Home Depot, so when the plants first started showing up, I thought maybe she got the extras from work, and couldn’t say no because they were free, and then realized she didn’t have the room or the right sunlight, or something. See, this is the occupational hazard of being a writer—I can make up shit about just about anything, and that is not necessarily good. Any normal person would have said, “Why is she throwing away perfectly healthy looking plants? What’s wrong with this person?” OK, maybe not the first time, but after a few times and establishing there was a regular plant massacre, most normal people would have decided there was something amiss.

Something amiss. So yes, the plants were just the tip of the iceberg with those two. Being chronically underemployed also meant they were chronically late with their condo fees, at one point for more than a year. Even though she worked at a bank as a teller before taking early retirement and becoming a plant killer, my neighbor didn’t want to “be responsible” for being the condo trustee. Like leaving money and numbers to the word girl here is a better idea. They had the smallest condo and paid the smallest fee, but they were the first ones to complain about any increase, even though we all paid more, some of us twice as much. I’ll give them credit, though; they had sad stories about why they couldn’t pay, but they never tried to hide their incompetence from me. I was the one who kept thinking, they couldn’t possibly be this fill-in-the-blank—incompetent, mean (to plants), irresponsible, bad with money, etc. It took me 10 years, but I finally came to realize, despite my best efforts to think it wasn’t possible, that they were truly stupid. I don’t use that word lightly—people say that word all the time, when they really mean lazy, or did not make the most of an education, or “you’re not acting the way I want you to act.” For 10 years I pulled out my hair trying to figure out how to get through to them and kept changing my approach. Surely it must be me; people have different communication styles and I just hadn’t found the right one. But since I went through every possible way to say, “condo owners must pay their condo fee,” I finally had to admit defeat and declare them stupid. And to this day, they are the only truly stupid people I have ever met.

Welfare mother. You think this is just a republican fabrication? I sure did. As a lefty liberal who worked in a social service agency, I saw firsthand how poverty creates obstacles to self-improvement. We offered free English classes for who didn’t speak it, but the “free part” didn’t help them with an unpredictable multi-job schedule, having to depend on unreliable busses that take hours to get anywhere, and having kids who are sick a lot, because being poor is very bad for your health. But I’m sorry to report welfare mothers are a real thing, and one moved in next door to us. She had five kids, but only one small one lived with her. The rest were farmed out to foster homes. She had babies with different men as a source of income. Not really a career choice I had considered, and I couldn’t say it was working for her. She spent a lot of time getting into screaming fights with the neighbor across the street. The only good news is that these people are naturally transient, so she didn’t stay too long.

Yelling in the streets. All I will say about this is that before I moved to this neighborhood where people had yelling fights in the street with each other or sometimes simply stood outside to have loud arguments on their cell phones, I would have given you a long detailed discussion about why keeping dysfunction behind closed doors is detrimental to people’s mental health. There’s a reason why the majority of fiction, plays, and movies feature the dysfunction that middle and upper class people hide behind their well-groomed, picturesque closed doors. That’s good drama. Turns out the real thing in your streets is not so good. Got problems? Take a note from people with money and keep it in your house, please.

A sign on the telephone pole saying: “You park in my space, I breaka you face.” No explanation needed.

That taxidermied squirrel really didn’t seem so bad.

Top Ways to Stay Warm without Heat

It’s been exactly 11 days since I’ve had heat due to, to borrow the title from the Lemony Snicket book, A Series of Unfortunate Events. I never did get past the first few chapters of that book because the unfortunate events seemed pretty awfully unfortunate and they happened to kids, my Kryptonite. So I had to admit I’m a big softie weenie and stop reading. I seem to be handling the no heat thing better. For one thing, the temperature in my apartment hasn’t gone below 60, despite lows of 10 degrees off and on during the week. And really, any hard-core New Englander would laugh at me and consider 60 degrees a splurge. In fact, one friend already has laughed at me, and my Mainer brother and sister-in-law will too as soon as they read this. Also, we still have hot water and an electric stove, so from a Yankee standpoint, we’re pretty much living in the lap of luxury.

I have been managing with a space heater that will most likely double my electric bill and extra blankets on the beds and the couch, plus that old adage from every mother on the planet. “I’m cold, put on another sweater!” But I’m really just talking to myself because my son has yet to even put on a long-sleeve shirt, curse his teenage metabolism! The only natural heat source I have is my 2:30 am perimenopausal sweats. Alas, the resulting dampness and chill negates any heat benefit.

The other way we’ve been staying warm is to just go somewhere with heat. That actually works quite well. Also Lucas has found that playing a really intense online game with his friends keeps him warm. I’ve been baking cookies more than usual. Warming a kettle on the biggest burner also seems to help. In fact using all the electric appliances—the dishwasher, the dryer, and the oven—all seem to add a few critical extra degrees. As a result, my house has never been in such good order.

This is all good, but Saturday morning I found a really excellent, free way to stay warm. Because we’ve been wearing layers of clothes, laundry had reached critical. If we’d been on the Enterprise, your captain of choice would have ordered “Red alert!” I put the first batch in, and a short time later I couldn’t hear anything. I should have been hearing happy swishing sounds. I did not hear happy swishing sounds. Instead, an error code blinked silently at me. I grabbed the manual, and when I saw what it was, I swore. Drain hose problem. I’d just had one a few weeks earlier; the sink that the hose drains into got clogged. The super fun part is that the sink is in a utility room that is part of my upstairs neighbor’s apartment, and I don’t have access to it. I had to wait until he got home, and while I cleaned out the sink, I had listen to the same story about his life he’s been telling me since he moved in nearly a year ago. Awesome. However, I knew the blinking error message was not because of the sink. So what else?

I’m not known for my handyman skills, but I’m an English major so I can at least start to imagine what might be wrong. I felt along the hose which starts from my washer and goes about a foot then disappears tantalizingly into a hole in the wall that leads to the forbidden utility room. There was cold air coming from that hole, and when I followed the plastic kinked hose it made a crunching sound, like a  “I’m frozen with a bit of water” crunch. Hmmm. I remembered back to when I was a new, clueless homeowner how much I paid a plumber to run a hairdryer on a frozen pipe for a couple of hours, and I grabbed my hairdryer and went to work. My side of the hose got warmer and more flexible, but the error code persisted. Damn, I was going to have to see if I could get into the utility room. Naturally my neighbor wasn’t home.

I put on my heavy winter coat over my pajamas, pulled on my boots and walked around to the back of the house to the utility room. The good news: it was open! The bad news: it was wide open! And letting in the 20 degree wind into the room. I felt the hose—even more cold and icy crinkly. For the next 20 minutes or so I traipsed back and forth, taking boots off in the house to walk to the back of my apartment to check the error message, boots back on and back around the house. There were at least three round trips involving bringing the hairdryer to the utility room: I got frustrated when the dryer wouldn’t turn on and stood in the cold trying to think of a heat source that didn’t involve electricity or fire. You can’t prove that I tried to use the little flame from the candle lighter before realizing it would be spring before it worked or that I would set the hose on fire. I then trekked back to my apartment bathroom only to realize that the little dastardly blue reset button had been popped up. Being an English major only gets you so far in the handyman world. Once the hose was thawed, there were a couple of more trips to try to reset the washer, until I finally heard the gratifying swish of water into the sink. Cancel red alert.

By then I was sweating and the apartment felt quite comfortable. I felt like a boss for being able to figure it out myself, and the flush of pride easily contributed to an extra degree or two to the room temperature.

So there you have it. A foolproof way to get warm when your heat is off. If it doesn’t get fixed soon, I can only hope for another appliance malfunction.

Photo credit: http://copypasterepost.com/tag/frozen/