Lorraine DiSabato is the host for this week’s WordPress writing challenge and her challenge was to blog your block. Take a walk around the neighborhood and try to see it with new eyes. This sounds interesting and, since I need to walk off my pasta anyway, I decide to try and meet that challenge.
I start off, determined to take a street I’ve never been on before. The first thing I notice is the sound of a lawn mower. I didn’t hear it inside the house and I am impressed: the energy saving windows we installed years ago are sound muffling as well. The lawn mower belongs to the man living where the street starts to curve up the hill. I don’t know his name. There used to be a college age girl living in that house: she drove a yellow bug that perfectly matched her blonde hair. I haven’t seen her or the bug in I don’t know how long. Is this the same family? Have they moved on and now this house belongs to someone else? I don’t know and I’m reminded of something I heard on the news recently: people don’t talk to each other any more. I should know who my neighbors are, I think.
I do know the lady who lives directly across from my house. She loves orange. She’s an older woman, smokes like a chimney, and has a hysterical sense of humor. A couple of years ago, I re-painted my bedroom. My lavender, white, and pale green color choices meant I needed to sand and paint my bedroom furniture. The Orange Lady came over to see what I was doing and stayed to share how much fun she’d had re-doing her room; all in orange and white. The Orange Lady fascinates me. She drives an orange mustang. I don’t know why but a muscle car is the last think I expected her to drive. It’s a lesson in looking for all the different layers in people, and not making judgments based on surface impressions. The Orange Lady isn’t sitting in her chair on the porch so I move on without calling hello.
My determination to take a street less traveled is challenged when my eye is caught by a “Too Late!” topper to the For Sale sign in the yard of the house on the corner. I drive passed this house every morning but I’ve never really looked at it so I stop. It’s a beautiful house. Gabled windows are surrounded by maroon trim. The front of the house has been faced in gray rock which, oddly, the creamy brown siding matches. The effect is almost Victorian and I find myself wishing I dared press my nose to the window. I don’t dare and, besides, I’d be disappointed to see carpet and popcorn ceilings instead of burnished beams and hardwood floors. Maybe I can make friends with the new neighbors and have a chance to tour the inside. I move on.
The house cater-corner to the purchased one is for sale also. It’s much larger but lacks character. Still, the gray siding and white trim looks new and the yard is well-maintained. It will go fast. Houses don’t stay on the market long in my neighborhood. I think it’s because the neighborhood is located walking distance to both an elementary and middle school and, while it’s between two busy streets, the neighborhood itself is relatively quiet. I don’t know this for a fact: I’ve always assumed it and never asked anyone if my assumption is accurate.
There’s another house for sale further up the hill and the first thing I see is; there aren’t any curtains in the front window. I resist the urge to walk up the drive way and peer in the window but then I see a Notice taped in the window. A Notice wouldn’t be posted if thePoster didn’t want it read, right? Spine tingling, I indulge my curiosity and peer into the window. The house is well maintained but all I see is white carpet and white walls. I suppose that’s a good choice for selling a house but it’s not very interesting. I read the Notice because, after all, that’s what I’m there for. The house has been winterized and I wonder what all that entails. I did temp work for a commercial HVAC company so I can guess. I head down the driveway pleased at my boldness. Peering into the windows of an empty house is something my mother would do while I stand on the sidewalk and pray no one sees. Now, I am pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone. Blog Challenge Met! Still, I wonder if anyone has noticed the 5 foot 9 inch redhead casing the joint. I admit; I may increase my pace a bit as I leave that house behind.
The house next door catches my attention. I have been admiring beautifully landscaped lawns, breathing the scents of flowers I can’t name (which is prompting me to buy a botanical reference when I next have a Barnes & Noble coupon), and wondering how my neighbors keep their grass looking so lush and green. We have tried everything: aerating, grass seed, you name it. The grass will grow in patches or not at all. This is the year we throw in the towel and xeriscape. I’m partial to cactus but I don’t think my family is going for it. We have managed to coax along a honey locust. It sprouted lovely gold leaves this spring but our lawn has a long way to go before it rivals some I’m seeing. But, back to the house I’m standing in front of. This house has no landscaping at all. Grass stops at a white walkway and I am staring at two stone lions flanking a bay window. They stare back at me, mouths agape, and each has one paw raised. The lions are unblemished white which I find interesting. It’s like the pigeons in our neighborhood haven’t dared to do their business on them. And rightfully so. The house itself is bright blue with white trim. The whole effect is stark and yet the lions feel like whimsical touch: they’re too small to be anything else despite their growling mien. I glance up and see an arched window done in blue and purple stained glass. Another whimsical touch. All in all, I like the effect and I’m curious about the house’s inhabitants. Why the lions?
I see lions again on the next block but these sit ramrod straight, both paws firmly on the ground as they flank the steps to the porch, and I wonder if they were chosen for their pigeon-proof coloring. I am struck with an urge to have my own pair of lions although, now that I think of it, gargoyles or dragons would be better.
I don’t remember if I’ve ever walked down this street before. I’m not usually one for walking in my neighborhood. I have a pass to the reservoir not five minutes from my house where I can walk on an unpaved trail, listen to the call of the birds, the wind in the trees, and the sound of the water. I can hear the wind in the trees as I walk and I find I like that about my neighborhood. It’s older, so the houses are unique rather than being cookie-cutter images of each other, and the trees are established. There are all sorts of trees. One hangs branches laden with deep red-purple leaves over the sidewalk. I’m so tall I have to be careful not to impale myself and I resist an urge to pluck a spray of leaves from the branches. I’m here to observe, not vandalize my neighbor’s tree.
I’m used to seeing privacy fences and one neighbor doesn’t have one. The sudden open space is startling and I feel a little like a voyeur as I stare at the swing set in the back yard. My neighborhood is rabbit friendly: I’ve been seeing them regularly on this walk and there are five of them in this yard. Only one sees me and flattens himself-or herself-into the grass. I find myself wishing I might see a fox. Not that I wish the rabbits any harm but it would be nice to see something besides rabbits and crows on my walk.
I have seen people, usually in pairs. None of them act like they notice me and I don’t call greetings to anyone. It feels strange to walk passed another human being without acknowledging his presence. When I’m at the reservoir, we walkers and runners always greet each other. Is it because these are our homes? Safe spaces, and we don’t want to let a stranger in? I don’t know. But, while I don’t speak to anyone I encounter, I wonder about them. There’s a man standing in his garage. I estimate his age to be between 70 and 75. He doesn’t turn as I walk by. I don’t see any lights in any windows. Does he live alone? Is he a widower? If so, does he have neighbors that check on him? Not that his straight figure looks like it needs checking on. His posture makes me check mine. I square my shoulders and continue down the hill.
I’m amazed at how many garage doors are thrown open and there aren’t any people to be seen. I hear about robberies all the time on the news but no one in my neighborhood seems concerned. Maybe they all know each other and have no need for concern. I see a sign for a community sale posted on the mail boxes and I am delighted. It looks like they do know each other. I’ll have to check it out. Hopefully someone will be selling books.
I pass a house with a pick-up and SUV parked next to each other in the driveway. They are both taupe and match each other and the house perfectly. I wonder if paint chips were taken to the dealership in order to choose matching cars and chastise myself for being snarky. I then notice an electric blue motorcycle and bright orange boat in the garage and remind myself not to make snap judgments. See, I think, they like color after all.
I am a little surprised at the wealth I see around me. These houses are massive compared to our ranch style and I have yet to see a car more than ten years old. A couple drives passed me in a silver Audi that probably costs more than I make in a year. The manicured lawns and immaculate landscaping are eye-catching but something is missing. The traffic noise is no longer in the background on this street: it’s loud enough that I can distinguish engines as they pass. One particularly loud vehicle passes and my mind fills with the picture of a moving van. Despite the beauty, the yard work, and the guardian lions, I wouldn’t want to live on this street. It isn’t peaceful and I’m ready to go home. I pass a house that seems to act as a line of demarcation between this street and mine: a shirtless boy in camouflage pants stares at me as I walk by. The entire lower half of his face is covered with a foam mask and, in another second, I smell why. The thick fumes of spray paint sting my sinuses and lay heavy in the back of my throat. I cough a little but I want to laugh as well. Less than ten steps and I feel like I’m in another world.
There are no immaculate lawns or expensive cars here. The Orange Lady’s garage door needs scraped and painted. I’ll have to offer to do that for her this summer if her son doesn’t get to it. He probably will. A snowy day has yet to pass before he and his wife show up to shovel the driveway and front walk. There is a picture propped in her window. I didn’t see that before. I don’t know what it’s of: all I see is the back and it has molded. It needs to be discarded for both sanitary and aesthetic reasons but it feels familiar in a way all that careful perfection did not. I even smile at the car collection that belongs to the neighbor living next door to the Orange Lady. He owns at least twelve cars and none of them qualify for the epithet “collectible”. No doubt I’ll be annoyed at the sheer number of cars again, especially when visitors can’t find a place to park, but in this moment they belong too. I smile at the kids standing in front of the camper propped on bricks on front of the house two doors up. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that camper move and I’m very careful when I drive by it: there’s a small child belonging to that family who has a tendency to run out from behind that camper like cars aren’t heavy.
I wonder if all this feels familiar because these are the people whose names I know. The man with the cars lost both a wife and a son: he’s lonely and has expressed a willingness to eat a vegetarian meal if someone would cook it for him. We’re working on the front room. Once it’s done I’ll invite him for dinner. However, I can bake for him. He just had to put his dog down. I have plans this weekend to make him a box of cookies. The man living next to us also recently lost his wife. She struggled for years with a bi-polar disorder. She could be annoying when her medication wasn’t working: she’d sing a cat commercial jingle at the top of her lungs, her voice echoing around the neighborhood, until the rest of us were crazy. And yet, I’ve never met someone who could grow lilacs and cherry blossoms like she could. She enjoyed beautiful things so, again, there was so much more to her than was visible on the surface. I wasn’t able to attend her funeral, but my parents went and they told me how the rest of the neighborhood was there. We all watch and make sure her husband is okay.
I greet our spindly honey locust and start up the driveway to my front door. This has been an interesting experience. It may be one I’ll have to repeat. Maybe it’s a lack of familiarity that makes me uncomfortable two streets over. Maybe I should substitute some of my reservoir walks with neighborhood walks. Maybe I would get to learn people’s names, maybe I would call hello and smile. Maybe I need another walk, even slower this time, so I can see what’s under the surface of all that fierce perfection. Maybe I need to take another look and see the layers.