Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Gladys Kravitz Lives

In 1990, I was a fresh graduate and a new bride, living in a basement apartment on Lakeshore Drive in Toronto.  It was a cozy little one bedroom with a fireplace, and in the summer we could sit on our little patio and see our sliver of Lake Ontario.  My husband and I thought we had the world by the tail. 

In the middle of one August night, windows open, we were shaken awake by a violent, drunken domestic argument in the driveway right next to our kitchen window. We lay in bed, hearts pounding, wondering in frantic whispers if we should call the police.  Getting out of bed and making a phone call--these were the old days where we didn't have mobile phones--would have certainly been heard by the very angry man outside. Luckily, the aggressor didn't do much beyond hurling obscenities at the object of his terrifying rage, and it was all over in a matter of minutes, though they felt like an eternity. To this day, I wish I'd had the guts to get out of bed and do something.  But I didn't, and never actually saw the woman who'd been targeted. 

By fall, I'd been through a layoff but was gainfully employed, thanks to the new basement tenant in the house next door, who'd taken me under her wing and toted my resume to her place of work.  My husband was running a cabinetmaking operation and I had a proper corporate job, and we were excited about our future.  Our apartment made a perfect nest for our new life together, and the tenants upstairs disturbed us rarely. 

The only fly in the ointment was Sunday evening.  The folks on the other side waited until nearly midnight to dump all of their weeks' recycling glass into the bin outside our bedroom window, jolting me out of our first sleep before our work week; the man beside me dozed blissfully unless I elbowed him. After a few months, I steeled my courage and went outside in my university sweatshirt.  I came face to face with a forty-something man who clearly lived a life of quiet desperation, save for his Sabbath ritual. I explained that I lived next door and that the noise was disturbing, and I wondered if he might handle his recycling earlier in the evening.

"Are you an owner or a renter?" At twenty-three, I looked eighteen, so it was clear but I explained anyway.  "Then I don't care what you think." Conversation over.  I wanted to stomp my little foot and explain that I was a nice person, and not a drag on his property value, but again my gumption deserted me.  We put up with it until we got a line on a cheaper place that needed gutting, where we lived in a state of partial renovation for two more years.   

Now I live on a street near a college campus, where renters far outnumber owners.  A couple of weeks ago the frat boys across the street decided to have a party.  When there were about forty cars on the street, I texted the owner of the house, who explained she'd sold the place a few weeks earlier, but promised to call the leasing agent who'd gotten her off the hook.  In the meantime, I stood in my apron and peered out the window of my newly-renovated kitchen while I roasted fennel and braised some chicken.  There was definitely something going on over there.

The cops showed up a couple of hours in--I'm still not sure who put the law on the party, but suspect I was the prime mover--and the fallout looked like a swarming antpile of blonde ponytails and khaki shorts.  I felt relief and thought about how I would want my sweet freshman daughter looked out for in the possibility of being run over in front of my house by beer-sodden drivers of $40,000 pickup trucks.

Then came the boat.  It's for bass fishing, I think, and it's been sitting on my street on and off for two weeks. It takes our road down to one lane, especially on busy mornings. The house where it originates, two doors down, is in a state of perpetual neglect, with various unknown tenants, presumably a number evicted, with loose dogs and a lawn that only goes down when it's burned to a crisp.  I saw a ticket on the truck in front of the house a couple of days ago and assume somebody called them in. 

At some point, perhaps I'll find my voice and find the owners and ask them why they are comfortable with their low-rent standards.  In the meantime, I'll enjoy my pretty house, have a happy life, and do my best to be a kindly old neighbor.  I never want to be the bitter guy, but I hope when the moment arises again, I'll do the right thing.

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