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Tag Archives: neighbors

found poem: the fence

when the neighbor leaves home…

leafblowerWe went for a walk yesterday, in the early evening. A snazzy painted gardening-company truck was parked in front of a house up the block and two men were cleaning up after themselves with leaf blowers, though there were almost no leaves to be seen.

We grumbled to each other about the noise, the grass and pollen blown around.

One of the men blew grass clippings and bits of dirt from the sidewalk into the street, then moved off the curb to blow the pile out from under a car. He continued, the leaf blower herding everything away from the customer’s house, pushing along a billowing, grassy dust-cloud.

He turned, then, angling the mess up the next-door neighbor’s driveway, and dispersed it, dust, into the neighbor’s empty carport.

leafblower photo


eucalyptus seedpodsThere was one house on our block that was perpetually broken. Something had probably been done wrong in the construction, but the house looked normal and so one family after another moved in and undertook major repairs until they couldn’t stand it any longer and moved out.

The house, at one point, began to slip down the hill, foundation and all. Or the basement flooded. Or the driveway split. The small brick wall that contained the front yard one day left its job and fell over onto the sidewalk. Equipment would arrive, holes would appear — in the lawn or the roof or the foundation — and hammering was a constant. Hoses sprang from the house’s orifices and draped across the yard into the street to drain its watery innards.

But life went on, various families of three or four children tossing their bicycles and roller skates and skateboards and surfboards into the open garage where there was never enough space for a car. The eucalyptus trees grew tall and dropped their leaves and seedpods and messy flakes of bark around the back door. Dogs came and went.

Maybe the house should have been torn down, excised like a bad tooth. But it was attractive and comfortable, except for its aches and pains, and it always seemed that the next little repair would fix it once and for all.

I’ve known cars like that. And people.

eucalyptus photo by Barbara Aldiss on flickr

the beckoning…

whistleEach evening, sometime between 4:30 and 5, the beckoning would start. Usually it was Mrs. Jennewick, who would take three steps out to the carport and call, “Carrr-leee.” Two notes, low-high — a hog call — and you never heard the first syllable unless you were within a few feet of Mrs. J’s aproned torso.

Larry’s mom wore a silver whistle on a piece of string around her neck and would give it a long blast from wherever she happened to be — the kitchen, the backyard, the garage. Larry’s aunt claimed that she was hard of hearing because of the time that Larry’s mom blew the whistle when they were talking on the phone.

My mother had a single call-to-attention that she used for all purposes — getting us to come to wherever she was in the house, saying hello to a neighbor who was walking by, or retrieving me from the neighing bliss of galloping down the street on my invisible horse. Her strident, high-low “hoo-hoo” was an irresistible lure to teasers and mimics. There were kids at school who didn’t know my name, but called me Hoo-Hoo, and one time, for reasons I don’t recall, a teacher came up to me in the hall and said, “You’re Hoo-Hoo, aren’t you?”

I never had any special affection for Carly, but she came in for the same teasing and we were allied in our humiliation — a call and response of “Carrr-leee” and “Hoo-Hoo” threading back and forth across the center aisle of the lumbering yellow school bus.


fogYesterday, they were out there, the two of them in their 80s, hunched over the plants that line the south side of their house. His plaid wool shirt a little too big now. Her scarf tied snug under her chin.

They pluck the last of the tomatoes, some still green, some wanly reddish, a few fully ripe, and when the plants are bare of fruit, he shovels them up, tosses them in the wheelbarrow, wheels them off somewhere. And she, bending deep from the waist, scoops soil back into the holes, digging and patting with her wrinkled fingers, repairing the bed for next year’s planting.

Today they’re gone, their house is gone, the trees, the grass, the carefully tended beds, the street between us, gone, in thick, enveloping fog.


PotatoHearing a noise at the back gate, I walk over to the window that faces into the yard. There, just a few feet away, the woman who lives upstairs is leaning over the gate, patting Potato on the head, pat-pat-pat. She says to Potato, “Do you have a lot of nice clothes?” Potato, who is then and always naked, except for her feathery brown coat, gazes up at the woman and says nothing.

This happened a long time ago.

blind curve…

Our street was one block long. It had been carved into a small hill above a large cemetery and in the span of just ten houses rose steeply from its flat, lower section with a blind curve in the middle. Our house was on the curve and our days and nights were punctuated with the beeps and blasts of car horns as drivers warned any oncoming traffic — and kids playing in the street — that they were coming through.

On two occasions, visitors to houses uphill from ours failed to crank their wheels toward the curb when they were parking. Unobserved, their cars rolled down the hill and smashed into the corner of our house, twice giving my mother an excuse to reconfigure the room off the kitchen we called the service porch.

The neighbors exclaimed how lucky it was that none of the kids were in the path of the runaway car, but my mother never replied to these comments. While I knew she wasn’t homicidal, her message was clear: she would have immeasurably preferred the uninterrupted convenience of a child-free life.


doeTurning on the hose to drip into the vegetable garden, I hear footsteps on the road, wonder which dog-walking neighbor it will be, who will see me in my morning’s fuzzy disarray.

I look up in greeting and it’s a doe, crunching lightly along the gravelly track, her ears canted to take me in but her eyes intent on the green slope ahead, not loitering, but not rushing. She does not remark on my appearance.


the neighbor kid's tortoiseFor a while, the kid next door had a tortoise as a pet. If it lacked the cuddly appeal of a dog or a cat, it was quiet, and when it wasn’t entertaining the kids, it could be ignored. Heavy, the size of half a basketball, the creature consumed quantities of iceberg lettuce that we proffered toward its horny beak.

Another neighbor, Joaquin, lived on a different street, but in the curving irregularity of our neighborhood, his house was visible from our backyard, the grass always mowed, a few flowers persisting in the beds. Joaquin may have had a family — I couldn’t say for sure — but his most intriguing asset was tortoises. He always had several. We could walk down the hill into his yard and lie on the grass to watch the tortoises munch methodically through the flower beds. The creature would take a lumbering step or two until its small nostrils touched a leaf or petal, pause, and then, with a sort of lunging thrust of its snakelike neck, chomp a neat disk from the plant.

Sometimes a tortoise got stuck, wedged between the woody stems of a rose bush, and we would extricate it and set it back among the decimated flowers.

At least once each year, Joaquin would walk up our block, ringing doorbells, asking the neighbors to keep an eye out for one or another of his tortoises. Twice we found one on our hillside, tucked into a tortoise-sized burrow beneath a eucalyptus tree, ready for the Los Angeles hibernation season, should it arrive. Eventually, Joaquin and his tortoises moved away and the neighbor’s tortoise disappeared in favor of more engaging pets.

Years later, driving in the Southern California high desert, what appeared to be a rock on the highway resolved itself into a tortoise. We stopped, picked up the large rock-like creature, its head and legs drawn deep and tight into its shell, and set it down across the road in the direction it had been headed. I like to think it was the neighbor kid’s tortoise, miles and decades since, thriving on juicy bites of cactus and lupine, passing the torpor of blazing summer days and starry winter nights dug into a small den beneath the sheltering overhang of a sandstone boulder.

fragment…the neighborhood

mouse…Down the street, in the house on the corner, there were two blond, crew-cutted boys whose names I don’t remember. Whether she was calling them to dinner or telling them what to do, their mother’s threatening screech was audible five or six houses away and full of “You’ll be sorry!”s and “This is the last time I’m going to tell you!”s.

I didn’t have much to do with the boys. They were known to spend their time playing in the forbidden regions of our neighborhood—the gas station, the cemetery, the empty swimming pool behind a vacant house up the block.

One time I did follow them to the pool, where they had caught a tiny field mouse and put it in an empty five-gallon aquarium. As I lifted the cover to pet the little creature—what did I know about wild animals?—the mouse bit my thumb and hung on. In panic and surprise, I yanked my hand, mouse and all, out of the tank and, flinging my arm, sent the mouse flying across the empty swimming pool.

Somewhat stunned, the mouse and I survived. We were both quarantined for a while. Waiting through that excruciating week, checking myself for mysterious symptoms, I was certain I was going to meet the same gruesome, frothing fate as “Old Yeller.”