Archive for the 'Small-town life' Category

Neighborless

March 8, 2011

Andrew Hicks

On several occasions previously, I’ve mentioned my next-door neighbor, the single mom with the four kids. They came over for Sarah’s birthday, and we came over for Super Bowl, but more than that, Miranda and I have been smoke break buddies for three years. I was never much of a smoker, but when I got to drinking, I liked to have a cigarette here and there. Now I don’t drink, and I still have a cigarette here and there. But Miranda just moved away, so the smoke breaks are suddenly a lot quieter.

Miranda knew she was moving a few weeks in advance, but there were never plans for a going-away party. Rather, after her place was cleaned out and her van loaded one last time with stuff, we had one final smoke break in the driveway. I’m a sucker for occasions like this. I use them to rhapsodize and reminisce and express appreciation. In this case, it’s a double rhapsody, because I get to rhapsodize during the final smoke break, then turn around and rhapsodize again when Miranda has her housewarming party at the new place*.

Our ceremonious final smoke break was doomed from the get-go. It was after dark, her four kids were exhausted yet wound up from the big freakin’ deal that is moving out of one house and into another, and no one wanted to just get in the van and let Mommy have a few minutes of grown folks’ time. There was one kid running around the van, one kid honking the horn, one kid climbing, one kid pinching another kid, the other kid screaming about it, at least one kid in a constant state of crying, and one single mother simultaneously trying to manage it yet let it be so she could have a damn cigarette.

Me, I’ve got the failsafe of a wife and co-parent to let me off the Baby-Rearing Express for a morning or evening when I feel burnt out. I only have two kids. Miranda has four kids, and she has them all to herself. At that moment, trying to be the happy but aloof bystander-friend, I got a capsule glimpse into my neighbor’s world. There was frustration and resignation, a feeling of no escape. I know Miranda loves her kids more than anything, but watching her plead for five quick minutes of peace made me wish for a cosmic remote control that could put the offspring on pause just for the length of a cigarette.

Miranda ended up having to intervene with the kids, and that’s when her oldest daughter, who is 8, slid in and took her place.

“Do you see that?” the daughter asked me, pointing at the slow-moving lights of a twin-engine plane in the night sky above. “That’s a UFO.”

“It’s flying pretty low,” I said. “They’re usually not so obvious about showing themselves.”

“I see UFOs every night. One night I saw sixteen.” She pointed to another plane excitedly. “Look, there’s another one.”

“How about that,” I said, not condescending in the least. “They might just be traveling, you know, just taking the spaceship out for a spin after dinner like some people walk their dog.”

“The first UFO is over the high school now.”
“Maybe they need a football field to land in.”
“It’s not landing, it’s still going past the high school. Look, another UFO! Three UFOs!”

I don’t know, it was a simple little moment in the middle of all this chaos, and it made me think, It’s all worth it. When you have kids, there’s lot of stuff you give up, little and big stuff that hits on an everyday basis. But there’s this cute, living, breathing, thinking, talking extension of you that you get to build a family life around, and it’s all worth it.

Miranda drove off a few minutes later, her empty apartment darkened, and I walked back home. Saw my wife and announced, “It’s nice and quiet over here.” Not really, said my wife, and within two minutes, both of my kids were crying and needing parental attention. Full circle, as it were.

*This is why I ate it all up when Conan signed off his NBC late-night show, debuted his “Tonight Show,” signed off the “Tonight Show” and debuted his TBS show all in the span of like 18 months. That’s four different legitimate occasions to wax rhapsodic over the same dude’s body of work. I loved it.

BABY PICTURE OF THE DAY

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Squatters and robbers

February 9, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: Still not caught up to the present day, Andrew has decided to run a couple bits he would have included in his “My Quiet Neighborhood” post had he remembered to.

Any time I see more than two cars pull into the retirement community down the street, I assume it’s a ghetto funeral procession, and they forgot something.

The owner of the house next door, which is obviously abandoned and in shambles, nonetheless has adopted the cliched anti-theft strategy of playing talk radio all night long so squatters or passersby with criminal intent will mistakenly believe the house to be occupied.

SQUATTER OR ROBBER’S INNER MONOLOGUE: Damn, I thought this house might be empty, considering its condition and the lack of tire tracks in the snow-covered driveway and the accumulation of mail and newspapers, and the fact that all the lights are off, but it sounds like two people inside are discussing current economic issues in a lively fashion. I’d better go rob or squat elsewhere.

Another crime averted by AM radio.

Super Bowl kids

February 6, 2011

Andrew Hicks

EDITOR’S NOTE: Andrew once again dashed his daily productivity goal and did not have this blog posted before midnight. The culprit this time? Super Bowl XLV. Now, don’t assume for a second that Andrew cared a thing about the game. He had to double check which teams were playing before the game started so he wouldn’t look like a moron at the party. Andrew never watches football and, in fact, spent most of his high school years at a Christian school whose homecoming game took place on the soccer field against schools with names like Because He Died For Us Central.

Let’s not forget, though, Super Bowl is one of the major party days every year, and until just a few months ago, Andrew was a major partier. Super Bowl is only partially about the game. It’s also about gathering, eating a ton of food and talking over the game. Andrew estimates that this Super Bowl, the first since he quit drinking, he paid less attention to the game than when he was matching Anheuser Busch ads one beer per commercial.

The domestic takeover of Andrew’s life, though, was ever-apparent at this year’s Super Bowl party. He went with his wife and kids to the next-door neighbor’s house. Andrew’s two kids plus the neighbor’s four kids plus the neighbor’s best friend’s two kids plus another neighbor’s kid outnumbered the adults in attendance. Seven adults, nine children, and it was a completely new experience for Andrew to have his child playing in another area of another person’s house with other kids.

He had to frequently quit watching the game — no major sacrifice, but still — to go upstairs and check on his 2 year old, who was perfectly safe the entire time. Oh, and when one kid climbed up on Andrew’s shoulders during one of these visits and begged Andrew to take him for a ride, Andrew obliged him, not realizing that all the other young kids were going to see this, think it was awesome and each want their own turns. Then beg for second turns directly after completing their first turns.

Andrew quickly felt every bit of how out of shape he was, which he supposes is some kind of basic irony, considering Super Bowl is supposed to be the ultimate show of the atheletic strength and agility of the few contrasted with the passive, indulgent consumption of the many.

Oh, and Andrew wants to add that he was tired of people talking about Christina Aguilera messing up the national anthem immediately — partially because he couldn’t come up with an easy, decent joke about it. He is grateful, however, that the Aguilera incident caused entertainment gossip shows to dig up a hilarious 2003 clip of Michael Bolton having to check the lyrics of “The Star Spangled Banner” that he wrote on his palm. Funniest part was, people were still asking Michael Bolton to sing the national anthem at major events in 2003.

FAMILY PICTURE OF THE DAY

Baby Silas, ready for transport.

My quiet neighborhood

January 30, 2011

Andrew Hicks

As I mentioned many, many blog posts ago, Tiffany and I rent a four-bedroom house with a decent-sized backyard and an old driveway whose tectonic plates are constantly shifting. When we first moved here in 2007, when it was just me, my wife and 14-year-old Josh, we lived in the double duplex next door. It’s two garages, four units and two garages. Us moving next door two years ago has been the complex’s only change in residence since we moved here.

In our old unit are a single mom and adolescent daughter. Next door, my friend and smoke break buddy I’ve written about here and there with the four small kids. In the third unit, a long-bearded old man living solo with no apparent friends or family. Even door-to-door salesmen have the sixth sense to avoid knocking on that door. The guy in the third unit is usually only spotted way after dark, when he occasionally wanders out to his front patio and takes a leak all over the concrete. The fourth unit is also occupied by a single old man, but this guy has kids and grandkids that stop by once a season or so. I did notice his Christmas tree stayed up well into January, but otherwise I’ve got nothing bad to say about the dude.

The house next door to us on the opposite side is vacant. It’s tiny and dilapidated, and it looks like it hasn’t been lived in for at least a decade. Still, during the nice-weather months, whoever owns it shows up promptly every Saturday morning to cut the grass and edge the yard. He cuts it with a diagonal crisscross pattern and everything, and it always irks me that the abandoned crack house next door continually has a nicer lawn than mine. Although, I will add, it doesn’t irk me enough to do any extra work on my yard.

Across the street is a two-story U-shape of rentals. During the nice-weather months, these neighbors can be spotted in lawn chairs, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes from shortly after dawn until the middle of the night. They quit their jobs so they could party more, which — from the standpoint of this former hardcore partier — is a truly ballsy move that speaks major dedication to the craft of alcoholism.

Next to this U-shape of apartments is a small-town bank whose employees offer the most consistently rude customer service I’ve ever experienced. Not to mention, when we opened an account, I got a box of 500 checks that said my name was Andrew S. Hicks. My middle name is Justin. Fail.

A couple houses down from the old four-unit lives a 90-year-old woman whose daughter and son-in-law come to walk the dog and take care of basic maintenance. This couple were regulars of mine at the last serving/bartending gig I had. They’d make a three-hour occasion out of dinner, each generally downing a handful of Old Fashioneds before ordering entrees.*

Down the block in the other direction is the day care where Tiffany worked when we first moved here. Her coworkers at the day care were a bunch of women and a single guy named Mr. Dick who had been working there for decades. Stepson Josh and I used to get big, immature laughs out of the idea of generations’ worth of parents leaving their small children in the care of Mr. Dick.

The junior high and high school are close enough that I can hear their intercom announcements from my bed. I’m way more attuned to school-announcement gossip than I rightfully should be. For instance, I know little Tommy Johnson got called to the principal’s office three times in the same week earlier this month. And, seriously, it was the week of MLK Day* AND there was a snow day. Tommy Johnson needs to clean up his act.

Just beyond our backyard is an assisted-living complex that houses mostly elderly people. The most visible resident, though, is a middle-aged fella who looks like a larger, longer-haired version of Vincent D’Onofrio in Men in Black. He walks his dog past our house probably six times a day when the weather’s nice, and whenever the dog stops to sniff or pee on something, Fat Vince looks around with his crazy eyes. I don’t like to draw the blinds, but sometimes I can’t help it.

I picture Fat Vince as living alone and probably speaking most of his words to that dog. He’s probably on the Internet a lot, too. He might read blogs. He might like comedy. He might recognize that I’m writing about him now. He might have thought this was a great blog until about a paragraph and a half ago. I might be in trouble the next time he takes Fido for a walk.

*Before I quit drinking, I used to fantasize that I’d be walking Sarah by their elderly mom’s house in the stroller, and they’d be there, having some kind of afternoon whiskey party. In this fantasy, I get toasted in the daytime and entertain a bunch of older folk. I can’t possibly be considered a deadbeat dad either, because in the fantasy, the actual Teletubbies are there to keep Sarah occupied while dad drifts away.

**Whether it’s whole, 2%, chocolate or soy, there’s no wrong way to celebrate MLK Day.