The Return Of Penguin Woman

“Well that’s fucked,” I said blearily as I opened the front window blinds. “What is?” answered the Engineer, who was walking around the top floor in a pair of workaday khakis and nothing else, kind of rocking the furry barbarian look.

“There is a black sedan obliquely athwart the end of the driveway with its front wheels halfway up on the curb,” I explained. I’m sorry, I actually do talk like that, even first thing in the morning.

We both went out front to look. The hood was cold and no one was inside. “Looks like someone hit the curb, decided they were too drunk to go any further, and bailed,” the Engineer opined.

I hate calling the cops on people for this kind of thing — I have a keen decades-old memory of parking across the end of someone’s drive on a visit to a new friend because, with no car parked there, I genuinely couldn’t see it in the snow — but then, my clients have to park somewhere and the driveway was entirely blocked in. Presently a stocky, amiable, bespectacled guy with a strong Hispanic accent turned up in a county car and ran the plates, to see if the car belonged to someone nearby. I admit that, going on the Engineer’s scenario, I was thinking more along the lines of Julio’s Repose and wondering if I should suggest a search of my property, but it is damn cold for someone to be crashing in the bushes this time of year.

Presently the avuncular parking guy came back to knock on my door. Trailing him was the Penguin Woman of my porch-zoning adventures, who lives three doors down, so called because of her singular observation, when I sought the easement, that she was fine with me building a porch or putting fucking penguins in my yard or whatever I wanted. Probably I pass the butt end of that car every day that I go clock a few miles, but how many black sedans are there in the world? Half asleep, with exploded, brassy-blond hair, bare feet, blowzy and faintly flushed, wearing a long black nightgown with a lacy bib, she looked as if one of the staff at Downton Abbey had been roused from bed because the mistress was ill or a Minister of Something had paid a midnight visit. Somewhat incoherently, she apologized and launched into a disjointed narrative of the electronics had gone out so she couldn’t even get in to the car and she had been coming from the hospital and she had been so upset because what if someone wanted to get out and she was going to call a tow truck.

I don’t know why she didn’t just leave a note with her number on my door before repairing to her residence, but then my previous encounter with this lady was equally incoherent and also featured remarks about being just back from the hospital. I think she has poorly controlled asthma. I really wanted to know how the car came to be cattywumpus across my driveway in the first place, three houses on from her own driveway if she had been coming from the west, and one-eighty from the direction it would have been headed if she had been coming from the east, but I thought that prolonging the conversation was a bad idea.

The Engineer took the subway to work and left me his car, which was fortuitously parked at the curb.

The penguin’s still out there. I doubt she noticed it.


I Will Never, Ever, Ever, Live This Down

The Engineer was helping me plant some pampas grass that a client heaved out of her trunk last week, a couple of clumps with their roots anchored in wads of dirt weighing about thirty pounds each. People bring me stuff like this on a whim. I was just stomping the soil down tight when, out of the rays of the dropping sun, a smallish glossy-black-curly-bouncy terrier-ish dog came hurtling down the sidewalk from inside the neighborhood, headed straight for the intersection of my street with a four-lane divided. A blonde Norman Rockwell eight-year-old, pounding after him but hopelessly outclassed, was shouting an unintelligible name; the dog, tasting freedom, was not about to pay any notice. Fate intervened in the form of a lamp-post. It wasn’t a hydrant but it was good enough for a sniff.

Small dog. I am not really afraid of small dogs. I jumped forward, extended my arms and called “C’mere, doggie!” Anything new is interesting; he bounded over and I hoisted him up just as the little girl reached us.

“Your little doggie get away from you?” I said. “Here we go.” She gathered him up, not all that gracefully. “Hand under his little butt, then he won’t get loose as easy.”

Halfway down the block a Momly figure waved to me. I waved back.

“I just,” I said in dawning shock to the Engineer as we pruned the thyme, “caught a runaway dog. For a little girl. Do not let this get out into the community.”

As he left a little while ago he spotted an envelope sitting on top of my mailbox.



Damning Testimony


I mean, I can’t stand children. Or dogs. And he would have been okay, the juvenile canine doofus.

I am so screwed.

The Oak of Damocles

Tonight they are talking a quarter-inch of ice in parts of the region. Pray to fuck it doesn’t get that far in my hood, because hovering over my bedroom is the Oak of Damocles, which stands on the property of my dimwit and penny-pinching neighbors but in August of 2007 deposited a branch bigger than some mature trees in my yard:


Borers had eaten the branch away from the parent tree. Diva knows what condition the rest of the trunk is in. After consideration, they hired a couple of run-down-looking rednecks to prune out anything that looked dead and slap some tar on the 6-by-8 open wound the branch left when it peeled off.


Yeah, that’s my back yard full of my note-leaving, dumb-dog-owning neighbor’s tree you see there. Quarter inch of ice coming up on that prime arboreal specimen. Watch this space, OK?

King of Beers

Talking about David brings me to other members of the cast, marginal players at best, but they form the scenery around my digs, more or less.

I moved in here thirteen years ago, buying the house from an eightyish woman who had painted most of the interior guava pink and mentioned as we signed the papers that I had “such nice neighbors.” I don’t know who she lived next door to. Her mind must have wandered.

There are worse neighbors. I guess. Next door I have a couple, now also in their eighties, who are fanatical gardeners and therefore can be seen looking down their noses at the mess my yard has been for much of my residency. They don’t speak, except to come over on rare occasions and tell me (or David) what isn’t being done right about my lot. The wife emerges periodically to leave nastygrams on any car parked at her curb for more than five seconds without a zone sticker for the neighborhood, because years before I moved in the nearby military installation caused a parking problem. They now have a three decker garage but Granny still hovers by the window, waiting to pounce on anyone who violates her curb space. Oddly no one has ever asked me if I mind whether the extended family leaves its fleet of assorted outsize vehicles on my curb for days at a time.

Yes, extended family. These people’s daughter lives across the street from them with her husband and children, and their son’s family lives on the corner, across from me. They all come over to Granny and Grampy’s routinely to hang in the yard and, often as not, drink beer. The son in particular is an avid consumer of the Budweiser family of products, and every snowfall features a conspicuous beer run as soon as he can get the van or Jeep dug out. His wife has only ever spoken to me when she smelled like the last sun-warmed dregs of a can of Bud Ice and was spitting her P’s. The rest of the time they mostly act like I don’t exist, short of actual rudeness. I think they feel cheated that the guava-pink lady didn’t hold out until they could buy the house for a third generation, and consider me an outrageous interloper on their block.

All of these households have badly behaved, large galumphing dogs of vaguely retriever ancestry. Granny and Grampy have two, and since retrievers are the diggingest dogs in the world, the day never passes that I don’t hear Grampy yelling “Gaddada there!” repeatedly at one of the mutts. They bark and growl hysterically at the fence when I work on that side of the yard, and I’ve started carrying a pepper spray just in case they figure out that it’s nowhere near high enough.

The men are conspicuously more likely to speak to me, even pleasantly, than the women. I guess it’s that fascination of the Wicked Divorcee on the Block. The younger generation ignores me; the time the grandson’s copy of Maxim was misdelivered to me I waited until I could get the mailman to redeliver it. It’s awkward for a fiftyish Wicked Divorcee to hand a titty magazine to an 18 year old as the commencement of their first conversation.

One year we had a three foot snowfall. Son came over to clear the walk for his folks. He had a full suitcase of Bud, and before commencing, he waded along the intended path, and bunged a can into the snowbank about every four feet. He then bent his back to the work, pausing for a refreshment every time he reached another cache.

I’d drink beer at that rate too, if I knew my parents were across the street watching every move I made.