January 22, 2009

My Crazy Neighbor

There's an old lady that lives in the building behind me. Actually, she's probably not that old, maybe late 60s, but she looks old, and that's kinda all that counts right now.

Regardless of her age, she's what people would commonly call "that old crazy coot." She's one of those people that walks around outside in her nightgown and slippers mumbling silly nothings to herself. She picks through the trash and pulls random stuff out all the while hemming and hawing in her old crazy coot-ness.

I'm not sure what she's pulling out of the trash, I usually don't stick around to find out, but I can only imagine she's one of those people that collects random stuff nobody else wants. Like the guy at the YMCA who drives the battered and beaten Buick. It's packed, seat to ceiling, with newspapers and clothes and knick-knacks up the wahoozit. I've never seen my neighbors car, don't even know if she owns one, but I would reckon it's just like that Buick.

I've seen her garage though, and trust me, you can't even step a foot into it. Her garage is piled high with miscellanea that have probably been sitting there for decades. For all I know, there might be some hidden treasures in the garage. Maybe underneath that wreck she's got a copy of the Dallas Observer issue the day after Kennedy was shot. Or a first edition copy of Moby Dick. But most likely it's all crap. Regardless, it'd be really tough to even get to the garage because you probably don't even want to walk down her driveway. She puts out stale bread for birds every morning. Her driveway is a panoply of pigeon poop.

I've never been inside her home but I always imagine it is a big mess - the kind of mess where, when the owner dies, it takes the EMT's a long time just to find them underneath the garbage. And while they're looking, they discover a few remains that finally solve some long-standing Cold Case files.

I imagine she's got piles of old magazines that stretch from floor to ceiling and back to the floor again. Probably clippings from newspapers and WalMart circulars that mean absolutely nothing to anybody but her.

She's got a husband, but I can't imagine they sleep in the same bed or the same room. I can't imagine he's anything but numb when looking at the old rotten food that must be in their refrigerator. All the peanut butter that can practically run out on it's own. The milk so sour it has actually turned into cream and then into cheese and then back into milk again.

He probably doesn't even mind the thousands of ugly little figurines that are most likely littering the dusty glass shelves of her walls.

A few years ago I was out in back of my place cleaning up my garage. The garage door was open. I was sweeping the floor when she walked in and started looking at all of my stuff that I had neatly piled in the back of the space. She shuffled in the same way old people wearing nightgowns and slippers shuffle. It's like their feet always need to be touching the ground. When she shuffled on in, she kicked around the dirt and dust I'd been sweeping. It was odd. I didn't know her.

She started looking around as if it were a garage sale. I stood there feeling more than a little uncomfortable.

Hello, I said in that way you say things to somebody who is overstepping their bounds.

Hello how are you? she replied in a friendlier and livelier tone than I expected from the old crazy coot.

Fine thanks, I said. I was confused, but I wanted to be nice. I wanted to see where this was headed.

How much are you selling the golf clubs for? she asked me pointing to my new set of clubs.

I stood with my arm on my broom. I'm not selling the golf clubs, I told her.

I'll give you twenty dollars for the clubs, she offered.

I'm not selling the golf clubs, I repeated.

Oh, she paused. Are you selling anything?

I stood there in stunned silence. Then, figuring I should play along, I pointed to an old shelving unit and said, I'll sell this.

Oh, she mumbled as if heartbroken. She walked over and started scanning the dusty wooden shelves. Hmmm... how much? she asked.

Um... ten dollars, I told her.

I'll give you three.

How about five?

She looked at the shelves again. Leaned in closer. She wiped her finger across a shelf and looked at the dirt on her finger. She mumbled something about scratched, about old, about dusty. No, she said. I'll give you three.

Three it is, I said.

She reached into her nightgown and handed me the money. I gave her my old, dusty shelving unit. Not only did I save myself a trip to the Salvation Army, but I just made three bucks off of it.

Are you selling anything else? she asked me.

No, that's it. You just bought everything I'm selling.

OK, she replied. If you decide to sell the golf clubs let me know.

I sure will, I said stuffing the three old bills into the pocket of my jeans.

She took my book shelf and shuffled out of the garage, her slippers again kicking up the dust as she walked like a miserly version of Pig Pen's grandmother. She stopped at the trash can next to the garage, put the shelving unit down and started sifting through the can. Nothing. She picked up the shelves again and shuffled home.

Since that transaction, the old lady is always nice to me when I see her on the street. Hello, how are you? she'll say with a big smile. Are you selling anything? she might even ask.

Just this morning I saw her out with her dogs. She has three dogs. She was walking them. Or as close to "walking" as they all get. In reality, there's very little walking involved. She takes the dogs out to the front yard, about 15 steps from her door, and they just stand there, coughing and wheezing with their legs shaking. All four of them, the three dogs and her, coughing and wheezing together. I feel bad for the dogs - they look like death. The look like her. I almost wish the dogs would die so they don't have to continue living in that mess.

I imagine their lives consist of relieving themselves there on the front lawn, then going back inside and crying themselves to sleep in the misery of their trash-filled prison.

I recently learned that the old crazy lady owns the entire building where she lives. It's about a 10 unit structure. She owns it all. Keep in mind, this is not a cheap part of town. She's been living there for awhile which means she probably bought it for close to nothing. Now, even in this market, it must be worth at least $3 million, if not more.

She's doing alright, the crazy lady with my three dollar shelving unit. I can only hope that when she passes away that maybe she's left her dogs a little bone. Maybe they'll even get a better home. I hope they see that life is more than an army of ugly little porcelain figurines.


Roo said...

Who carries money in their night gown? They'll probably find suitcases full of money in there along with that copy of Moby Dick!

gman said...

hmmm, i have a few things i'd like to unload. can i drop them off at your place in hopes that she will come by? she might put craigslist out of business!

j. said...

good idea, gman. maybe i'll go into business with her.


we'll just sell random stuff, plus copies of every newspaper and magazines every printed in history.

Trihardist said...

That remains me of that part in Fight Club . . .

"I am Jack's colon. I get cancer. I kill Jack."