heeeeeyyyy neighbor

Our backyard backs up into a yard that is chock full of all kinds of interesting things. The man who lives there, well, you see, he just has lots of, um, interesting things that apparently he wants to keep in piles outside his house. Like, a couple of cars, and four couches, and a broken basketball hoop... And a dozen bicycles... And a dresser... Some strips of Astro-turf... Yeah, he sounds so interesting, right? Like a guy with a lot of interests! Like sports, cars, sheltering vermin, all kinds of things! Yep, he's just a regular nice guy who...

Oh, Chicken left the room?

OK so dude's a fucking hoarder.

One night I smelled smoke and went out back to find three firefighters picking delicately through The Hoarder's still-smoking clutterscape. They looked super grossed-out, which is saying something since this is the crew that handles people with third-degree burns whose flesh has liquefied and is literally* dripping from their bones.

*medical source: Batman movies.

When the dripping flesh guys look at your landscaping and say, "I'm gonna keep my gloves on, actually," you know you've got a problem.

The day after the burn, I bumped into two other neighbors, kids who think they're adults because they pay their bills with the money their parents give them. They looked up at me from under lazy eyelids, standing on the street with bare feet so blackened and crusty that I assumed they hadn't worn shoes since starting college last year.

"What happened over there?" I asked, bobbing my head at The Hoarder's now-blackened pile of garbage.

"Oh that was so sad," the girl said.
"So sad," her roommate echoed.

They didn't give up anything else. But I'm no squirrely amateur and I've been listening to some cop thrillers on audiobook, so I knew to just wait. Silence is the best interrogator.

Eventually the boy broke.

"That's Ben's house. He's..."

The girl jumped in. "He's such a gentle spirit. Not everyone can handle it, how gentle his spirit is."

Mm hm.

While she spoke and I had to squint to keep from rolling my eyes, the boy nodded as vigorously as if this conversation were happening on-camera at a Bernie Sanders rally and his roomie were making vague accusations against The Establishment.

"So gentle," he echoed. "We were there last night and he has so much art on his walls."

I guess he thought those thoughts went together, but to me it sounded about as logical as, "that man is a sociopath. Have you seen the tiling in his shower?" Or, "what a talent. What a phenomenal artist. He wears NEW BALANCES." I have a shit load of art on my walls and I fucking delight in killing fruit flies with my bare hands. The bloody smear on my palms, the tiny crumpled wings... "Got you, motherfucker! Yes! I fucking murdered you in the air like a ninja!" 

"Wow," I said. "He sounds super gentle."

"So gentle."
"SO gentle."

"So, the fire?"

"Right, well Ben, he's so gentle-" (I'm not making this up, swear to God she said it again) "- he had this neighbor who like really cares about how other people live their lives, and Ben's like 'just find your peace,' but she's so blocked--"
"SO blocked." (Nodding)
"I guess she marched into the courthouse the other day and demanded that Ben clean up his collection."

"His collection?" It took me a second. 

"Oh! His..." (Blackened couch springs rising through the burned upholstery like evil fiddleheads, naked baby doll missing one leg, curtains still attached to a curtain rod by six white plastic rings)

 "... Collection. Of course. It looks like he's really..."

(I panicked. No way should I have started articulating that thought - the only words that came to mind to end it would out me as a sane person and that kind of crowd wasn't welcome here. I was trapped in a mental game of Family Feud: He's really... sick! Unstable! Creepy! Into violating fire codes!)

"... A collector." I said weakly. The college kids looked at me suspiciously, or maybe they were just paranoid. I nodded, as if impressed by Ben's prolific collection of items scavenged from a meth clinic that had to close because of a bat infestation. 

"He had to clean it up and pay a big fine, and he was trying to clean last night and burn some things."

The girl jumped in again, "which he is totally within his rights as a homeowner to do, according to municipal codes."

Oh my god, do I love it when teenagers talk about municipal codes with the unwarranted confidence of the children of lawyers. The answer is no. No I do not love it.

"So he set fire to his couch?" I tried to ask this question as if I were impressed with his judgment and skull in execution, you know, like, "so did you bake this pie from scratch? Because wow, great job!"

But I'm afraid it came out more like, "so did you bake this pie from scratch? Because you know you don't have to, right? Like, it would taste better if you didn't. Like next time, call a bakery."

The college kids decided it was blunt o'clock, and I had to check on the boys' naps and add Purell and rat traps to the shopping list. They could tell I was kind of faking being cool with Ben's gentle spirit and its physical manifestation as a pit of insanity and bundled newspapers. Listen, I didn't used to be a hater. If I'd been high and in college when I moved in next door to Ben I would probably think he was misunderstood too, and you bet your ass I'd be out there telling people all about how understanding I'm being with the misunderstood guy, but in a totally humble way so they'd talk to other people and be like, "she's the kind of person who hangs out with hoarders and doesn't judge. She's awesome. You should totally sell her your unicycle."

But I'm on the other side of 30, a mother of two, and that yard is an all-inclusive resort for rats, plague fleas, and tetanus. I say burn it. Burn it to the ground. Just do it under the supervision of firefighters, an old priest, a young priest, and the CDC.


That was the end of it until this afternoon when Ryan, myself, Chicken, and Buster spent a pleasant hour in our backyard (weeding, raking, digging, and licking rocks, respectively.)

nice minerality
some impertinent grit on the finish
very nice

We were about to head inside when Ben The Collector came outside to flip his strips of Astro Turf from grassy-side-up to plastic mesh-side up. He's so gentle.

Chicken pointed at him and called out, in a voice that soared over the sounds of squirrels mating in Ben's waterlogged recliner, "Look! It's The Hoarder!"

I don't know if the word "hoarder" actually echoed in time and space or if it was just in my mind, but I tackled physically assisted Chicken to the ground in my loving arms, slapped my hand over his mouth, and began muttering into his ear with the focused intensity of Mr. Slugworth.

"Oh my God Chicken do not ever say that out loud ever again."
"SH. Stop talking right now and listen to me. Mommy and Daddy made a terrible mistake calling him The Hoarder."
"Yeah, you call him--"
"I KNOW and SHHHHH and LISTEN TO ME we were wrong it was wrong so wrong oh my God the wrongest. We should not have done that because that is a mean name and I'm sorry for doing that and forget I ever said it and if you ever say it again out loud in front of that man it could really hurt his feelings, okay?"
"Okay, but--"
"NO BUTS, do you understand? Do you understand? DO you understand me?"
"I guess..."

Ben went back inside before I was done attempting to undo a year's worth of nickname with a single panicked pep talk. Only time will tell if it worked. Pray for us.

1 comment:

  1. Oh no. No amt of praying is going to save your soul for this one. You are toast. Burnt toast. Drop to your knees and ask for absolution of your sins.