Sorry to be late, but I’ve been distracted by listening to the true sounds of summer: kids in the ambiguous distance squealing with joy, while one of them makes fake vomiting noises, and an adult voice cries out “Ryan, what are you doing?”
So things are still a bit rough. I’m understating. On the roughness scale, which starts at 1 and goes up to “fell off the roof, scraped down the porch overhang, then plummeted into the crabapple bush”, things are averaging around “ … and then dropped into the wheelbarrow full of lava rocks heaped on the gravel driveway”. Still, this is a chance to try out a new identity, and be ready to unleash it on a changed and unsuspecting world. Forming a new identity is tough, but you can use some templates. It’s all right to try being the same person someone else is. Your attempt will be different from everyone else’s, and that makes your them a different them than their them is as you see it. Yeah, that sentence made me dizzy too. Best to move on. Here’s a few options to consider instead:
You could be the person who puts their lawn waste in collection bags from regional stores from other parts of the country. This is a good way to lightly bewilder the neighborhood. “This is Lansing, Michigan,” neighbors will say, if you live in Lansing, Michigan. “The nearest Price Chopper is in Syracuse! Are you driving seven and a half hours out of your way, crossing through Canada, to get these or do you have people mailing them to you?” They won’t ask you about it, but you’ll collect many excited looks from your neighbors.
You could become an immortal comic legend. This one is easy, in comparison. It just takes one step. Work out some kind of wordplay so that, after you’ve said your good joke, someone else can respond “… literally” and have that be a good joke too. I don’t have any idea what that would look like. But there was this paper in the Journal of Theoretical Joke Structures last month which said one can exist.
You could try being me. I recommend against it. Not that I can’t mostly put up with me. It’s that being me involves a lot of standing up from a comfortable enough chair, walking four feet, rubbing my hands, and deciding to sit back down again. It’s not much of a pastime. But when you consider what my knees are like it’s a lot of strain to no good purpose. Sometimes they make the noise your car makes when you have to replace that brake thing that’s $600 but if the mechanic can find some spares, only be $580. But, you know, I committed to being me, so who am I to say I was wrong to do that? Ask me when I’m staring at the ceiling at 5:30 am, tonight and every night.
You could be yourself, but two feet over to the left. This is attainable by just about everybody, unless their apartment is too small.
You could become a world-renowned puppeteer. You can even pick the world you want. They’re finding new ones all the time, so you can be renowned all over that world. How is anybody going to check on you? It’s not like they can get to the observatory any better than you can. You can even make up the world, and that’ll work with all your friends except the astronomers you know. And how many astronomers do you know? I mean well enough they feel like they should come to your parties but don’t? If you’re like me, and I still don’t recommend being me, you know four at most. You can get them to play along. Just agree to cover them for their new identities.
Anyway whoever you choose to be, good luck. Let me know how your knees work out.
Every house on the block has had its lawn mowed the past three days. There’s maybe two houses that actually needed it, but I think everyone feels like they need to do something, and so Animal Crossing LARPing it is! The block smells pretty good for all that.
(In the next stage of Animal Crossing LARPing I catch a house centipede and set it outside, on the lawn of some other house, on a different block, the next town over.)
Is that … snow? Yes, that’s snow. I’ve seen snow before, although not so much this winter. Who ordered snow? My parents better not hear about this.
Oh, hey, the place that used to be the 24-hour diner. Then the new owners figured instead of being the diner everybody went to because it was 3 am, they could just open for breakfast and lunch. Then they fired the staff and closed entirely. And forgot to get the social media passwords from the staffers. Then they tore down the diner because they figured the vacant lot was worth more than a diner-filled lot. Well, that turned out great. Hey, this has to be the spot where J— discovered his eyeglasses had gouged ridges into the side of his head. Good times.
This … was a lot warmer, like, a week ago. We are going into spring, right? We couldn’t be going right back out of spring again, not with how much everybody agreed on having a spring.
That’s a nice clearly-marked bike lane that comes into existence and runs nearly the length of a full block before fading out again. Probably a story there. Probably also an angry Facebook group.
Oh, criminy, it’s the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13. That would be nice and timely. I did that thing for Apollo 11 and forgot to do anything for Apollo 12. Let me see if there’s anything there, let me think a while and see if I can come up with like three jokes, that’s enough to build a piece around. Oh, who am I kidding, that’s a dumb idea.
So that’s a lone coffee mug six feet from the sidewalk on the torn-up field that used to have a convenience store and now just has the telephone pole with an ‘ATM Inside’ sign on it. This seems to be the setting for some short story with too poignant an imagery to actually read.
Oh, but remember how angry the Usenet group sci.space.history got over the From The Earth To The Moon series, when its Apollo 13 episode wasn’t just doing the movie all over again but on way less budget? Everybody was so angry about it being how reporter Jay Mohr won over reporter Cranky Old Guy. I mean, not so mad as they’d be when the Apollo 16 episode. They got so mad the episode was about the astronaut wives instead of how the Apollo crew drank too much orange drink and passed gas the whole flight. Boy, but the Internet used to be fun to be angry on. What happened?
If I just took that coffee mug how much would I have to clean it to use it again? I’m kidding, I would never stop cleaning it.
Well now I’m just thinking about that report where the Mars Curiosity team had shifted over to working remotely. It’s just, like, they already kind of were. They probably get that a lot. If I ever meet anybody on the team I’m going to have to not tell them that one.
Ooh, hey, the hipster bar left their Wi-Fi on even though they’ve been closed a month now. Good grief it has been a month now. All right. Well, that’s going to be great if my iPod does that thing again where I pause my podcast and it decides to throw away the file and I have to re-download the whole thing. … And I do that when I happen to be right next to the bar. Well, they left the curtain up front open just enough that if I press my face against the window and stare I can kind of make out what have to be the pinball machines. I can stop around to do that a while.
Still thinking about how the Lansing airport listed they had four flights arriving today and only two departing. That’s got to be atypical, right? They can’t be stocking up on two extra planes a day, indefinitely. They’d fill up the parking lot.
All right that’s … nine … ten … twelve pairs of sneakers lined up on the curb, and with a locker mirror and a $4 yard sale price stick on it. There’s probably a good explanation for all of this and the only way I’ll ever know is to knock on the door and ask. They probably get a lot of people knocking on the door asking about the shoe lineup and mirror, though. Maybe I’ll check if they have a web site instead.
Oh, the guys who practice drums four hours a day are still doing that. Still … sounds like drumming. It’s nice to have that to rely on.
Oh, that migratory shopping cart that’s been going up and down the street has fallen over. Sad. Tipped on its side like this, it’s sure to be easy pickings for the abandoned disreputable lawn predators out there. Even a single tireless rusted-out Chevy on cinder blocks will be able to get it. If it were in range, that is.
Huh; yeah, this store used to be a barber shop, looks like. A long time ago. Oh, and just next to it, spot that used to be a convenience store. Also a long time ago. Building permit on it … mm. They’re replacing the floor and carpet by August of 2016. Well, I’m sure they have big plans for the reopening.
So here’s a spot where the road was torn up and re-patched. It intersects another stretch where the road was torn up and re-patched. There are cryptic markings in spray paint all over, pointing at the manhole from five directions. They’re not uniformly spaced around the manhole. They evoke a portolan chart, perhaps mapping the routes by which traders from the Hanseatic League will bring staple goods to port, and then lose them in the potholes surrounding the patched streaks.
Interesting to see another former barber shop, and so close to the last one.
Well, hey there, squirrel. Yeah, you’re looking happy that someone’s left a nearly whole loaf of slightly moldy bread out for you. Boy, would you even know what to do with bread that wasn’t a little moldy? I barely know what to do with it. Sandwiches, I guess. Dip some into soups for an experience that’s not as good as I think it ought to be. Got your slice, huh? Yeah, hop over there and you can enjoy it in private. … Or … you can just drop it there and go back to the loaf. No, you go ahead, pick your slice carefully. I’m fascinated to see how this’ll come out. Yeah, I go back and re-make decisions all the time. A squirrel should have as much chance to … go running off without any bread at all. All right. I feel like I’m being insulted somehow and I’m not even really in this.
Another former barber shop? This seems like a lot of barber shops to have ever been in this neighborhood. Did we sometime used to have a lot of people with beards, and they all got rid of them at once, and then we didn’t need so many barber shops anymore? I should ask my barber, who I drive to, two towns east of here.
You know, that shopping cart is kind of near the Chevy House. Maybe it is in danger.
A free boat? Oh, that’s interesting. Gorgeous, even. It looks like the kind of boat you get when you’re doing a low-effort movie from the early 60s and they have to have a fishing scene. … No trailer, all right. No motor either. The windshield’s come off but it’s sitting in the boat. It’s nice to know we’re in a neighborhood where someone can just leave their motorboat windshield laying around loose and nobody will come and take it. Oh, there’s no seats in the boat, though. There’s that pole where the driver’s seat should go. Probably some way to replace that. I’ve seen that Popeye cartoon. Still, if someone’s giving a boat away free, it’s got problems. Maybe leaks. Maybe rust. Maybe it’s somehow on fire. Maybe it bestows on its owner a mild curse, causing them when setting up appointments on the phone to always fail to hear the critical word in the question, however many times they get it repeated to them. Anyway we don’t have anywhere to store a boat. Our goldfish pond isn’t big enough to need one, either.
OK, so this is a barber shop that’s still open, across the street from the other barber shop that’s still open. I wonder if they get together and talk about the days that a squirrel could run from the Red Cedar Creek all the way to the Grand River from barber-shop-roof to barber-shop-roof, never touching the ground.
Another former convenience store. Maybe we’re just not a neighborhood for convenience. Oh, they’ve left all those two-liters of Faygo sitting around. Dangerous. That’s how you get Juggalos.
Hey, the migratory shopping cart is back up on its wheels and put out on the lawn extension. That’s great; maybe it’s going to survive, and become the leader of a new clan of abandoned shopping carts. But … how did it get upright on its own?
I had been figuring to continue my talk about alarming things. I mean alarming to me. And particularly about things alarming to a wakeful mind that’s as rational as you get around here. Then I went and slept. If we accept that dreams can be warnings of what we must face, then I’m up for something big soon.
For this dream alarm to make any sense at all I should tell you we haven’t met our new neighbors. All we know about them is that they maybe exist. We’re not sure. The house next door is a rental. Sometimes we’ve had great neighbors. Like the ones who were pointing out the adorably silly look of this kitten’s tail, and said someday they’d bring us a pie from work. Those were great neighbors, everything you could hope for. They never even did bring us pie and that’s fine. We were happy to be thought worthy of pie delivery.
But that was a long time ago, and different renters have come in, and left, a couple times over. We’re sure that the last set of renters left. We noticed them less and less, then we noticed we didn’t notice them at all, and that’s how someone leaves, right? We’re not completely sure there’s new ones there, though. The evidence for is that someone goes in and leaves lights on, and there’s sometimes a car in the driveway at some implausible hour like 4 am. The evidence against is there’s not a curtain in the entire building and we dont see furniture either. But someone’s gone raking leaves there. It has to be at least someone who knows what they want out of the place. The point is that I don’t know our neighbors, if we have them. Any interactions we’d have with them would be our first, as far as I know.
So the dream scenario starts with me in the dining room, puttering away on the computer, probably writing this essay only even later. And then looking out the back to see that something’s knocked over part of the fence. This would be very annoying to have to deal with, so I did not. At least not until I looked again later and saw the whole fence was gone. That would be a problem I couldn’t ignore, which is why I did. And before you get all smug about how you’d be more active about this let me point out that you’re a lying liar who’s lying to yourself, by whom I mean me. If someone came in and stole your backyard fence you’d do anything to not deal with that too.
Which is fine except that a couple minutes later, I saw that the neighbor’s house was gone. More, all the houses down the block were gone, replaced with what looked like the clubhouse for one of those golf courses they make retirement communities out of these days. This annoyed me since we have some pleasantly old houses in the neighborhood, getting on a hundred years now, and they might be utterly ordinary Dutch Colonial things but there’s value in having an ordinary neighborhood in kind-of respectable shape. Plus it’s ridiculous to put in a golf clubhouse without a golf course. But on most of what had been the neighbors’ driveway was now a pool.
Recounting this makes me realize that if the neighbors’ driveway had been replaced with a pool, then there’d be no good place to put the ladder for when I change the storm windows out for screens in spring. Our houses are close together and we use the neighbor’s driveway under the well-established legal principle of “I dunno, we’ll do this in the middle of the afternoon when they’re probably at work, if they exist”. That I was not worrying about how to take the storm windows down should have warned me that I was not in my rational mind. Whatever conclusions you draw about me, as a person, from knowing that self-assessment, are correct.
Anyway I was willing to put up with the neighborhood going missing and the fence being stolen, especially with the nice fountains spraying out of the ponds. This until I felt the water spraying on my back. Now the walls of our dining room were gone and I had to say something. I knew that our neighbor was responsible, somehow, and also knew who our neighbor was, and got a bit shout-y. The neighbor tried to point out that he’d left many of the walls in our house intact. Plus now we had the benefits of a covered patio for our dining room, which didn’t satisfy me because I was thinking of the heating bill. “Where do you get the nerve to STEAL our BUILDING WALLS”, I shouted. As I remember I put in the word “building” in order to make clear I was not this upset about the fence going missing, in case someone would mistake a wooden fence for a wall. And I wanted “building’s” but couldn’t make that work.
Also, and this is a real thing that really happened for real, in reality, I was yelling loudly enough in my dream that I was also saying this in real life, waking up my love. After listening a while to find out where this was going, my love woke me up. This was disorienting, and then I realized: oh, yes. Realizing that all this was a dream answered most of my questions about the situation I was in.
Anyway, if all this is a harbinger of the relationship we’re to have with our neighbors, if and when they exist, I think we must say they are very alarming neighbors indeed. I shall have to insist on actual pie delivery before they swipe any walls.
So I was thinking about those skunks who’ve been alarmed by things so much this year. I’m this close (please imagine two things close together. No, not that close. Only this close) to going out at night and asking them if everything’s all right, and if they would maybe like to talk it out instead of getting into whatever fights it is they’ve been getting every four days lately. Well, that probably wouldn’t be a good idea. I’d keep trying to understand more of the context of what they’re so upset about and we’d never get the issue settled. Hm.
But it does seem that at least one of our neighbors has got an invite to the Worldwide Kitchen Cabinet Slamming Contests. I’m basing this on their practice sessions which they seem to have scheduled for “about twenty minutes before I would have otherwise woken up”. I don’t intend to grumble. Just being invited is a fantastic honor and I don’t want to spoil that for them. And there is a magnificence in their art that I appreciate. There’s the little but oft-repeated slamming. There’s the grand pause before a force-ten cabinet-banger. There’s a row of slams from slightly different doors. There’s patches of silence that I suppose indicate they’re kicking the lazy susan to see how long it’ll spin without stopping. It helps one appreciate the glory that is banging things to hear things banging. And yes, this does bring me to the worst part of waking up, which is the waking up, sooner than I otherwise would have. But I suspect even there it’s helping me remember more dreams, longer, than I might have otherwise. I just would like to know when the world championships are being held. Also where, but I just know that’s going to be in our town. I just know it.
So there’s this city block near us that’s slated to be torn down. It had hosted a restaurant, a barber shop, a couple other small shops, some apartments overhead, that sort of stuff. It’s scheduled to be demolished and replaced with a new building. That’ll be able to host, oh, a restaurant, a barber shop, a couple other small shops, some apartments overhead, that sort of stuff. Only it’ll be a modern building, which means it’ll be lined with that new kind of brick they have that looks like a fake brick even though it’s real bricks. I don’t know how brick manufacturers have figured out ways to make real bricks look fake, but they have, and they’re going to show off that severely postmodern brick-making technique.
Anyway, behind the doomed buildings was a parking lot. There still is. It had been a metered parking lot. But at some point the city, I imagine but do not actually know, came around and took out all the parking meters. So, you know, free parking lot now that there’s nothing to go to there, which is something.
But it’s got me wondering what happened to the parking meters. Was there some other parking lot in town that had a desperate need for meters and that was finally satisfied? Or did the city decide to take the meters and put them in storage? If so, why, since it’s not like they couldn’t get at least a little spare change from people who figured to use the lot anyway? Or did they just not want to risk some kind of mischief happening, so they put them all in a storage locker? And if all these parking meters are sitting in a storage locker, are we positive someone’s paying the rent reliably? Because thinking of a 20-by-20 unit of parking meters getting impounded just makes me giggle almost to the point it could be heard.
I happened to look out a second-floor window. A couple houses down a woman was sitting on the patio, at the table. She was looking seriously and alertly at nobody there. Maybe she was waiting for someone who’d dashed in for something. I choose to believe she’s haunted by a ghost of the Adirondack Chair, but it’s not like a malicious ghost. It’s someone you can sit down and have an iced tea with. Well, the ghost has iced ghost tea. Maybe some ghost biscotti too, if the ghost has decided it’s a little chilly out and would rather have hot coffee. It’s basically a nice neighborhood.
OK, once again, the thing with the clocks? The strange little boring magic-realist novel breaking out in our house where all clocks stop at about the same time? It’s still happening. The mantle clock, the one we’d maybe bring to the mysterious Clock Repair sign-hanger if we could remember the number? The other clock in the living room came to a stop at just about the same time as that. It’s just a dead battery, we think, but still. If some mysterious force is trying to freak us out, they’re going about it in the way that most makes us over-estimate how long is left in The Price Is Right.
In other updates, I am still not learning about the history of socks.
Oh, another mysterious little thing around the neighborhood. Somebody hand-stenciled a sign with a phone number and the words “Clock Repair”. And then nailed it to a telephone pole pretty near the big strip mall near here. No name or anything. It’s just an implicit promise that if you call this number you will acquire links with the world of clock-repairers who take enough pride in their work they want to advertise, but not so much pride that they want to say who they are or where to find them.
Plus they just hung the sign on one of the roads leading up to the mall, not actually at the mall or anything. I guess I don’t have a better idea where to hang signs on the street to find people with clock-repair-needs. But it’s hard shaking the idea they might do better with some more focused marketing approach, like picking houses at random and asking the residents if they have any clocks that aren’t clocking anymore.
The heck of it is, we have a clock that needs fixing. If they’d just come to us we could’ve worked something out. But now we have to remember to write down the number if it’s still there next time we see it. Don’t think too hard about that last sentence and just trust me that it’s there.
I’ll start this roster from close to home and work my way out. First is that the goldfish we finally moved back into the pond outside just aren’t eating algae. They look like they are, what with their being goldfish and the algae being algae. I would have imagined that an arrangement they could keep up with. But they’re not eating it, not nearly so fast as the algae’s growing. Some of the goldfish are going so far as to swim into the middle and hover worryingly still. I guess they’re doing what I would do if I walked into a room and was covered in a pile of powdered doughnuts. I mean, I wouldn’t leave either, and I guess I’d be annoyed if someone reached in with the pool grabber and poked me. So maybe that’s not mysterious on the part of those goldfish. But I’d be making clear progress in doughnut-eating in that case. I may not always know what to do, but I’m almost mastered doughnut-eating. Happy as the fish may be, they’re dragging down the house’s efficiency ratings and I’m considering calling in an expert. If you know of one please write in care of your television market’s local news-weather-and-traffic leader. I bet they’d like to know.
Down the block. That auto care shop that was having the weird passive-aggressive fight by way of its message sign? It finally put up a message to replace “The Cost Is Zero To Be A Decent Human Being” and it went over to “We Can’t Save Everyone But Everyone Can Save Someone”. So they were apparently getting back to their groove of messages that unintentionally inspire dread at the futility of existence. And then that message about saving someone lasted maybe a week and a half. Now it’s “Whether You Think You Can Or You Can’t You’re Right”. This inspirational messages has limitations. They’re not referring to your ability to just charm your way past a defensive perimeter and through the security cordon. They’re thinking more about whether you could get that Associate’s Degree in actuarial mathematics with night, weekend, and online classes. And even with small-scale things there’s limits. No matter how confident I am in how I spell “accommodation” today I can’t get the spell checker to agree I’ve managed to hit any word. I have to put it in quotes to fool it into not putting this ugly underline squiggle there.
I’m not asserting that the office-supply store down the street, the one with the showroom floor that seems to be nothing but task chairs pressed up against each other, is necessarily the front for some secret society maintaining a portal to a magical alternate dimension where possibly everybody is robot dinosaurs. But I did stop in recently because I needed some manilla envelopes. I figured, why not support a neighborhood business that’s got an extremely faded poster in the window for Space Pens? OK, because I terrify the woman working the showroom what with not making enough noise going in and her coming out of the back room not expecting a tall, beareded man seeking manilla envelopes there. I’m sorry.
Thing is, they didn’t have manilla envelopes. At least she couldn’t find any. They had a small stock of actual office supplies, with most o the showroom being dust-covered task chairs. She was able to find a couple envelopes, but they were kind of peach or maybe salmon-colored. I was looking for manilla envelopes because I needed some paper folded up and glued together so that other paper could be put inside it, to then put the envelope inside a filing cabinet, there to be lost. The color didn’t matter. I had to promise that it was all right they had peach envelopes. I trust they got them from their warehouse supplier in that alternate timeline where history has proceeded just like it has here, only envelopes are colored weird.
So there’s this bowling alley not too far off. Rumor is it used to be a city park, for some reason, and I don’t know anyone who understands why or whether it is anymore. I’d go and ask them but I’m worried they would try explaining bowling to me. “You know how it’s fun to knock stuff over? What if you could knock stuff over in a manner tolerated by society? And have a machine pick things up to be knocked over again? And, from 10 pm, with a blacklight and a diffracted laser turned on?” The proposition sells itself. I don’t need to have that explained to me.
What I do need to be sold on, if I read their sign right the other day, was traffic hazard cones. It was in traffic and I was driving so I didn’t want to pay too much attention to it but they were going to have a sale on traffic hazard cones? Which is somehow something you can just do at bowling alleys? I mean, I understand needing traffic hazard cones. And you have to get them from somewhere. I just wouldn’t have thought the bowling alley.
All told this is a mysterious neighborhood.
You live in a nice, respectable, basically quiet neighborhood for years and then one day wake up to find the neighbors have got Constructicons.
See where that “Everything Is Going To Be Alright” sign at the auto mechanic’s has got us?
Long-term readers might remember I was having problems back at the end of winter with our pond sneaking out of the backyard and making a mess all over the neighborhood. The obvious thing to do was get some fish, since that way the pond would be too busy to go sneaking off, right?
Sure. Well, the fish-getting and putting-in went well and we haven’t caught it sneaking off. But it turns out we’ve somehow got a ticklish pond and every time one of them flicks a fin, it starts giggling. And no, don’t go suggesting we trade it in on a babbling brook, since we know better than to get into that kind of a fix.