When my husband and I were first married we lived in a little house in a neighborhood that was headed into economic hardship. We lived directly across the street from a condo complex that included government subsidized housing. There lived little old ladies, single moms with gaggles of small children and our favorite resident who we called “Cracky”. She was a middle aged woman who rarely left her front porch but had many visitors. She spent most days – both warm and cold – sitting in her front yard with a tumbler full of booze in her right hand and a cigarette in her left. Mullet and mustache sporting men moved in and out monthly, some leaving in handcuffs and at least one in a body bag.
Cracky was a regular source of entertainment for us during our first few years of marriage. We watched as she drank her days away, hosting parties with loud classic rock blaring from her front windows. We had little choice in watching her antics since she was always louder than our TV and there were always some form of lights or fireworks illuminating the front of her home. When we heard sirens in the neighborhood, there was never a question of where they were headed. We saw at least three bodies removed from the house in black bags, mostly by ambulances, but one in an unmarked minivan. I had no idea the coroner’s office employed outside contractors. Maybe she found a discount service.
She had a grown son who lived with her on and off. One day we watched him pack a bunch of camping equipment and head into the complex. We saw him return every so often after that, but he never stayed long. We made up stories about him moving to the woods and living off the grid in pure paranoid stoner fashion. We were pretty sure he only came home once a month to bathe.
A lot of hard work and a little entertainment
Occasionally Cracky got social while drinking on her porch. She came across the street to chat with my husband and dad as they installed a paver walkway from the driveway to the porch one morning. My dad commented that he thought she was drunk at 10 am. He didn’t know Cracky like we did – she had been loaded since half past 8. She spent twenty minutes hitting on my dad while my husband tried to ignore there was a drunken, half-clad woman tripping all over our yard. I think she finally noticed my dad’s wedding band or her drink was running low because she headed home pretty quickly. Later that day our neighbor told us how he had woken up from a nap one day and she was swimming in his pool – uninvited. I made a mental note to lock our gate.
She returned the following summer when we had a garage sale and offered me a nickel for every item for sale, even a leather jacket with a $10 neon orange price tag attached to the lapel. I offered her a nickel if she would remove herself from my driveway and stop scaring off potential customers. It was again before 10 am and she could barely keep her body above her dollar store flip flops. That was the first and last garage sale we even had.
We once put a couch at the curb that had seen better days. I don’t know when those better days were since it had passed through at least four houses before finding it’s way to our basement. It was worn and ugly and had been around the block more times than the ice cream truck. It sat at our curb for approximately 10 seconds before Cracky recruited her son and another dude from inside her house to drag the entire sectional across the street. Apparently a twelve year old couch is cause for a celebration. The couch sat in the center of her front yard as party guests arrived over the course of the afternoon. A bonfire was lit, the coolers were opened and we heard several very out of tune guitars playing “Smoke on the Water” until the sun came up the following morning. We thought the party was over, but apparently a white trash celebration over a dumpster find lasts longer than a Hindu death ritual. Luckily the last guitar string broke within the first day and they resorted to the classic rock radio station for their listening entertainment. It took a summer thunder storm to break up the party. We watched as the guests stumbled over themselves trying to drag the soaking wet piece of furniture into the house without spilling their beers. A few weeks later I came home to see the couch sitting in Cracky’s front yard. This time it was closer to the sidewalk with a giant sign on the front that read “FOR SALE”. I guess she had to pay for her Five O’clock Vodka and Marlboros somehow. I walked over and offered her a nickel.
It’s been awhile since we have moved from that old neighborhood, but I like to think that Cracky is still sitting on her porch, drink in hand, listening to some Sabbath. I’m guessing she is slinking around today, swimming in some poor sap’s pool while they are at work and digging through their garbage for little trinkets to sell to passersby on her sidewalk. I have yet to find a neighbor even half as colorful as Cracky in our new neighborhood.
Danger – small children may get lost in grass!
We have a lawn service. They are inexpensive since they handle a lot of the homes in our neighborhood. Because of this I never complain about the little things that bother me. Sure, I swear under my breath when they show up before 8 am on saturday most weeks but I don’t complain. I just shake my head and throw my hands in the air while watching the tweenage boy handling the weed wacker, occasionally beheading my flowers as he wildly swings the machine that weighs more than him around like a golf club, but I don’t complain. I don’t even complain that every year I have to remind them to mow the hump in our front yard that they apparently mistake for a flowerless flowerbed with grass growing in it. Seriously, it’s a hump where a tree once grew that now is covered with grass. I don’t complain about any of this because they are cheap. I understand that you most often do get what you pay for.
I am, however, ready to call and complain right now. This month they have come to do their job once. It’s the end of May and they have done one cut of our lawn, on the 15th. Our grass is so long it tickles my knees as I walk through the backyard. My husband joked that he would be able to do all kinds of cliche family portraits without having to drive anywhere. The field is now surrounding our house. I walked through the grass yesterday and when I turned around there were giant foot prints where I had flattened the grass. Several small crop circles are positioned all over my yard where I dragged bags of mulch to the flower beds.
As I drive down my street it looks like half the neighborhood abandoned their houses. A lot of my neighbors use this lawn service and nobody has seen them in more than ten days. It’s like a zombie apocalypse on our street. I saw some pink and white streamers blowing in the wind and it was the handlebars of a little girl’s bike. The grass had swallowed the entire bike, leaving just the tip of a handlebar unconsumed. If I had a decent script I would break out the camera and film a horror movie in the hood.
The end is near!
The neighbors on either side of me must be losing their minds. They both take very good care of their yards so having the hillbillies with the field next door has to be making them crazy. I noticed that our one neighbor was out on his riding mower for the third time in a week yesterday. I think our yard is giving him anxiety. Maybe he is worried that it’s contagious. I almost told him if he wanted to just keep riding and cut through our yard I wouldn’t complain. At this point though, I’m afraid he might get stuck. I think we are at a level where only an industrial mower will handle our situation. I’m expecting a letter from our homeowners’ association any day now.
Sadly, what I am most annoyed with in this entire situation is that the owner of our lawn care company is a horrible businessman. I could understand him not showing up if we paid a flat rate per season regardless of the work performed, but we pay per cut. Every week he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid. Maybe he is like Forrest Gump and cuts grass for fun, but even then I would think he would want to come around more than once a month. So now I am standing around the door waiting for the crew to show up so I can give them a business card and offer them some solid business advice while I remind them that the hump out front is just a hump and needs to be cut. This is going to be a long week!
My daughter would make a natural politician. She has the gift of gab, she can manipulate the stripes off a zebra and when all else fails, she knows that most problems can be solved with cold hard cash. She has been attempting to use this last technique to avoid doing anything she doesn’t want to do lately. Last week I told her to get ready to go to the gym. She explained that it wasn’t a good time for her since her friend doesn’t go on Tuesdays. When I told her she would have plenty of other kids to play with, she waved a $5 at me and said “you can have THIS if you let me stay home from the gym!” When I asked her if she was trying to bribe me she asked what that meant. I explained that offering someone money to do something they didn’t want to do was bribery. She said very simply “yes, I am trying to bribe you.”
In her seven year old mind there is really no difference between working and accepting a bribe. She picks up sticks for my dad when he is doing yard work and he pays her. She sees this as getting paid for doing something she doesn’t want to do. She thinks my dad is paying her to do this work because he doesn’t want to do it – which is partially true. She thinks paying me $5 to avoid going to the gym is the same as my dad paying her $5 to pick up sticks so he doesn’t have to do it. I can’t argue with that logic since her young mind doesn’t have the life experience to understand the difference.
I think she’s going to need to pick up more sticks!
This is probably the time I should be teaching her that bribery is bad, but the thing is, I bribe her. I’m not saying this is a good parenting technique, but I use it. A lot. We have several different reward systems for things and they work, so I am going to continue to use them, bribery or not. She is smart enough to call me out on it if I tell her that she can’t bribe me but I can bribe her.
I do feel there must be a lesson to be learned here. I have decided that the lesson is you can only get out of unpleasant things for so long – in this case until you run out of money. So she hasn’t been to the gym in a week and I have $25 that I didn’t have last week. What can I say, some lessons are harder than others.
Practice makes perfect right? There is usually a positive correlation between the number of times you do something and your ability to do it. Driving seems to not follow this rule. Like dancing or listening, it seems to be something you are either good at or not. Practice may help, but if you are one of those bad drivers I see on the road every day, you are never going to be good at it, no matter how many hours you spend behind the wheel. You may become barely competent at best. Taxi drivers are a pretty good example of this theory. They spend more hours behind the wheel than they do on their feet in any given day and they still get as many middle fingers directed at them as Jane Fonda at a Veteran’s Day parade.
I remember taking a driver’s education class before getting my license as a teenager. I took a week long class about two weeks before obtaining my license and I literally drove the instructor’s vehicle for less than ten minutes in that week. I did, however, drive myself to the class daily since it was in the summer, my parents weren’t home and the car I was getting for my upcoming birthday was already parked in our garage. I was a rule breaker from birth, so this didn’t seem like a particularly bad thing to do. In my fifteen year old mind driving without a license was less of a crime than inconveniencing a family member or neighbor by asking them for a ride.
When the instructor asked me how much experience I had driving I said “a little”. Having no point of reference, it seemed like an acceptable answer. I had been riding a motorcycle since I could hold it up by myself and logged as many hours riding as a long-haul trucker full of adderal. I had also been appointed the designated driver at the age of eight on a trip to Canada with the Indian Princesses. This sounds bad until you know that we pulled into a gas station and a nine year old was behind the wheel of another car. Okay, I guess it still sounds bad. Regardless, I thought everyone had the same amount of experience as I did. I was mistaken.
I spent three of the five days in class sitting in the backseat praying that I didn’t die because the fifteen year old in the front seat couldn’t simultaneously keep her hands at ten and two and her foot on the gas peddle. I quit turning to look out the back window after awhile, fully expecting to get flattened by a semi because little Suzy couldn’t get our car up to the speed limit in the football field length of space she had on the freeway entrance ramp. A sat, silently praying that the gas peddle and steering wheel would receive some kind of divine intervention. Somehow, by the end of the week, everyone was sent on their way to the Secretary of State with a certificate of completion.
Like mother, like daughter!
I was behind a student driver last week that made little Suzy look like a race care driver. She was holding onto the wheel so tightly I could see her knuckles bulging from the side mirror as she attempted to make a right turn. I tried not to laugh as her back tire took the curb on the way around the bend. My amusement turned to concern as I saw a line of vehicles behind her attempting to pass as she drove down the center of two lanes. I think I even saw an old lady with a walker flip her a middle finger as she walked past. This girl was a hazard on the road, barely moving. I felt like I was watching the slow speed police chase led by OJ Simpson.
Unfortunately, I have seen many middle aged people driving the exact same way – people who should have years of driving experience. I watched a fifty year old man drive a mile through my neighborhood with two wheels completely on the curb. I don’t know if it was his first time driving or if he was one of the people who would just never quite get the hang of driving. All I know is I had to slow down to avoid the spray of dust behind him and I watched people walking their dog pull back onto the grass to avoid the cloud coming at them. My seven year old giggled from the back seat asking “what in the world is that guy doing?” Even at her young age she knows when she sees a bad driver and she is not afraid to point them out. She has certainly heard enough backseat driving coming from the front seat!
If there is a good driving gene, I guess my daughter has a 50/50 shot of getting it. Although my husband and I have both spent countless hours behind the wheel, only one of us is really good at it. Just in case it is a skill that will develop with practice, we have put her behind the wheel already. She sits on my husband’s lap and drives around empty parking lots. I’m happy to say she is doing better than at least 60% of the drivers I see on the road. I know driver’s education classes are still a long time away but I am already contemplating where I will hide the car keys. After all, she is my kid.
A couple animals escaped!
I placed an indefinite moratorium on toy purchases until my child starts enjoying doing things more than buying things. It may be a long time before anything made of plastic is paid for with plastic. We went to the zoo over the weekend and all she wanted to do was check out the gift shops and food stands. She literally walked right by two anteaters without blinking on her way to a bin of stuffed polar bears. How do you walk right by an anteater? It’s like a saw horse wearing a shawl. Which end is which? During her three hour quest for cheesy popcorn and anything stuffed or remotely shiny she did stop to see some reptiles and a zebra. I am fairly certain, however, that the only reason she stopped to gaze at the zebra was because he was peeing.
This behavior is not unique to the zoo. My daughter tries to shop everywhere she goes. When I invite her to tag along on a quick trip to Target to buy some deodorant or vitamins, she declines after her request to purchase a toy is denied. The first question she asks whenever we are going somewhere is if she can buy something. Her Dad stopped at Home Depot to pick up fertilizer and she tried to buy a toy there. She was seriously disappointed in the selection. In her mind all stores have toys, food, or something else that she can waste her money on. Good thing home improvement stores have hot dogs!
Mom, I NEED a pinata!
I would like to blame this shopping obsession on toys like Shopkins that are teaching kids to be little consumers, but I really can’t. It’s genetic. She comes from a very long line of gifted shoppers. By gifted I mean we can find a way to purchase something anywhere. The gym, post office, church, sometimes even in the car while stopped at a light. I don’t advocate online shopping while driving, but sometimes commutes are long and things happen. I don’t know if I have ever known my mother to leave a store without buying at least one thing. The wee one is following right in her footsteps. The problem with this is a seven year old doesn’t have the same understanding of money that an adult does. She just wants things and will do what it takes to get them.
Materialism has sunk it’s teeth deep into my child. We are putting up a good fight but it’s hard to compete against all the glitz and glitter. This battle has been going on since she could walk. It goes a little something like this – child wants toy, asks parents for toy, parents refuse to buy toy, child cries to grandma, grandma buys toy. The parents never win this battle, not that I know of at least. So, I declared a a cease fire. My house is much like the Cuban missile crisis. Demands are made, threats are returned, and we both back away. I know this is a fight that will also last as long, if not longer than the Cold War. That’s okay, I’ve got stamina.
The good news is summer is upon us. It is a time to spend doing things and not buying things. It is hours in the pool and out at the lake. The bad news is I am already having visions of Amazon Prime deliveries floating out to us with my daughter’s name on the packages. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
I wrote this story while listening to Sonic Youth “Daydream Nation”