Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Bare Trees

I am going to paraphrase Anne Lamott out of context here, because I can't find the quote.

In one of her books she talks about visiting a nursing home; I believe it's with her church. The experience was grim. Lamott visted them anyway, because her friend Margaret told her the old are like bare trees, and must be loved unconditionally.

Well. I live in a building that went condo back in 1976, at which point many of the renters bought their units cheaply and stayed on. Now some are quite elderly, including the man who lives across from us.

This man is loathed by many of the long-term denizens. He had appointed himself a sort of ruling overlord, screeching at those who dared move in and out using the stairs instead of the elevator, posting nasty notes on the community board about who should be watering the plants, that sort of thing. If he thought people were making too much noise, he threw stunningly loud tantrums.

I learned much of this from neighbors, who stopped me in the laundry room or in the garage to share their "Bill" stories. Soon enough I grew to dislike him, too. The way he got his newspaper partly undressed, left his front door open all day and evening, made the occasional inappropriate sexual remark, and stank up our hallway with the smell of unwashed old man and even more unwashed apartment. In recent years his hearing has declined, so the open door is joined by the blaring television. Still, Hockeyman and I feel much of this behavior is aimed at getting attention, so we ignore him. Our efforts have paid off. While he continues to behave atrociously, he never bothers us.

Last night I was trying to get some sleep--a precious commodity I've lacked all week. The family in the building next door decided they needed to be out on their patio, talking at top volume. The toddler they claim does not live there but seems to be around continuously squealed and shrieked. This child is awake until eleven at night.

Harboring murderous thoughts, I stuffed my ears with earplugs and took refuge on the couch.

I have exceptional hearing. I can identify all seven my of co-workers footsteps on carpet. I hear telephones ringing in the building next to ours. I can pick out the hum of my husband's van as he drives up our street, a major thoroughfare adjoining a freeway.

My hearing can make urban living nightmarish, especially during summertime, when everyone opens their windows.

At about eleven Hockeyman woke me, saying the neighbors had quieted, and suggested I move back to bed.

I was awakened at two by what I thought was a deranged homeless person outside, mumbling and cursing. I put on my glasses, peered outside, saw nothing. I got back into bed. The noise resumed, accompanied by thrashing sounds. It was Bill, on the other side of the wall. He was incoherent. Was he dreaming? Having some kind of sundowner episode? Had somebody broken in?

Then he started groaning. I leaped from bed and called 911. Threw on some clothes and met the police outside.

Fortunately Bill had left his door unlocked. The officers found him on the bedroom floor, where he'd fallen. An ambulance was summoned. The officer thanked me for calling. "It's a good thing you heard him," he said. "who knows how he long might have lain there if it weren't for you?"

I do. Until about eleven a.m, when his caretaker arrives.

I thanked the officer and returned to bed, where I did not sleep.

Bill is still in the hospital. Eventually somebody will come to feed his cats and I will learn whether or not he'll return. Until then, his apartment door is closed. No television. No drunken ranting.

I cannot bring myself to love this particular bare tree. Perhaps this is evidence of my own shortcomings, my lack of what Californians like to call spiritual evolution. But I also cannot clear my mind of the terror and confusion he was obviously experiencing, and feel a horrified pity.


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