Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yappy Dogs and Faulty Homes

My brown curls smelt like smoke today: burnt plumb trees and leftover construction wood. Phil and I had a fire in our brazier last night and it was romantic even with the Whittier helicopter trying to land on the nearby hills, our tenants watching T.V. with the windows open, our neighbors sprinklers going off, the ice cream truck playing Christmas carols, and the sirens of the 911 calls responding to Aunt Betty who choked on her potatoes—or so Phil says. I think the sirens are for domestic violence in the apartment complexes located between Hadley and Broadway. All the local sex offenders live there.

I was thankful that that yappy dog across the alley was quiet. It yaps non-stop from the time I get home until about 5pm: a squeaky yap, like the sound my Junior High students’ desks make when they rock them. I’ve done almost all I can do to shut that little wiener dog up. I’ve called the police twice. Phil’s called once. I’ve left a note. I printed material about how to recognize and stop a pet’s separation anxiety and stuck it in their mailbox. Phil even discretely secured a dog silencer under the eves of the neighbor’s garage; it sends off a high pitch noise every time the dog barks—but that fell off and is now who knows where. My Mom finally contacted animal control stating that she owns property in our neck of the woods and her tenants have been complaining about a dog barking. Sounds like a good story to me! I have the e-mail address and number available to make a follow up call if necessary.

While I eagerly wait to rob some old man of his lifelong canine companion, I’ve been inspired to cook like a professional. Ruth Reichl’s book Garlic and Sapphires is behind the desire to add garnishes and candlelight to my dinners. As New York Times’ food critic she describes Sushi like magic, and I fell for it. With words like those I knew I had to give Sushi a chance. So Phil and I splurged and went to Joy Sushi where we ate every morsel of raw tuna, salmon, shrimp, and halibut dipped in Soy Sauce, ginger, and wasabi. It was delicious. As an added treat we watched the Lakers game against Oklahoma. Raw fish and T.V.: what an unusual combination!

The real cause for celebration was the rental of both our front house and apartment. After 3 months—but what felt like 6—our lot is a little community again: a shared washing machine, visitors climbing the freshly painted exterior stairs, full trashcans, conversation through the walls, and a reversal of the cash flow. I’m a little peeved at God about that. All those weeks of worrying and now everything is fine. It’s not just that we’ve stopped dipping into our savings to pay our mortgage, but that the United States Treasury refunded us double the amount we lost in those 3 months. Oh God, why must you be so sneaky like that?! You’re probably laughing, hu? You think this is funny, don’t you! I can’t help smiling just at the thought of it. That God! He’s so stinking sneaky. He makes the bridges fall into place just before I set foot on them. He must think there’s some great value in that horrible suspense that I’ve got to endure with my foot out, suspended over vacant space right before he throws down the bridge’s first plank. It works out. It always does.

It must work out for others too, right? “The Lord works justice and righteousness for all who are oppressed.” Ps 103. Today I caught four students copying off others at break. I walked up behind them and peered over their shoulder and when my suspicions were confirmed, I reached over and without a word snatched up the papers. One of the guilty students came up to me and began pleading with me.

“Please, Mrs. Stevens. I’m so sorry. I don’t ever do this. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m having a really tough time right now. And my parents are in court. Please don’t give me a detention. I can’t have it. I’ve never had a detention. Please. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I just had so much on my mind with my parents getting a divorce. I always do my homework. This is the first time. I just forgot to do it. If I had a detention, it would be just so hard on me right now.”

She was on the verge of tears as she begged for her and her friend’s papers. I told her that Mrs. Shubin would decide her punishment, not me. But I felt for her, and could see that she was being sincere. Oh God, are you listening to her prayers! Oh God, do her parents know what they’re doing to their daughter? It makes me sober to hear what some of these kids have to go through. Do I forgive them more readily for having leaky pipes and crumbling roofs because their foundations are being shaken?

Take Mr. Q in the choir: he is our deepest baritone. His voice sometimes makes the floor rumble, and his comments often make the choir ripple with discomfort. Any misspoken word, any wrong note, any early cutoff, or silly exercise: Mr. Q points it out. He reminds me of myself when I was in sixth grade, and Mrs. Long made me do push-ups on the hot asphalt. I muttered to my friend, “I wish she would do pushups on the hot ground and then she’d know what it feels like.”

Well, Mrs. Long heard me and made me run an extra lap, but everyone hears Mr. Q and still he persists. I’m not ready to lead a revolt against him or rebuke him or even speak unkindly about him behind his back, because I’m almost certain there’s more going on there than meets the eye. I hear the creak in his framework, but I don’t know what wood was used to make his house. Is it splitting? Are there termites? Dry rot? I’m more inclined to smile and shake my head like Phil sometimes does at funny people. “Oh Mr. Q. You’re a character.” It doesn’t rile him; and it doesn’t rile me.