When I moved in with Brian, to a house on the fringes of the outskirts of Boston, I knew there would be some adjustments to be made. For example, I can no longer end an argument by yelling, “Whatever, I’m going home!”, slamming the door and stomping into the night. I can say, “Whatever, I’m going to my room!” but that makes me feel like an angry teenager. And then he might not let me borrow the car.
The car. That’s another change. If you are normal and you live where I live now, you depend on a car to get you where you need to go, as the nearest sweet, sweet T station is half an hour away. The local town square is well equipped to handle my everyday funeral parlor, toy store and soccer supply needs, but I need to drive fifteen minutes to find groceries.
Do I have a car, to get those groceries? I do not. I take the bus. However, where buses are involved, most of my time is spent standing wistfully on the curb, gazing at the horizon, and willing every vehicle that drives past me to turn into a bus.
The song in my head goes something like this: “Be a bus!/ Not a bus!/ Be a bus!/ Not a bus,” with an occasional chorus of “You’re a bus!/ But you are the wrong bus.” Singing that song in my head for longer than twenty minutes in frigid winds leaves me feeling slightly murderous.
Now and then, a bus passes me with a sign on it that says ‘Out of Service’. This also infuriates me, for several reasons. One, I can’t tell if that bus is my bus or not. And if it IS my bus, I’d really rather be riding it than watching it pass me, particularly in the brutal cold of an early winter in Boston. Frankly, I feel that if a bus can pass me, it can damn well pick me up and bus me around until I can feel my face again. In fact, unless a bus is clearly on fire, or there is a rampaging bear inside the bus, or a giant attack squid on is top of the bus with its tentacles wrapped over the windows, a bus should be in service.
Now that I think about it, every single bus I have ever seen that had an ‘Out of Service’ sign on it has looked perfectly fine to me. What exactly is the problem, I would like to know? How come the bus drivers who pass me with those signs always seem to avoid my eyes? Are their buses really broken? Or do they just kind of want to take it easy for a few stops and relax? I can sympathize with that desire, but somewhat less so when I am wedged against a building to stay out of the wind, passing the time by deciding which fingers the doctor should be able to save. I’d love to put on a hat with the words ‘Out of Service’ on it at MY job, which would enable me to breeze past anyone asking me to make photocopies, while whistling and pointing at my hat. I can’t do that. Maybe I am at the wrong job.
Or maybe I am at the right job, and just have the wrong hat. In any event, two can play at this game. Perhaps the next time my 7:39am bus arrives at 8:54am, I will board the bus and pull out my wallet, which will be taped shut with an ‘Out of Service’ sign on it, then shrug and ride for free. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how I much was enjoying taking Brian’s dog, Charlie, for evening walks through the neighborhood. He usually gets his exercise by running around in the woods that border our backyard, so I think he was happy to have the company. As a matter of fact, he grew to like our walks. A lot, in a very short time. It’s to the point where now I can’t stop taking him. Meanwhile, the weather worsens, and it gets darker earlier each evening.
Now, when I get home, Charlie greets me at the door, and then sits down expectantly in front of me, waiting for me to hook his leash to his collar and get to the walk. “He never does that to you!” I said to Brian. “When you get home, you get a cheerful ‘howdy’ and that’s it. You get to take your coat off, and sort through the mail, without a dog dancing in circles around your legs.” “You don’t see me taking him for walks all the time,” Brian replied, and gave me a look. “Sucker,” it said. I realized then what I had gotten myself into.
I’ve tried to get out of our walks. At first I figured it wouldn’t be that difficult to blow Charlie off until he forgot all about them. And if that took awhile, so what? He’s a dog! How much emotional manipulation is he really capable of? The answer is, apparently more than I am. Case in point: I am unable to get Brian to go on these walks with us. I whine, I beg, I paw at him; he shrugs and continues watching “Mythbusters”. And still the dog makes me go, into the dark and cold, night after night.
At this point, on my way home from work each evening, I whimper to myself about how tired I am, and how cold it is outside, and how I’m not going to want to leave the house once I get there. No walk today, I think, as I trudge up the hill to the house. I just can’t do it. I don’t have it in me. And then I open the front door, Charlie rushes over, and gives me the greet, and the sit, and…I grab the leash. Sucker.
But really, how can I say no? Somehow, it feels like saying ‘no’ to a walk would be like giving a child a Playstation 3 box for his birthday, and inside the box is a toaster. It would be like giving a teenager a set of keys and telling him they’re for his new Audi that’s parked outside, and when he gets outside they’re actually the keys to his grandma’s car because –guess what!— she’s visiting for the weekend, and she’s staying in his room. Not taking Charlie for his walk just feels mean. Especially because all I have to do is wear a coat and shuffle around the neighborhood, but when I put that coat on and reach for his leash you’d think I was reaching for a strip steak with a winning lottery ticket sticking out of it, sitting on a pile of illegal fireworks.
So I guess that’s how he gets me, by making the emotional reward for taking him on a walk so much greater than the minimal physical effort the walk actually takes. And, because I’m a sucker.
Returning to my house that evening, I saw everything with a freshly critical eye—particularly the twenty-five-year old blue Landcruiser with the mismatched red door panel that’s been parked in the driveway for over a year. Should I stick a few dried ears of corn on it, to fit in? I worry that there is nothing to be done for us, especially when I recall that time we left a full-size freezer to defrost on the front lawn for an entire weekend. It was fully defrosted after only a few hours, but we figured, better safe than sorry. Also, better lazy than respectable.
I was already growing ashamed of the fact that, when recycling day rolls around, ours is the only bin that overflows with empty beer and wine bottles. Sure, the occasional milk-gallon jug or soup can sneaks in, but mostly it’s a shiny brown avalanche of empty booze receptacles piled at the end of the driveway every other week. It is some small comfort knowing that we drink decent beer, even if it is in obscene quantities. Our neighbors, their monocles splintering in disapproval, will have to admit that at least we have taste in something. And I know that the man who comes around in the mornings before trash collection (in his Saab) to cash in on our empties appreciates us. Last week he left the loveliest gilt-edged, monogrammed calling card.
‘Molly,’ you are probably thinking. “Why are you complaining about your excessively wealthy neighborhood? You grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. You never fit in there either. You used to hug your doorman. At least you can feel safe walking the dog at night.’ But I can’t! In my last neighborhood, all I had to fear was roving gangs of teenagers and drunken college students. These I at least vaguely understood, having once been part of each of their ranks. Now I am faced with the unknown, having never even remotely rubbed elbows with wealthy suburbanites. When I am faced with the unknown, my mind fills in the blanks with outlandish, unrealistic fears. I blame being read to as a child.
I feel increasingly out of place as I amble past immaculately trimmed lawns in old sneakers and pajama pants, with an unpedigreed dog at the end of a leash that is frayed in three places and coated with dried leaves—and not as a decorative homage to fall. What if someone thinks I am trespassing and calls the cops? What if they decide to administer their own brand of high-end vigilante justice, and I am found in the woods, beaten within an inch of my life with a diamond-headed walking stick? I fear that during one of my innocent, late-night walks, I will accidentally witness a clandestine affair between a wealthy socialite neighbor and her landscaper and have hounds released at me, or be run over by a limo.
I know. There’s something wrong with me. I think it’s mostly the abundance of lively fall decorations that have me flustered. There’s something unnerving about a neighborhood in which lawns are green and uncluttered in the twilight of October, while entranceways, pillars and gateposts are ablaze with fake foliage. I suppose I should be appreciative of the time and effort that is put into these embellishments. After all, they are there for the enjoyment of myself and the few other residents who live in this small community, and they certainly beat my last neighborhood’s October decoration of choice: raw eggs. The least I can do is admire their work. And curb my dog.