By Labor Day weekend Sally had planted a vegetable garden of a respectable size in front of the apartment building. Gladys and Manny tended it like it was their sacred charge. Manny would pick up his hoe the minute they got back from Marv’s, and Gladys would sit in a lawn chair and tell him what to do. Then he would do it while she talked to the bean plants.
The Wangs had pulled out the overgrown jungle in their backyard and a few other neighbors up and down the block started mowing more often. It was the “keeping up with the Jones’s” thing and it disgusted me. If a man can’t be who he is, it ain’t worth livin’. I said as much to Sally one day when she brought over some sugar cookies without frosting.
“I agree, Mr. Bingham, a man should be who he is, but. . .”
I coughed and spit then. I hate ‘buts’, large and small. The only ones I ever liked were in an ashtray, and even they get stale after a time.
“I’ll be heading home now. Nice to visit with you.”
She started toward the porch steps.
“You didn’t finish your sentence, missy,” I remarked.
That threw her, I could tell, for she just stood and looked at me for a minute.
“It bothers you, Mr. Bingham? An unfinished sentence?” she asked.
I squinted at her.
“Maybe an unfinished sentence bothers you like an unfinished man bothers me.”
She smiled, waved, and left.
Now I ain’t dumb. I resented that woman, Sally. She tweaked me on purpose, and it wasn’t the first time.
The rest of the neighbors took to her pretty well, though. Sniff copied her like a scribe – not one jot or tittle was omitted. She had a red potted geranium balanced on her porch railing. She got it at K-mart. I know cuz I saw them on sale there for 99 cents. Sniff pretended it was from Bachmans, though; like she was some sort of landscape expert herself.
I started a game of throwing pebbles at it. She caught me at my game, though, and you would have thought Armageddon itself was located on Plato Street and the good Lord sent His angels for the last war. That explosion lasted at least a week. The problem, of course, was that the corner column of the porch was in the way. Otherwise I would’ve taken that stupid geranium out for sure.
I started making a habit of walking down Plato Street every day. Someone needed to keep track of things and, as usual, I could see it would fall to me. No one else was up to it.
Sniff sat out on her porch drinking Coke all day long. There were too many Wangs for them to keep track of themselves, much less of anyone else. Gladys and Manny had their garden to tend. Julie was too scared to leave her apartment for anything but work. Luckily for her she worked at a grocery, so she didn’t have to make special trips for anything. I rarely saw Bud, although Ashley came out to visit with Gladys when Bud was on his shift. She wore dark glasses sometimes or long sleeves in the sunshine. No one said anything, but everyone knew what was going on. But I’m getting sidetracked.
Anyway, as I said, it fell to me to be the neighborhood monitor. When I was in grade school, the teacher would appoint a hall monitor while we put on our coats. One time she appointed me, and I had them kids in line, no question. A classmate, Martha was her name, started to cry when I yelled at her. To this day, it bothers me. At any rate, I’ve always liked that word. Monitor. It sounds business-like.
It fell to me to monitor Plato Street, and I noticed before long that it began to look, well, for lack of a better word – clean.
The sidewalks, though still jutting up in places for all the world like a California fault line, were clear of weeds and gum. Even the gutters were swept at some houses. That was going too far to my mind. Didn’t people have anything better to do than sweep a gutter? I said so under my breath. It happened, though, that I mumbled this just as Sweet Beat walked past me.
to be continued . . .