Neon Light Street Light

Speaking for myself, the Pandemic changed a lot of things. For over a year, I seldom left my house and I was fine with that. Each excursion into the outside world was an anxiety-provoking ordeal. Eleven months ago, my insurance company pointed out to me that I hadn’t seen a doctor in 2020, and would I please cut that shit right out? Okay, I said, and started making appointments. Then Pete and I had COVID. We had mild cases, but when we had the opportunity to get vaccinated in the spring, we jumped at the chance. Even so, I mostly stayed in the house until late September and in early October, I was called into the office twice a week. I hate it. It’s awkward. The building is cold and I have to put on shoes and socks and pants, damn it. I have to put on pants.

But the Pandemic also introduced something new in my neighborhood: mutual aid with strangers.

Over a year ago and after the end of the quarantine, Pete and I and our neighbor Andie started putting books, mugs, extra Mason jars, clothing, tables, all sorts of extraneous things in boxes on the sidewalk with a sign that said FREE. People took books because everyone was spending more time at home. Some people were reluctant to take things if we were on the porch. We encouraged them to take whatever interested them, and when they did, we put out more stuff. This has been helpful as we empty my mother’s house. It’s been more than two and a half years since Mom died, and now that stepdad Tom has moved out, we are still sorting through a shocking amount of useless, stored stuff.

This morning, I was studying, then went out for short walk. The air was crisp and cool; the sunlight bright. During the time we were all at home, I would walk this same path and see lots of my neighbors had the same idea. They put out tables or rugs with unneeded objects for anyone to take. Three houses down today, I found this table, which I had not seen before. I remembered a box I’d forgotten about a couple of months ago, and time passes so strangely now. When I got home, I put out the box on the sidewalk and added five matching mugs that someone else could use. I’m going to look around this afternoon for other things to give away.

Before the Pandemic, I would have bet against most of my neighbors talking to me. Andie and I spent a lot of time on the porch this summer working from home, her more than me. New people moved in across the street and Andie declared their antics, “the best TV ever.” There’s a small boy who appears to be boneless. His father does pushups in the yard and parks his van on the lawn. The boy’s mother may have had enough of absolutely everyone and everything, and there are visiting cousins. Their friends stand in the driveway and drink until all hours and the little boy stands around with them. I’m almost sad it’s winter and this circus has been driven indoors. But who knows, maybe they’ll stay another year. These neighbors studiously avoid eye contact and do not interact with anyone outside their circle of friends. Other neighbors now seek out conversation. Last week, a neighborhood tuxedo cat was out walking a man and when the cat stopped to talk with me, so did the man. That’s never happened to me before. Andie tells me it she sees them regularly. I’m still concerned about meeting up with crazy people, but I am cautiously thinking about getting out more.

The Chance To Be Handsome

About a month ago, the local power company dug up the pipes in front of my duplex house – and not just my house, but all the houses on my crooked block. The jackhammering went on for three weeks. As I have been working from home, this was driving me stark ravers. I fixated on a point: the workers, mostly interchangeable white men of indeterminate shaving habits, appeared to work six days a week without a bathroom in a New Jersey July. My co-workers and I referred to these workers as The Anthonys because, as I mentioned, the racket made coherent thought nearly impossible and, as you know, I am not a nice person.

The Anthonys – and at some points there were at least a dozen of them – dug up plants along the edge of my neighbor Andie’s front yard, which might be 14′ x 10′. It’s not large at all. I fretted about the plants, hated the drilling noises and was mystified when a holly tree, trimmed to about 3′ in height, disappeared. Several forsythia disappeared. I located the holly on the side of the house. Then, an Anthony grabbed the holly and started walking away with it. It was then I uttered the immortal words, “WHERE ARE YOU GOING? THAT’S MY BUSH!” 

I stood up straight, remembered I am a hard woman and said, “That’s my tree. Destroying them is illegal in New Jersey. Replant that.” Next thing I knew, an Anthony with a shovel was digging a hole. I said, “I’m sorry you got the terrible job.”

“To be honest,” he said, “this is all I do around here.” I had to fold myself in half to laugh hard enough. Andie chose this moment to burst from the house with a vengeful look on her face.

“Too much fun is being had out here,” she said. I looked back at the guy digging a hole for a small holly tree in 90 degree heat.

“No,” I said, “No one is having any fun here.”

The road crew moved to another block up the street, then around the corner, then further down. Or maybe it moved to another town, I can’t really tell. The crews are everywhere on this side of our small down, and all the roads bear the scars of digging and temporary patching sometimes two and three times. Tomorrow morning, I am going to drive the .3 miles to the farmers market, where Andie and I will buy five cases of tomatoes from the organic farmers and drive them home. If I were a nicer person, I might be concerned about the scorn of my neighbors, but my neighbors made the power company make an appointment to dig up their yard, thus subjecting the rest of us to three consecutive Fridays in which our garbage was not picked up. In 90 degree New Jersey. In July. So fuck them. I will also buy peaches.

Black Air And Seven Seas

When I was 14, I turned a corner in the park near my house and saw a skinny boy I’d never seen before painting a metal equipment locker, and I loved him at first sight. There were many ups and downs along the way – some I thought the friendship wouldn’t survive – but that doesn’t matter anymore, does it? He was brilliant, and I will miss him all my life.

Press Let the Story Leak

I’m sitting on my front porch, watching the parade of suburban humanity on its walk to a nearby park, where my tiny town will stage its annual fireworks display. Towns here are bunched up next to each other. Last night, on Independence Day proper, more than half a dozen towns or cities close by set off cacophonous displays well into the night that pissed off pets up and down the Northeast Corridor. My cats huddled on top of me, hoping for reassurance and fishy treats. Tonight, the big booms won’t go on for seeming eternity, but they’ll be closer. You bet your ass I have my hand on the bag of fishy treats.

So let’s talk about vegetables.

You gaze into the vegetables. The vegetables gaze into you.

This year, the unnamed university furloughed its workers for one day per week for ten weeks. My union settled on an agreement last so I had time to plan for this hit to my wallet. In the spring, I bought into a CSA with my favorite organic farmers. In practice, this means I march over to the farmers market on Fridays, where the farmer hands me a bag of vegetables, I spin on my heel and march homeward. This arrangement paid for itself five weeks into the season when I wasn’t making a weekly pilgrimage to the credit union to drain my checking account to pick up cash. Hooray! Related: holy smokes, my fridge is full of vegetables. How am I going to get Pete to eat them?

Pete, a chef, regards most vegetables on his plate as personal insults. What are they doing there, taking up valuable space where spaghetti could be? No one knows! You may think I am exaggerating, but no. As I laid this fresh haul on the counter last Friday, I could see immediately Pete would never touch summer squash, kale would be a struggle and cucumbers would require some careful planning. I love summer squash. I sauteed it with butter and sliced onions and froze it for winter, when these flavors will remind me of hot sun and bare feet. I peeled and sliced the cucumbers with some onions and quick pickled them with sugar, gentle spices and apple cider vinegar. After 24 hours, they were ready to taste. Another cucumber from last week’s CSA became creamy tzatziki sauce. This afternoon, I piled pickled onion slices on a lengua taco and was insufferably pleased with my handiwork. Tomorrow, I will trim the kale and simmer it gently for a long time with some salt pork, as I would collards. If that sits on a plate next to a delicious protein, Pete will eat that and feel virtuous describing it to his doctor.

Last night, I made a stir fry with leftover chicken and Canton noodles that included the broccoli, which I steamed before frying. I would eat Canton noodles off a hair brush, but Pete is more circumspect. Parsnips from our garden, celery, garlic, garlic scapes and fennel from the organic farmer, onion and pepper from a neighbor’s garden came together nicely enough with soy sauce, ponzu and toasted sesame oil. Though broccoli is not usually a problem at dinnertime, I do feel like I got away with something, and I do not regret it.

Every summer, I buy a mess o’ beets from this same organic farmer. I roast beets with olive oil and salt, drop them into jars with brine and process the jars in boiling water. It’s messy, sweaty, sticky work that pays off all winter long. My whole family, including my beet-resistant stepdad Tom, will eat the beets I jar. Pete eats them regularly, so I was looking for a fresh take on fresh beets. In the Joy of Cooking, I found a recipe for roast beets with apples, but I had pears, courtesy of a neighbor. I thought the combination as a warm salad sounded promising. And it was. I guess. Will I make that again? [Insert mumbling here,] by which I mean probably not, no.

The last thing on the table is an onion. It looks nervous, doesn’t it? We were in a bar once and Some Guy asked Pete, “As a chef, what one ingredient could you never be without?” Immediately and with conviction, Pete said, “Onions.” My guess is this onion knows it has entered the lair of its enemy.

Ah! The fireworks have started. I’m ready with fishy treats.