Hadn’t seen my neighbor Huey in a bunch of weeks and I’d started wondering what to do, since I’m not Ms. Appropriate Behavior during the best of times, but then this neighborhood isn’t Appropriate Acres, either. If a man needs to hole up in his house or his car, depending on his fortunes, suck down a lot of meth or booze or stare at his flat screen 24/7, we’ll defend his right to do any or all that shit to the death. No one’s going to slither up to your front door with a pot of soup and a lot of fakey concern, try to peek behind you and get a looky-look at your sordid digs. Knowing that too, I decided just to let things be.
So when I saw him outside in his yard week before last, I felt better knowing he was out and about and yanked the ancient Benz approximately near the curb, then hollered Hey! I had one immediate project I needed his help with, if it wasn’t too fiddly. My husband had a drawing table ready, but the legs were too high and needed to be cut down.
“Girl, you watch out with ‘at car, someone’s gone run right up your ass,” he hollered back at me. Huey was wearing a pair of cut-down jeans, a cut-down Cowboy’s t-shirt, and a pink bandana around his head, worn David Foster Wallace/cholo style. The day was already boiling hot, and the two of us were both pale with bad sinus problems.
“Nah. Other drivers. They leave me alone,” I told him, getting out, not minding that I was hogging half the road. And then, like a crow spotting a shiny thing, I suddenly noticed that Huey had two goldfish tattoos, one on each arm done Japanese style. “Love those tats,” I said, “Really nice.”
He held out his forearms and frowned assessingly. “Guy owns Suffer City did ’em after I done some work for him, you know Suffer City ain’t doin’ tattoos no more.”
“Just piercing?” I asked, and when Huey nodded, I said, “Yuck,” mostly thinking about some faces I’d seen, faces that looked like tackle boxes.
Huey wiped his forehead and said, “I know. Piercing. S’gross cause guys come in n’ they want their hoohahs pierced n’ the titty dancers’re comin’ in wantin’ their hoohahs pierced too, I mean right out there inna store, in fronta God an’ man. Goddamn, it’s hot today. I mean downright evil.”
Not wanting to linger on hoohahs, I agreed that today’s weather was evil and would be a sight more goddamn evil as the day wore on, and then I launched into a description of my mini-project, the drawing table.
A van drifted past us, holding a six pack of young Mexican men. We nodded at them, they nodded back.
“You got someone to cut down ‘at limb?” Huey broke in, pointing towards my yard. I turned around, thinking What limb? And then, Shit! One of my awful trash-trees, specifically a mulberry near the sidewalk, showed a big chunk of unexpected injury. The summer’s vicious heat had cracked off one big limb, and it sagged down onto the lawn.
“You got anyone ta take that’n off, likely fall down mebbe conk someone onna head, or you be walkin’ under it an’ the nex’ thing you know, blam you’re down n’ out.” Huey told me.
“Well, figure a price,” I told him. “It’s gotta come down. Put it in with the drawing table, and give me one number.”
“I ‘on’t chorge you whut I normally do,” he told me with a wave towards my house, the house where my stroke-ridden husband lay.
“No, don’t do me like that. Fair’s fair,” I said.
“I know ‘at’s right. These goddamn Messicans’ll mow your yard an’ landscape it too for fi’ dollars, which I c’n say ’cause I’m a goddamn Messican myself. Lemme go inna house an’ get my tool box, I’ll stop by your place, see the table and figure how to get my truck in back, just park ever’thing inna drive maybe and get ‘er done.”
“He’s coming in here?” my hub wanted to know, aghast at the idea of Huey’s coming in the house before he was properly up and about. “That’s an awful idea.”
“It’s fine,” I said, “Just accept it. You know, My dear disciples, seek out your own salvation with diligence. Be a lantern unto yourself.”
“Thanks a lot, Buddha-butt,” my husband said sourly.
So Huey wandered through the house on the way to the drawing table, staring at all our photos and paintings, pausing at some, ignoring others. “You just don’t know whut some people are up to behind closed doors,” he concluded gnomically, while I wondered if, in Huey’s mind, painting pichures was on par with cooking meth: a money-making trade, but kind of suspect at the edges. “Lemme see whut you got out back,” he said.
That’s how we wound up standing on my cracked driveway, staring over at The New Big Fence and The Entirely Modren House. My overworked neighbor, Ramone, a 3rd grade school bilingual teacher and his really overworked grad-student-plus-teacher wife had saved enough to install The New Big Fence. Now a long, very high stretch of chainlink wound around his yard, looking like a displaced slice of The Border, glittering in the white hot day. It’s a huge lot and, without fencing, they’d had to keep their dog Samosa indoors all day, for nearly a year.
Now outdoors and behind The New Big Fence, Samosa faced the two of us, barking loudly and forever, while his dark paranoid stare never wavered. He was a squarely built animal, with thick post-like legs. He looked something like a coffee table, I thought, maybe an extra-heavy coffee table, one with big sharp teeth.
“You b’lieve ‘at?” Huey asked, nodding at Samosa, who was now showing a yard of pink tongue and panting heavily with lots of slobber. “Kep’ ‘at dog inna house all day,” he said.
“I’m not sure Samosa’s actually a dog,” I told him, “I think he’s more what you’d call a beast. Anyhow, what else could they do? They walked him early, early in the morning, like 4:30 and 5:00 AM. They did all they could, considering.” I remembered Ramone or his wife waving at me while Samosa lurched at his leash, whenever I let my cat out, watching as she crept into the dawn’s first lavendar light.
“You’re gone haveta put up a buncha them reflector strips back here,” Huey told me, taking a sharp Huey-like turn in the conversation, “otherwise you’re gone knock that t’other fence flat. Lookit.” He pointed out an older badly bashed fence-post and torn chainlink. “See how it’s got there? Course atsa garbage truck and them guys on it , jus’ backit up an’ don’t give a shit like like evry other goddamn city worker, when I uz doin’ lotsa trees few years back first thing I’d go up ta my sister’s cafe up to Casa ‘nam, an’ see them city fatasses sittin’ around with their mouths all fulla bean burrito an’ I’d say…”
The outright evil of lardass city workers was always a pleasureable topic for Huey, but I’d already heard it.
“You think that house is really finished?” I interupted, nodding at The Entirely Modren House, just beyond The New Big Fence. It was hard to tell. There were still stacks of nameless grot around and piles of dirt ranged near the walkways and modules.
“Ain’t sure if ‘at house is ever gonna be finished, but I tell you whut, him and me’s had some words,” Huey told me darkly. “He’s all about tellin’ this person an’ that person they gorta touch up this, an’ fix that, or they’re violatin’ city code. City code!” Huey spit angrily at the notion. “So I says to him, ‘S’clear ta me you ain’t from this neighborhood an’ you don’t know how things work around here, we don’t go ’round tellin people how this orta be or that’s gorta be. Nossir,’ I says, ‘S’obvious yore here because you cain’t afford to live where you’re from, n’ I’d advise you ta watch whatchure sayin’ or you could have a bad accident a some kind.’ Yessir.”
“Neighborhood’s changing,” I noted. “We’ve even got a Yard of the Month sign.”
Huey snorted, “Yard a the Month, my ass, same goddamn three people just switch at sign around, take turns with it.” It was a relief to hear him, after my paranoia over all the ominous signs of hipstery improvement I’d been noticing: the power walkers, the tiny-dog owners, and the twinkle lights installed in curvy beds of jasmine. Huey’s scorn for The Entirely Modren House and its owner was a bright signal of a kind, and it signaled that our neighborhood liked itself the goddamned way it was. Yessir.
So that day, the drawing table was sawed and half the limb came down, but the other half stayed put, sagging to the ground, leaves withering, while Huey finished several jobs in another part of town. My yard looked like shit, but everyone’s yard looked like shit so I didn’t think much about it. I knew Huey would get to it in his own good time. On Saturday, my yard guy, Javier, showed up and I went through my combo of charades and terrible French to communicate what needed to be done.
“Leave the limb right there,” I said, “because another hombre (vato?) has the job. Un autre homme a la tâche.” And Javier gave a deep sigh.
“Quit speaking French to him,” my husband keeps saying. “He doesn’t understand it.”
“Well, I don’t know why in the hell not. They’re both romance languages.” I always reply and we both get nowhere at all with our idiot quarrel, over my pig-headedness.
“Jore husban’, he spick Spanish,” Javier noted unhappily.
“Je ne parle pas espagnol et il n’est pas question que mon mari ne. Il n’est pas là,” I snapped. Another depressed sigh from Javier and he bent his misguided attention to Huey’s tree limb, preparing to saw it up.
What the hell, I thought, if Huey’s pissed I’ll sort it out with him later. I went in the house and banged around, then wandered outside and saw Javier standing motionless, frozen in place. When I got to him, I saw he was pasty-faced and trembling.
“They take all my money,” he told me, “all my money, my billfol’, evryt’ing. They point a gun at me, say Gimme your money. ”
“Who did?” I asked in a rage. “Who did this to you? Come in the house with me. We’re calling the cops.” But what I really wanted to know was, Who are these bad motherfuckers, that they needed their giant pistola to jack this gentle man? This gentleman.
“They get my card,” he said, wretchedly, “Bank of America. ‘An my papers. Evryt’ing.”
“We’ll fix it,” I said, and I marched him into my kitchen where I poured a large Pepsi, one with real cane sugar. “Drink this,” I told him. “It’ll make you feel better. And breathe deep. Like this.” I demonstrated a big heaving breath and Javier copied me. “Okay,” I said, “we’re gonna call the cops first, the Dallas Police, and then we’ll call Bank of America. I dialled 911 and said to the operator, “This is Writer to the Stars and there’s just been a holdup at my house. My yard man was robbed at gun point.”
“We’ll send someone,” the operator told me, and I gave her my address, adding, “We need someone who’s bilingual. He speaks mostly Spanish.”
“We gotta a bilingual guy right here now. We’ll send him on over.”
In exactly seven minutes, a young immaculate black cop was at my door, notepad in hand. His Spanish wasn’t hot but he was a talented interviewer. He took Javier through the robbery, asking the same question several different ways, and gradually Javier remembered the characters, the narrative, the sequence. He puzzled out what had happened.
Two men, very young in a used dirty blue car, pulled up to the curb while Javier’s back was turned. They said, Dame tu cartera!
“Say it like they said it,” the cop told Javier, and Javier growled out, loud now, Dame tu cartera! and showed his teeth.
What kind of gun did they have? The cop wanted to know. It was chrome, a big gun with black grips. A revolver. A revolver? The cop and I asked, “You sure?” Javier was sure. It was old too, a big old gun, and the young guy who held it on him was shaking all over.
Miedo, Javier told us. Scared.
After he’d told his story, Javier sat calmly listening to the cop explain how to get another green card from the consulate, I’d called Bank of America, gotten a Spanish hotline and canceled his card. It was a matter of lists now. Things to be done.
A couple days later, everyone was outside at the house across the way. I saw Huey, Randy, the guy building The Totally Modren House, Ramone was walking Samosa, Gerry’s wife was there with Gretch, their adopted German shepard. I pulled to the curb and chatted a little.
“We uz sorry ta hear whut happened to your yard guy,” Gerry said gravely. “Jacked in yore front yard. You wanta get outa the car and sit a spell?”
I allowed as how I did and Gerry blew maple leaves off a white plastic chair, “Here,” he said.
“You got to sit in a white plastic chair?” my husband asked later, amazed. “In front of the garage?”
“Yeah, I did,” I said. “So don’t tell me there’s no grace in the world.”