Sunday, July 10, 2005

My Own Private Gitmo

I’m sitting in the back room (which faces the inebriated neighbors), typing and enjoying my Lipton’s Iced Tea.

I’m not supposed to have caffeine, you know (something about my being excitable enough as it is), but sometimes I just need that tea taste. And the Sweetened (No Lemon) is my favorite, unless you count the Extra Sweet they make, which is hard to find in these parts. When I find it, I buy it in bulk.

You could put an aged and esteemed glass of wine of exceptional vintage and a bottle of Lipton’s Iced Tea side by side and tell me I could only have one of them and there’d be no contest.

When the temperature climbs, it’s usually time to switch from the hot decaf tea to the decaf iced tea, augmented by the occasional Lipton’s because, well, life is for living. There is something about the caffeine, too, I’ll admit. A sort of mild buzz of well-being that lasts for a few hours. I can’t imagine it can stay legal too much longer.

So I’m enjoying my caffeinated treat and doing my best to mentally tune out the neighbors. Normally, people look forward to the spring and summer months because they can open up their houses, let the weather in and enjoy what Nature has to offer.

We, on the other hand, know that when the weekend comes, it’s going to be a crapshoot as far as the noise level of the neighbors goes. As I mentioned earlier, the 4th of July is a given and accepted blow-out. But the unfortunate truth is one never knows whether or not any given summer weekend will be a quiet and relaxing one or a horrible nerve-wracking one. As I write this, I’m listening to the steadily escalating hyena-like cackling of Camp Alcohol's demure hostess and the drunken hillbilly-like hollering of her guests, accompanied by some Clear Channel wet dream radio station whose announcer sounds like he’s talking from the other end of a long tunnel.

I have a little more caffeine.

So we have a choice of letting the breezes in the windows and subjecting ourselves to the neighbors, or shutting the house up and doing our best to drown them out. The wife’s upstairs trying to deal with it by lying down and playing her own music. I’m dealing with it by slowly developing an ulcer and typing.

Even when peace and quiet reigns next door, however, we still cannot open the bedroom window during the pleasanter seasons. And the reason for that, believe it or not, is 9/11.

The wife and I were married in June of 2001. The previous owner of our new home told us that the only thing that might bother us was the next door neighbor to the side who happened to be a Vietnam vet. He had a habit of standing on his front lawn and staring at people for long periods of time. She, the previous owner, told us she just learned to ignore it.

So we weren’t living here very long when 9/11 happened. Between the wedding and that day, we saw for ourselves that she was right. The side neighbor did have a habit of staring at you, soundlessly and without moving a muscle. It was, as she said, unnerving at first but you gradually learned to accept it, the way you would a birdbath or a pig-shaped mailbox.

On 9/11, we were both sent home and we sat in front of the television most of the day, scared to death and just happy that we both managed to be home and in one piece.

It wasn’t until the sun went down that we noticed something odd.

There was now a bright light, the sort you might see coming from the tower of a prison camp, blazing from the upper story of the side neighbor’s house. It was directed in such a way that it pointed directly into our bedroom window.

Under the circumstances we found this to be an acceptable, if a little eccentric, bit of paranoia. After a few weeks, we figured, he’ll calm down and things will return to normal.

But the weeks passed and the light continued to blaze in our window, as if to ward off potential suicide bombers or sleeper cells. We tried many different ways of living with it until we finally just closed the window and shuttered it, permanently. We broke out the fan.

And from that day to this, that light has faithfully burned. It wasn’t long after this that the new neighbors moved into the back, installed their chain-link fence and giant flagpole, and embarked on the series of improvements previously described. They found to their joy that this ever vigilant flame was useful as a backyard party light.

Imagine it on a night like tonight, its all-seeing eye blazing forth like the torch of the Statue of Liberty upon our drunken neighbors’ backyard, its security tower effect only heightened by the half-prison camp, half-amusement park appearance of their continually upgraded home, each new addition punctuated by the sound of newly emptied bottles and bad songs from the 1980’s, one Vietnam gazing into the abyss of the other.

Meanwhile, the wife and I keep the lights low and speak quietly in the hopes that we won’t be discovered.

Which is why I tell people that the terrorists may not have won, but they did manage to close our bedroom window.

And they wonder why we grow the hedges so high.


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