Monday, May 28, 2007

Neighborhood guilt trip

There is something to be said for having slovenly neighbors. At least you don't have to feel inferior.

This is my third summer living in this house, which sits in the gray area between the "nice" neighborhood and a bunch of rental properties. The house to the west is a 100-year-old restored Colonial, now being used as a bed and breakfast by the retired Mennonite couple who live there. The house to the north is missing some windows and generally features five dudes sitting on the stoop drinking beer and listening to mariachi music.

When we first moved in, I did not really appreciate the Mexican dudes. Sometimes I wanted to be outside and not have to hear the mariachi. Sometimes I felt like they might be leering at me just a bit. And sometimes I wanted them to mow their damn lawn.

I was more appreciative of the B&B couple and the other folks down the block who took meticulous care of their houses and lawns. Mr. B&B, for example, mows his lawn every week in the summer. In the winter when it snows, he has his sidewalk shoveled before the last flake hits.

In my third year here, however, things have begun to change for me. The fact is, I relate more to the dudes and their laid-back lifestyle. And frankly, I can't compete with Mr. B&B.

I'd like to have a nice lawn. But I don't want to pump it full of herbicides, so what I have is mostly weeds. And we don't always get it mowed before it starts to look a bit shaggy. I have planted some bushes by my front porch, but I can't seem to keep the grass from growing all around them. I just don't have the patience or the desire to tend my landscaping that well.

I mean, my yard looks decent. But compared to the manicured, fussed-over, neat and tidy lawn next door, it's shabby. I find myself staring out my front window, fixated on the line in the grass between my shaggy mess of weeds and their lush, green carpet, cut on the diagonal. And this is when I go a little batty.

The neighbors must think we're terrible, I think to myself. They must be so frustrated with us. Our lawn probably drives them crazy. How could I ever talk to them or look them in the eye? I would be so embarrassed.

And at the same time: Those bastards. Sitting over there all high and mighty, looking down on us. Hey, I could have a great lawn, too, if I were retired and had nothing better to do.

I do the same thing in the winter, staring at their cleared sidewalk while mine remains covered with snow.

This internal dialogue has caused me to feel extremely awkward around these particular neighbors, and I generally try to avoid letting them see me. Ironically, I now do less yard work than ever. Just because I hate the idea that Mr. and Mrs. B&B might be watching me from the window. "Look, dear, that woman next door finally decided to pull some weeds. Get your camera, this is unprecedented!"

So today, I waited to go outside until they went to church. Yes, I actually watched them drive away before I stepped out. Then I pulled a bunch of weeds and trimmed some bushes and thought to myself, Wait till those bastards see this!

You see, it's too stressful. Sometimes now I think I'd rather be surrounded by rentals with low property values, just to escape the peer pressure of the "nice" neighborhood. I can't live up to the "nice" standards. It's making me into a crazy person.

So tell me, do you think my neighbors really do think less of me? And more important, why do I care what these people think?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Signed, sealed, delivered

I love mail. Everyone does, right? I never get anything in the mail except bills and credit card offers, but I still get a little thrill when I open the mailbox every day. I'm always hopeful there will be something neat in there. I feel slightly idiotic about this -- I mean, why haven't I learned anything from the thousands of times I've been disappointed? I'm like a dog who keeps expecting to find a big, juicy steak in his kibble.

The other day, something -- I don't remember what -- led me to a Web search on letter-writing. (I tend to do stream-of-consciousness Web surfing.) And not surprisingly, a lot of people have Web sites devoted to the dying art of letter-writing and bemoaning the increasingly hasty, thoughtless state of interpersonal communication.

Don't get me wrong, I like e-mail. I use it a lot. It's so fast and convenient and easy. It can be intimate and thoughtful, too. And I do often feel a delicious moment of anticipation as I check my e-mail, waiting to see what my friends have sent me. But it's not the same as mail, the physical, pen-on-paper kind.

The only form of real mail I get these days is birthday and Christmas cards. These are wholly unsatisfying, though, because they are usually just a generic, store-bought sentiment with a half-assed personalization. It's nice that these people were thinking of me, but really, they could have just saved their $1.99.

In my Web surfing, though, I came across two outstanding opportunities for honest-to-God mail. I hope you'll join me in this experiment and report back with the results.

The Letter Project: A guy named Rick will send you a letter. Just send an e-mail with your name and address to Rick with "Letter Request" as the subject line. Every letter is handwritten and unique. Include some information about yourself, and he'll personalize it for you.

Postcardx: You post your address and some information about yourself, whatever you want to post, and random people will send you stuff. And you can send stuff to random people or search for people with certain interests. This is possibly the coolest thing ever.

And to get you started, here are some tools and inspiration:

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A hound for every house

I am a dog person. I come from a long line of dog people. Everyone in my family has had dogs at one time or another. My sister Terri had a German shepherd named Spanky, a golden retriever named Hershey, and now a Boston terrier named Studley. Tracie had a couple of poodles named Duke and Mugsy. Tammie had a cocker spaniel named Buffy, then a poodle named PeeWee, and now a rat terrier named Sparky. My grandma had a series of mean-spirited chihuahuas (Chi Chi, Pedro, Chico Manuelito).

When I was a kid, I had a little white mutt named Little Bit and a bulldog named Chesty. I loved Chesty, and other than the time she got my whole foot in her mouth and wouldn't let go, we got along fine. But Little Bit was my soul mate.

I dressed her up in doll clothes, pushed her around in my baby carriage, held her in my lap for hours on end. I called her Bitty and Bitters and Bitterness (without knowing what it meant). She was a good dog.

Little Bit died when I was in fifth grade. She had cancer. My mom picked me up from school one day with the dog in the car. I asked if we were taking her to the vet again. My mom said yes, we had to take her to the vet to put her to sleep. She was suffering too much. My mom dropped me off at home before going on to the vet's office. I gave Little Bit some last pets. Then I went in the house and screamed and cried and cursed God for making my dog sick. Later we buried Little Bit in the back yard. I made a little wooden grave marker for her.

My mom wanted to get another dog right away. She had always wanted a yorkie, and she had always wanted a dog named Ginger, named after her first childhood dog.

Ginge was tiny when we brought her home, maybe seven or eight inches long. We stepped on her a lot. But she had that terrier toughness.

She was a complete 180 from Little Bit. I had mostly outgrown the baby carriage and such, but Ginger would never have tolerated that stuff anyway. She had a mind of her own. And as she got older, she didn't care much for little kids who picked her up. She never would have bitten them, but she was generous with the growling. There was an unrelenting "grrrrrrrrrr" until the kid put her down. But Ginge was a fun dog. Very playful and feisty, and cute as hell.

Ginger died when I was in college. Since then, there has been much talk of my mom getting another dog, but she has been resistant. Dogs are messy, they track in mud and grass, they're a pain to train, they poop all over your yard. Even so, she had recently begun to express interest in the possibility of a puppy. But she couldn't quite take the plunge.

Then, about a month ago, my nephew Jason bought a puppy from a friend of a friend. He said he was buying it for his brother, Ryan's, daughter. But Maddie is only 2. Maybe Jason thought Ryan would take care of the dog. Who knows. But a few weeks later it became clear that these guys had neither the time nor the desire to give this dog what it needed. Maddie, however, adored him.

My mom agreed to take Coy, a miniature schnauzer, on a trial basis. "We'll see how it goes," she said. See for yourself:

This is an outstanding dog. He's very obedient and quiet and gentle with the little girls, he's had no accidents in the house, he's crate-trained. He hasn't been neutered yet, but aside from having his way with a stuffed Pooh bear a couple times, he's perfectly well-behaved.

Jason said he named him Coy because he has a tan streak down his back, which reminded Jason of a coyote. Right, OK. My mom was thinking about changing the name, so I reminded her of this story:

When Terri was pregnant with Valerie, her husband, Daryl, said he wanted to name the baby Coy if it was a boy because Coy rhymes with boy. Terri thought this was a dumb reason to choose a name for your child. "Good grief," she said. "The baby is due around Valentine's Day — why don't we just name it Cupid?" Daryl thought hard about this for a minute, then said, "No ... Cupid rhymes with stupid."

Somehow neither my mom nor Terri remembered this great moment in family history. After hearing this gem again, though, my mom said, "OK, the name stays."

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

OK, fine

toothpaste for dinner

I'm working on it, OK?