Friday, July 30, 2010

In a Neighborly Way, Part 3

(Note before I begin I wanted to reiterate if any current or previous neighbor/landlord reads this, please take this in the atmosphere intended, which is you're all humorous in some fashion and I mean no offense.)

2002, I moved in. The landlord was a former client when I worked at the radio station and he allowed me a cat. At the time, his son lived across from me, an elderly lady lived downstairs and I don't remember who, if anybody, lived in the mouse hole. The landlord's son owned a Jack Russell that was a barking annoyance at times, but all in all pretty good.

Everything was hunky-dory until one night around ten. I'm in my hall and suddenly, the door bursts open in the other upstairs apartment and I hear, “Police! Everyone on the floor!” The dog goes nuts and I'm wondering if I'm about to get raided, too. The cops had hidden down the alley, sneaked upon the apartment and busted the landlord's son for selling drugs. A short time after, the place sells to a new landlord but only because the man didn't have time to properly care for it. Oh, how I long for those days when he did.

That first year, the new owner mowed the lawn exactly six times during the summer and has been about as consistent in getting it mowed since. Actually, it isn't so much mowed as pre-harvested and two days later needs mowed again.

After the Tony Montana wannabe leaves, a high school mother with baby and dog moves in. Dog barks as incessantly as the baby cries. Speaking to her does no good and she solves the barking problem by putting the dog outside at the bottom of her stairs, where it still barks. Then buys another dog with a doghouse about two sizes too small for the animal. The first pooch sits forlornly at the bottom of the stairs, no food/water/shelter. After about a week, I call the animal shelter, the animals are gone and she blames the landlord for calling the cops on her. She gone.

The only sane tenant, the elderly lady, develops health problems and soon I hear the funeral notice on the radio one morning; I end up getting some of her groceries. I miss her sereneness and kindness and I was glad I was able to help her in times of need.

After mother and child leave one of the landlord's assistants is in for two weeks before bugging out for his homeland Jamaica, and I don't mean New York. Downstairs in the efficiency a youngish couple move in. Two people in an apartment only a little bigger than a boxing ring-ack! Anyway, I won't go into details, but they don't last but a year or so before the newly adopted Megan's Law (look it up for further information) affects his in-town residential status and they're gone.

In comes an employer who rents the apartment and lets ex-cons stay, while he gives them second chances at a normal life. Right up until one of them is late for work a few times more than allowed and that arrangement terminates. The current resident had previously lived in the efficiency for awhile, and again, without going into detail, breaks his probation and is back in the pokey for another stretch. During the hiatus, a Samoan-American moves in and tells me his life story one evening-unasked-and he bugs out one day leaving the door open. Dampness and mold ruins the apartment floor and furnishings. The ex-con is back and is a quiet nice guy who drinks a lot of beer and grills up some tasty smelling steaks every now and then.

Back upstairs, an ex-Marine who plays the drums moves in. Nice guy, he really was. The acoustics only allowed me to hear his drums if I was in the hallway or if all the windows were open but I don't think I convinced him he could play till he deafened himself; I wasn't bothered. I was annoyed during the summer when he played, at max volume, Bob Segar's Hollywood Nights every night for about a week. He (the tenant, not Segar) had been busted for DUI, didn’t have a license, but bought a van that never ran and kept it parked in the back lot for way too many weeks. He (again, the tenant, not Bob) played in a band and ended up moving to the band's practice area.

Next to move in was a wonderful couple who argued for hours because they liked to. There was no point to the arguments, no defined topic of contention, but who cared, it was fun to listen to them. Unfortunately, they didn't last long either. The apartment stood empty until recently when another of the landlord's assistants moved in. He's okay if he would only park his truck so that I can fit my car in and not have to park on the grass.

Meanwhile, the main apartment downstairs sees a series of lively people...

Yep, cliffhanger till next week.

Friday, July 23, 2010

In a Neighborly Way, Part 2

Where did we leave off last week? I'd found this apartment house near downtown. Reasonable rent, bigger place. Methodist church east across the street. A separate living room, kitchen, bedroom, a little bit bigger bathroom. It used to be a regular house, but it had been converted to three apartments and an efficiency unit smaller than my last one. I moved into the upstairs left, the second biggest unit. Downstairs is the largest and next door to me is a little smaller. There are two connecting doors upstairs between the apartments and we share the attic. In my unit, there is a set of stairs leading down to a small balcony with a connecting door to the lower apartment just inside my door. I can see into the kitchen window of the lower unit from my outside stairs. I have a northern facing door and the efficiency is at the bottom my stairs, the lower unit has an eastern door and the other upper a western. A parking area on the west side alongside a garage.
The parking area was usually for the efficiency tenant, but none has ever owned a car, so I've parked there. The others get off or curb parking.

My living room has exactly two outlets, kitchen two and the bedroom one. Yeah, not a well put together design. The bedroom closet’s two wall don’t face each square, so the clothes rod is at an angle and can’t handle too much weight. I think the arranger was stoned when he laid out the place.

Got the picture in your mind?

Now, as for neighbors. I don't know if I can remember the exact order, but I'll be close. First, let me talk about the neighbors across the street. I live on a corner and the house on the opposite side could be a nice place if a little money were invested, but, so far, the only thing replaced throughout the years are the door and a window frame. New stuff looking out of place in a ramshackle structure. The first tenants there were odd ducks. The woman sometimes made a point of crossing the street to talk to me, even though I hadn't initiated the conversation. In fact, most neighbors usually have told me their life stories without my even asking...usually after they'd had a few, if you know what I mean. Anyway, the couple across the street ended up with legal troubles, a notice of eviction was put on their door and they were gone. Two other couples have lived there, the current owning a couple of unattractive dogs who only want to play but usually end up getting yelled at.

Next to that house is another, first painted a urine yellow, then repainted a dismal gray. The wonderful thing about that experience was the owners started painting with an electric sprayer at 7:30 in the morning, so while I tried to sleep, I kept hearing intermittent buzzes. Some younger folks lived there and didn't bother replacing the hydraulic arm on the storm door, so in and out they'd go and WHAM, WHAM went the door. Just a little annoying. The current occupants are wonderful people who I had to bring the police to because I thought (can't prove it) I heard hand smacking flesh one late night.

Next door to that house live a boring family who I rarely see. The previous occupants, though, had the cops over to chat at least once a year. Father, mother, teenage daughter. The memorable incident I remember is the father stepping outside to sit on the front steps to smoke. A few minutes later, the mother and daughter come out and scream at each other at the tops of their lungs. “F--- you!” “Well, f--- you! I hate your guts.” and similar statements, usually with the inappropriate wording. Meanwhile, passersby are getting an earful, but the humorous sight is the father sitting calmly, still smoking, not getting involved. For him it was same stuff, different day. So yeah, here come the cops and the mother screams she wants the cops to take the daughter, doesn't want to deal with her anymore. Unfortunately, I didn't get to hear the end of that family moment as the conversation's volume lowered.

Anyway, onto my humble abode and the revolving door of nutjobs I've seen throughout the last eight years.

Tune in next week, same bat channel.

Friday, July 16, 2010

In A Neighborly Way, Part 1

This week and for the next three weeks, I'd like to present a little of the world around me. No names are mentioned to protect the innocent (or the guilty, as it were) and I offer these posts up to maybe give you some ideas for your own stories and to show you where I grab some ideas for some of my characters. These posts are meant not to demean anyone, but just to show some of the humor you can find around you every day. If you happen to know some of these people or-egad-are one of the characters here...well, I hope you can get a smile out of it. Besides, I wonder what my neighbors have thought about ME...

I've lived in some interesting places during my almost 44 years. (Egads! Am I really 44 this October?) Every place I can remember had memorable and interesting neighbors. In East Moline, I lived next door to a sweet woman with a garden on one side and an irascible couple on the other. My best friend lived down the street and two houses down lived a Down's Syndrome girl. Behind us on the next block lived a great family who owned a pool and-I swear-lived in a little pink house.

In Danville, we had nobody to our right but a nice couple and their children to our left, a couple of teachers across the street and other pretty good folks up and down our quarter mile stretch of road.
In Kewanee, I knew no neighbors except the one who complained about the noise I made running up and down the metal steps.

When I moved to Oskaloosa about twenty years ago, I found an apartment complex up near the William Penn College (since upgraded to University, ooh-la-la). The efficiency apartment had one living room just over six feet long that included a kitchen, a narrow hallway and bedroom just over six feet long. The bathroom was one where you could do three or four things simultaneously it was so small. There was a covered balcony running the length of the second floor which was nice to sit on during storms. The building was situated sideways to the street, so I didn't get much of a view except the backyard of the house across the driveway. The railroad yard was my backyard and the racetrack was barely half a mile away, so you know that 'quiet' was not a situation I was associated with.

But what made the place interesting were the neighbors. I don't recall how many units there were and I didn't know anybody personally except the landlord who was a cop. In fact, at one time, four officers lived in the building; we were the safest place in town.

The tenants to my right when I first moved in were a young couple. The walls between the apartments transferred sound fairly well and every couple of weeks (in my opinion), the man and woman went stir crazy and argued. She'd yell and his voice would get low and mean. I'm not sure, but once or twice he might have pushed her, but usually, he stormed out with a SLAM of the front door. She'd then open the door, stand there for a few minutes, then SLAM it again. That was the extent of their arguments. Sometime over the course of the next few days, they would...uh...make up. I was an audio witness to every glorious moment.

They moved out and a single woman moved in who had left her significant other (I never did find out if he was her spouse or boyfriend). Anyway, the funny thing about him was that he'd call her often. I'd hear her on the phone repeatedly saying things such as, “No, don't come over; I don't want to talk to you.” “No, I don't want to see you and don't call again; I don't want to talk.” I kept thinking, Well, hang up, already. I was working night shift at the time and on one of my nights off during the summer, I was sitting outside at about four in the morning and he calls her. Similar type of conversations as always, then about twenty minutes later, he actually shows up and acting very pathetic, knocks and knocks on her door trying to persuade her to let him in. “Please, let's just talk. Well, if I call, will you talk to me?” After about ten minutes of this, I turned the porch light off on him and went indoors. As I understand, she finally went back to him.

As I said, I didn't know too much about a lot of the other tenants and except for a few things here and there, there wasn't really much excitement.

The next door neighbors were a different story. A rental house with a sloping backyard...sloping right into the house. Whenever heavy rains would fall, there'd be small creek heading right toward the house. One family moved in with kids who proceeded to litter the backyard with toys. They also owned a mutt that barked and barked and barked, literally for hours. I remember one night the damn thing wouldn't shut up and it took ten minutes of knocking on the door to wake up the owners. Yeah, I was a little upset.

One summer afternoon, I'm cleaning the house (yes, mom, I do clean every now and then). The door and window were open. Suddenly, I hear a little plink sound. I couldn't figure what had happened until the next plink and I discovered a BB lying in front of the television. The little rugrats from across the way had shot from their backyard, through my doorway. Hindsight is 20/ oh the things I wished I'd said or done. One day, though, I'm sitting there and realizing that quiet had descended in my little world, I looked out the window and the backyard is clean – they'd moved! Thank heaven.

In 2002, the college decided to purchase the building for student housing. Everyone had to leave. I wasn't sure where to go. I looked into a few places, way out of my price range (and for that matter, any reasonable person's range), but I was lucky (ahem, well, maybe not), to find a place fairly quickly. It's my current abode...and oh, the stories I could tell.

But I'll save them for next time.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Hats On

I think I remember my Dad doing this only once before we were ready to drive someplace, but for some reason the incident stuck with me. We were both making sure we had the necessary items for the trip. He patted, in order, his front two pants pockets, then the back. As he patted, he said something to the effect of, “Keys, coins [money], wallet, handkerchief.”

I know there is a cruder addition to the sequence, but that's not the point of this post. The addition I wanted to make is that Dad rarely goes anyplace without a cap or a hat. Air Force cap, Oregon cap, or an 'old fashioned'
brimmed hat. I say old fashioned not to be demeaning, but many people would view that hat as something from decades past. And, in sense, it is.

I once saw a wide angle picture in a book about minor league baseball stadiums. The shot showed the seats out from the third base line. Every single seat was occupied with the 'same' man. In that I mean, each man wore a suit jacket over a shirt with a tie and a brimmed hat. Every single man.
What a far cry from today's yahoos who wear everything from horns to gobs of paint and no shirt.

You don't see hats very often these days. I mean real hats, not baseball caps or the topless cap which is just a plastic band attached to a bill.
Every now and then you'll see some guy trying to look different wearing a cowboy hat, but unless you're a country singer or wrangling cattle...most of the time it doesn't work.

Watch any old black and white movie from the forties on back, one which features metropolitan streets; all of the men wore hats. Westerns were filled with hats; I think westerns were mostly hats, especially in the crowd scenes. Every cowboy wore a hat and anytime a girl hopped on a horse, she donned a hat. I think it was against the law in the Old West to ride a horse without a hat. And unless you were Glenn Ford, you couldn't participate in a showdown without a hat. It used to be the classic tell of who the bad guy was. Jack Palance, the original bad man, wore a black hat, Alan Ladd sported white. Yeah, it was confusing when John Wayne wore a black hat, but for heaven's sake, he wore a pink bandanna most of the time, too, and nobody said anything.

I like the old gangster movies because Mr. Big sometimes wore a hat, but usually his lieutenants wore them. You can just picture Edward G. Robinson, surrounded and dwarfed by his gang of toughs, all sporting the hats, front brim lowered, shadowing their eyes. The hats were bold and black and never moved when they were roughing up somebody. When the hero clocked one of them and the hat flew off, he wiped his bloody lip, and immediately retrieved his hat. Never mind he was just humiliated, gotta get back the hat.

The classic is Indiana Jones who NEVER lost his hat, even during the wildest scenes. The one time he did, it came back to him on a gust of the wind like a faithful canine finding its master.

Hats sometimes will complete a character. Can you imagine Dick Tracy without a hat? How about Sherlock Holmes without the deerstalker?

Personally, I don't like wearing caps/hats. Yes, I have a 'cowboy' hat I picked up at the fair a couple of decades ago and I still wear it if I'm going fishing. It works for me. I'll wear caps if I'm golfing, but usually, I'm fine without them.

Of course, one of the reasons I write this week's post is because Mallory Petersen, the detective in Beta, usually is never far from her hat. If you've never watched Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, you've missed a beauty.
His Sam Spade character wears a trench coat and hat; Mallory, emulating and saluting him, wears similar garb. I think the coat and the hat are part of what makes her different, unique.

I see the absolutely gorgeous actress Maggie Lawson, blonde hair flowing, dressed in a trench and hat. She's the nearest, in my mind, of who Mallory resembles. (Yeah, I know Lawson once played Nancy Drew, but that's not why I chose her.)

Anyway-I apologize to Dad-at one time I thought his constant hat wearing was kind of...old fashioned. His dad wore hats and I never thought anything of it. However, as the years have passed, I kind of enjoy seeing Dad in his hats and wouldn't mind seeing the culture revert back to men wearing stylish real hats.

We could get rid of the neckties in a heartbeat, but that's another story.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Don't Read It Yourself

A few weeks ago, I visited the subject of audio books and how certain narrators can make or break a particular story. I can listen to several of an author's stories and thoroughly enjoy them if they have a decent reader.

Usually, an author will stick with one particular narrator, especially if the stories are in a series with the same characters each time, but sometimes, a new narrator will be introduced and sometimes, it's difficult to make the transition.

A notable exception is Evanovich's Plum series. I don't know if I've ever read any of her books; I've always taken the time to listen to them. She's used, I believe, three different narrators. The current one has been doing the series for awhile, but it still took me awhile to get used to her. I had to listen awhile before her voices became the characters after listening to the other readers in the earlier books. The books are just delightful whoever reads them.

What I wanted to discuss was my opinion that authors should NOT read their own stories. I have heard too many and all of them were...well, bad isn't a word I should use...maybe wrong is better. Please don't misunderstand me; the authors I want to mention are wonderful writers and I have listened and read many of their stories and enjoyed them. I just don't think they should read their own material.

Tony Hillerman is a prime example. He wrote many books featuring detectives Leaphorn and Chee. They are fine stories, however, listening to Mr. Hillerman read his mysteries is a very difficult task. He's hard to understand.

As is James Wight, aka James Herriot. I absolutely and completely love his books and have re-read several of them over the years. Watching the series on television was also wonderful, because I could associate a real person with the characters I read. But I listened to one of his books read by him and if anybody except those in the north Dale country can understand him it's a miracle. His accent was so thick you could chop it with an axe. I love the man, I really do, but I'm glad he let others read the majority of his work.

What brought this subject to mind was a book I was about to read, but found a CD version. House, by Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti. Interesting book, scary in places. Dekker narrates. I managed to get through a few tracks, maybe a chapter, then turned it off and opened the book. When Dekker read, he kept lowering his voice to enhance a character's thoughts and I kept having to replay the passage or turn up the volume. It was irritating.

I'm currently listening to Harlan Coben read Promise Me. He's not quite as bad as the others, yet I still wish someone else narrated it.

Coben and the others all share a common problem: They know their characters very well, better than even their fans. They hear their character's voices and expect us, the readers, to hear them exactly the same. Because of their familiarity, they tend to read a little faster than a neutral narrator.

Faster reading means, because they've written the books, that they will fly over words and sentences. If you are not actively or concentrating on listening, you miss or misunderstand some words. They are speaking as if they are talking to us in person, not as a narrator telling a story so the tongue and the lips tend to cut off word endings or slide over them. And similar to Dekker and Hillerman, their voices lower and raise at odd points and you miss what has just been said. Coben's narration of Promise Me has been fairly easy to follow, but when he reads, some of his sentences sound like throwaway sentences. The way he reads it sounds wrong.

Again, I'm not slamming the above authors' works. I have read several novels by all of them and will read or listen to more. However, I cringe whenever I pick up an audio version of a book to see the author is also a narrator.

I would love to listen to my two books one day, but I don't think I want to narrate them. I'd consider discussing character voices with the narrator if that ever becomes an issue. As I've said, some narrators shouldn't be.

Authors write; that's their job. There are agencies out there who hire professional readers-whether they be actors or people who possess voices others enjoy listening to. Let them do their jobs.