Jan/Feb 2015 Miscellaneous


by Jeff Burt

Image courtesty of the British Library's Photostream

I have never lived with a view, where vision descends from finding the sky to a valley or body of water, a pasture full of thistles and cows, or the edge of a wood where the deer come poking through at dusk. Always I see my neighbor's wall this side or that, a back window on maintenance junk, a front window for seeing how my car stacks up next to the next one, the accumulation of rain on a leaking carport, and once with a view of the common green, a small space of grass next to the laundry that was blanketed by pine needles and babies with diapers with pine needles stuck in them, an urban version of porcupines.

When you rent, you are just a higher form of refugee, ready to be displaced. Replace landlord for warlord, and one year of permanence perhaps, and you'll get my drift. Drift—one place to another, like fallen wood in a stream, pocketed in backwaters, so quiet at times not bobbing under or floating too high you'd think it was peaceful, but once a year a flood comes, a high tide, and we'll wash out, no matter how hard we hide. A year. Time's up. Move.

As a renter, when I returned to the town of my birth, it's not as if I recognized it as it was when I was born. In fact, it felt foreign, unknown. Yet we exalt those places, remember them in security questions and applications, think they bear some weight like a cornerstone of a building, some egotistical erection of our own legend in this world, where the universe began to spin around us. I wonder if Adam ever went back to the tree, said, "This is where it all started," fat with pride, slapped the snake on the back and bit a nostalgic apple. I wonder what my daughter will think when she is 25 and comes back to see the apartment where her life started. I wonder if she will think, "Yes, that is why I've never been important, why I feel emotionally compartmentalized."

Why do they call it a patio when it's not even long enough to lie down on AND is on the second story? This is not a terrace of Italian largesse, a veranda with twilight Spanish spaciousness. Patios are not supposed to have a roof and this definitely has a roof, the end of the bedroom of my upstairs neighbor. My patio never sees the sun, a dank environment suitable for moss and black mold, the bicycle I've been meaning to fix, the plant holders with dirt and no plants. Others have BBQ grills. I have a hibachi.

The hard clop of heels on the floor above sounds like the shoed hooves of horses on cobblestone, the swish of jeans swiping leg against leg like the shush of shorn sheep rubbing against each other as they seek to pass unobserved through Bradford-on-Avon. Hours of this late night, I have listened to our neighbors parading through the common square of their apartment, waiting for one bleat, one neigh, one moaning moo.

Something there is that loves a wall, sometimes more than one, your wall and the neighbor's wall, and the wall of indifference between you both when you hear lovemaking, arguments, ecstasy, disappointment, or just the Star Trek series he's watching drowning out the baseball you've got on not watching. I love the pretense of not knowing each other when we pass when we have heard the most intimate moments of each other's marriage. Just once, I would like to say, "Yeah, she's THAT good," or "She won't really leave me over the diaper's not being changed."

Such small treasures: from rent to lease, as in lease-to-own, hyphenated because it is a seamless slide into property, and equity, which is something that mysteriously builds on its own, a pyramid scheme of sorts, because after ten years of ownership you're a few bricks short of any value, and you are chained to the payment forever. It is not like a lease on life, which is temporary, as noted by the lack of hyphenation.

My father never owned a house, but he fixed them. I live in an apartment, and fix nothing. I fear putting a hole in the wall that somehow spackle will not plug, or with the wrong grip on the faucet, I'll wrench it from a drip into a geyser. I have linoleum dreams, toilet float nightmares, that when I look through the eyehole in the door my landlord will always be looking in.

I love the address: #B. Number B. There are only 12 places, so it's not like they ran out of numbers. Perhaps the hardware store had a sale on letters, and there's only 26 of them. I suppose numbers come in fifties to a pack, or hundreds, or sold on pallets at Costco. We got the cheap numbers, the ones that start with ABC.

It is a good age when you have no in-laws any more, not that they are dead, but you are just as comfortable calling them Mom and Dad, even without the strong current of the emotional river, as you are your own parents. All that legal distance dissolved. It doesn't mean, however, that they can come over any more frequently. Physical distance is good. The person who came up with the invention of the fold-out-bed-sofa had in mind space saving. But certainly he or she never thought about the back, how the middle rung is inescapably positioned to ruin not only your sleep but your lumbar. Even your butt can ache from it. But what a gift it makes for family and friends, the kind of gift that makes the visits short, that drives up the hotel business the next time they come to town. It's like the rollaway at a motel—use it once, and then you require your own room.

In a house, the smell of freshly baked fish lasts until the following morning. In an apartment, it simply lasts, drifts into other apartments, and stays for a week. Which makes you wonder about caulking. Is making everything airtight that healthy for you? If broccoli or kale in a pan can last seventy-hours, how long do chemical treatments last? My wife thinks I am overly worried, so I hide my screwdriver in the hall to the bathroom and only chip the caulk when she is asleep. Before bed, I jiggle the handle on every toilet.


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