Thomas Wictor

I liked the first day of 2014

I liked the first day of 2014

Today our friend Sandra came over to Tim’s house and cooked us a turkey. Sandra is a remarkable person. She took care of my Great-Aunt Marian for nine years, a job for which she could not have possibly been paid enough. Marian was…difficult in her prime. As an angry, elderly widow who’d suffered a debilitating stroke, she was hell on wheels.

During the time Sandra looked after Marian, I lived in the Rat Palace with Tim. One night I heard an irregular thumping sound: doomp. Doomp-doomp. B’doomp-doomp. Doomp. I went out the back gate into Marian’s driveway to see if I could identify the source. For some reason when I know what’s making an irritating noise, I can more easily tolerate it. I suppose it’s insecurity. An unknown thumping could mean that someone had hanged himself from our roof, and his heels were bonking against the side of the house as the wind twirled his corpse on the end of the rope.

The Rat Palace has a strange acoustic quirk that makes outside noises much louder when you’re inside. A dog barking two houses down sounds like it’s in the room with you, but when you stand in Marian’s driveway—now my driveway—you can barely hear it. That’s another reason we have to tear the place down. Anybody who bought it would sue the hell out of us after they discovered the way it magically creates an unbearable interior racket.

Once I would’ve sworn that a helicopter gunship flew down the street, two feet off the ground. Tim said it was the neighbor’s 1947 Buick Roadmaster convertible, which he’s made into a lowrider.

A couple of years ago, a giant green tour bus parked in front of our house, and a twelve-piece ranchera band in full costume got out. They went to the house next door to Mom and Dad’s. I knew we were doomed when roadies unloaded amplifiers six feet tall. In about two hours, the loudest music I’ve ever heard in my life came blasting out of the neighbors’ back yard. It was like this, but at one hundred fifty decibels.

Dad rang my doorbell. We stood by the back gate of the Rat Palace and tried to talk, but we couldn’t hear each other. He leaned forward and shouted into my ear. Nothing; he sounded like he was underwater. Inside the Rat Palace was total sonic destruction. Imagine a squadron of jet fighters playing ranchera with their engines. Tim was out, so he never got to experience this particular example of neighborly consideration.

Dad found a pad of paper and wrote, Should we call the police?

What he meant was, “Would you please call the police for me?”

Though Dad talked a good game, he was afraid of the neighbors, thinking they might have connections to one of the Mexican drug cartels.

I’ll call them, I wrote.

Back in my house, I phoned the sheriff’s station. When they asked me the nature of the problem, I took my phone outside behind my house.

Can you hear that?” I screamed.

“Holy shit,” the dispatcher said. “I’ll send someone right out.”

Two minutes later a squad car pulled up in front of the neighbor’s house, and mere seconds after that, the caterwauling ranchera tune fell raggedly apart. It was the aural equivalent of someone bowling a strike, with the pins flying in all directions. Maybe the cop hurled a cinder block at them. Following a spirited discussion in Spanish, the ranchera band loaded up the tour bus and departed.

Altogether, they’d played one and a half songs. I’m sure they didn’t refund the neighbors, who never hired a band again. They still haven’t cut off my head and stuck it on a pole in front of my house, so I don’t think they have much influence with the Mexican drug cartels.

Doomp-doomp. B’doomp-doomp.

On the night of the thumping, there was no confusion over where it originated: Marian’s bathroom, which was right next to her driveway. Amidst the thumping, two women’s voices clashed.

“Go to hell! I hate you to death!

“But I don’t hate you, Marian. I love you!”

I went into the Rat Palace, got Tim, and brought him out to listen.

“That’s just Sandra giving Marian her bath,” Tim said. “Marian pounds the doors and walls with her fists.”

After Marian died and I moved into her house, I found that she’d completely wrecked the shower stall. When I use it, I turn the water on to just a trickle because otherwise the floor gets flooded. The rails holding the doors were broken off the base of the stall. Every time we geared up to replace the shower, something happened to Mom or Dad, and we’d have to put it off. I haven’t had a full-blast shower since 2007.

Sandra couldn’t find more care-taking work. In desperation she got a job assembling circuit boards that’re used in the military. Soon after she was hired—no experience was required—Sandra told her manager that the boards could be assembled faster and more cheaply if they used a different technique. The astonished shop manager told his boss, and they discovered it was true.

The boss and manager sat Sandra down with another board, explained the assembly process, and she showed them how that was all wrong too. They tried a third one; same result. After only a few days on the job, they made Sandra manager of the assembly department and rewrote all the manuals. Whenever a new board comes in, they run it past Sandra, and she tells them what’s wrong with the assembly instructions.

She’s like Anthony Fokker, who had no training in aircraft design. He could look at a blueprint and say, “Make the wings longer and the tail taller.” Somehow he just knew.

And today Sandra cooked us turkey. She also told us how her church raises money from its members. They stick dozens of pink flamingos or hundreds of plastic forks in the parishioner’s front yard. Then they leave a note saying that they’ll remove the flamingos or forks for a donation. If you belong to her church, you never know when your lawn will sprout pink flamingos or plastic forks.

We gave Sandra all the canned food in the cupboard left over from Dad’s final shopping trips. She’ll donate them to her church’s food drive. Before she left, I took a photo of the sorts of things Dad bought.

Whole hearts of palm, German potato salad with bacon, sauerkraut, roast beef hash, and three-bean salad. I didn’t even know that canned potato salad was available. The only thing missing from this alimentary fiasco is canned Vienna sausages. We checked all the expiration dates; everything’s good until late 2015.

I know Dad had iron willpower, but now I’m awestruck. Just looking at those cans makes me want to go to the hospital. Those are the ingredients of an anti-meal. Who was the first person to eat hearts of palm? I had them only once, when I was seven. It was like eating greasy, mushy balsa wood.

Instead of putting pink flamingos or plastic forks on people’s lawns, Sandra’s church should threaten to feed them whole hearts of palm, German potato salad with bacon, sauerkraut, roast beef hash, and three-bean salad. And then give them a ride in a centrifuge. The church will need dump trucks to handle the panicked flood of donations.

Sandra insisted that the food was fine. I liked the first day of 2014. Hopefully Tim and I didn’t start out the year with a crime against humanity.

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