Turns out that last post, written in July '07, was aptly named; this blog has experienced an extended outage. It's hard to know for sure if the electricity's come back or if it's just a brief spark. It's funny the things that suddenly inspire one to write.
I live in a condo building, which is basically a rehabbed apartment building where people own the apartments. The neighbors to my right are a young couple with three small children and a dog. Their condo is the same size as mine (read: small) and, when I've got visitors, or R stays over with his dog, and I start to feel cramped by the number of bodies, I marvel at the family next door's living arrangement. "They must have real unconditional love over there," I'll say, "because I could not handle all those people packed into 800 square feet day after day."
When I talk to the mom in the hallway, she seems happy, always friendly, if a bit overwhelmed. Sometimes she's got the two older kids (five and two) scurrying ahead of her and chattering, the baby (6 months) strapped to her front and the dog (a pitbull) on a leash - the family going out for a walk while dad's at work. "Can I help?" I ask reflexively, never sure how, exactly, I might help. Take a walk with them and help corral the toddlers? Provide poop-scooping duty for the dog? Let the family annex their home into my spare room?
"I've got it, thanks," the mom always answers.
Understandably, things next door get a bit harried sometimes. Last Thursday, as the mom was putting the baby down for a nap, the dog needed to go outside to do its business. Having only two hands, the mom opened the door to the back walkway for the dog to go out and relieve itself while she tended to the baby. She didn't know the back gate had been left open and that the man who walks his two big Huskies in the neighborhood - two dogs that her dog does not like - was across the street with his dogs. Soon, there was shouting outside and she ran outside to retrieve her dog. The man had pulled a knife and began shouting, "I'm going to kill that fucking dog!" A woman and man who live across the street and had been leaving their house at the time were stopped on the sidewalk, hands in the air stick-up style, as the man waved the knife and my neighbor tugged her growling dog away from the Huskies.
"Okay, put the knife away, man," the man from across the street said, "Put it away or I'm going to call the cops."
"Fine, call the cops," the man with the knife said and began to walk briskly away with his dogs.
The police came quickly and soon three cars patrolled the neighborhood, spotlights sweeping into yards and alleys, and collected the man and his dogs and brought them back to our building to get the story straight. The pitbull had rushed them from across the street, growling. The man had had trouble with this dog before, "It growls at my dogs from their second floor window!", that's why he carried the knife. "Did he threaten any people with the knife, or just the dog?" the cops asked. "Just the dog," my neighbor and the people from across the street conceded. But he was waving the knife around, they insisted, wouldn't put it away. No charges where pressed. The man walked home, sputtering angrily under his breath about that fucking dog.
I spent the night at R's house. The next morning, still dark outside, I came home to get ready for work and found the glass on the front door of the building shattered, a gray brick lying on the tile in foyer. The cops came and, this time, filed a report. "There was an incident here last night," I said, "with my neighbor's dog and another guy. I think this probably has something to do with that."
Then my neighbor rounded the hallway stairs to the front door with her oldest boy. Her eyes were red and puffy and small and the broken glass scattered in the foyer registered immediately across her tired face. "Oh no," she said softly, crying already. "What happened, Mama?" her boy asked, "Are you sad, Mama?" My downstairs neighbor got his broom and swept up the shards. My upstairs neighbor came down in a dress shirt with a tie slung unknotted around his neck, "I'll call the insurance company from work," he sighed.
I went to a concert that night with my sister. When I got home around 11:30pm, the man was across the street from our building, walking his dogs in the dark. I opened the front door quickly, the damage now covered in cardboard and packing tape. I looked back and saw the man watching from across the street. Thanks, asshole, I wanted to say, It's not my fucking dog. He carries a knife and throws bricks; I thought better of it.
From my kitchen window, I saw the man still across the street, looking at the building while his dogs sniffed the fire hydrant. What's he thinking, I wondered. Regret, embarrassment for letting his anger get the better of him? Vindication, satisfaction? Curious, the way criminals return to the scene of the crime. He eventually disappeared down the street. The window has been replaced and has remained intact for 48 hours now.
That night I remembered an interview I'd read with Andre Dubus III, the author of The House of Sand and Fog about what inspired the book. He said, "It began with a newspaper article of a woman who was evicted from her house for failure to pay back taxes she said she didn't owe. The house was repossessed. They evicted her, sold it off and then discovered they had the wrong house. This happens a lot. It was a computer snafu. Yet, the man who bought it in a fair and square legal auction was under no legal pressure to buy it back, or to sell it back, and he wasn't sure he wanted to in this real article. And I saw that the man's name was Arabic and it wasn't Persian, but earlier in my life I'd known a Persian man who was a colonel in the Shah's air force who found himself in the United States working 16 hour days in menial jobs. He was working at a gas station for the first eight hours and then in a shoe factory. And he said to me once, you know, that he used to work with kings and queens and presidents and vice-presidents of entire countries by himself and now he serves candy and cigarettes to kids who "don't even know who I am," he said. And I never forgot it. And so when I saw that Middle Eastern name in that newspaper article about that woman's house, I began to wonder well, what if my colonel bought that house and that began the book. You see, I mean, the whole fuel for writing fiction is curiosity. It's not what I know, but what I don't know. And that's what actually drives-- it doesn't drive me-- it actually pulls me into story writing."
Tiny decisions and coincidences - to let the dog out the backdoor by itself, to walk your Huskies at a certain time of day - spark events in life. Curiousity about those decisions and coincidences and the events that follow spark story writing. I'm starting to feel the sparks again, the curiosity.