Issue 193, Summer 2010
Most nights my neighbor, a middle-aged man in a red hoodie, would stand on his front porch, reaching up every now and then to knock the icicle Christmas lights dangling from the porch roof back and forth. He’d survey the street and usually smoke a cigarette. When he finished, he would fumble for his keys, then open his front door slightly, ducking his head to enter as if the doorframe were too low. If he saw me watching, he’d give me a desultory wave, or I’d lift a hand in his direction. He didn’t go out at night, and he seemed bored or not too bright or, like many Key Westers, pretty incomprehensible—at least, he would have been in any other context. The icicle lights burned all night.
Sometimes I could hear Glenn Gould playing loudly, and then my neighbor—the drawstrings of his red hoodie tied under his chin—would emerge and stand with a blanket wrapped around him, shivering in his jeans and clogs, looking forlornly down the empty street. If Hoodie had anything much resembling a life, you wouldn’t know it by his chagrined expression and by the way he sagged in the chair on his porch like a shot duck, too heavy-assed to rise, even when he needed to sign for a package: quite a heavy fellow, for someone who smoked dope—I’ve smelled it—and whom I’ve never seen carrying a bag from the grocery store. When, and how, had he put up the Christmas lights?
Hoodie—on the night in January we became better acquainted—silently greeted me as we stood across the street on our porches: “two citizens of planet Earth,” as my late husband used to say. What does Hoodie do all day? I’m in my sixties, so if anyone wonders about me—which I doubt—I’m sure they assume I creak and groan and sprout chin hairs. My own son, Roland, appears once or twice a year for a brief visit, then returns to Miami. He’s never invited me to visit wherever he lives. He’s never even given me an address. If Roland knows that Christmas has come and gone, he’s given no indication. My best guess about Hoodie? He sleeps late (many in Key West do), then does errands (which occupy everyone, always, until the second you pitch over dead)—errands that, in his case, might include a certain number of doctor visits, given his weight. I assume he has a hobby, as well, because of the number of boxes delivered to the house. I’ve been asked many times by the UPS or the FedEx driver to sign in his absence. One recent rainy afternoon I’d taken in two boxes, and walked across the street with them later that day. The shippers had names like OxyLoxy, in Newtville, TN, and StarLady in Winches, NH. The boxes were heavy, though not so heavy they might contain OxyLoxy or StarLady themselves. They often smelled nice (though sometimes they smelled of smoke) and were more or less the same size. Once, when a box was shipped through the U.S. mail, I’d paid the postage due of thirty-four cents, for which Hoodie had thanked me profusely.