I want to be drunker than I am.
I went to an American national neighborhood night out tonight, and heard all the gossip about the people that live near me. The people who have lived around me for 1 or 20 years.
I heard about the people who won’t speak to each other over a 10-year-old salsa dispute and the lesbian couple wanting to fit in and the recent jobs lost. I heard about fixing cars and the home businesses and setting stone and the kids playing together. We met the new couple in the shiny new house, they knocked down the old one in our old gentrifying neighborhood, who seem shiny and new. They happen to be Asian, with heavy accents. I am happy that our street is diverse. The middle class liberal hippy green white women whispered about how the old lady on the corner is doing after her stroke. She won’t let anyone help her with the garbage and recycling. She is tough. This is admirable, we all agreed.
What is so hard about this—why we’ve only been to a handful of them in the 17 years we’ve lived in this neighborhood—is it’s very hard to face your neighbors. It’s hard to face the dreams and failures of the people who are living closest to you. It’s hard to face the lives of people who are living mere feet away: because somehow they are the truest mirror of the class and type of people that you really are.
Oh, you can talk about the schools, and the kids, and the gardens, and the renovations. You can greet the police officers who are making rounds to greet the common people, to remind good people to lock your doors and shade your windows, particularly if you have a large flat screen television in your front room. They talk about bicycle thefts and broken car windows. This is the kind of crime my very nice neighborhood worries about.
And so, like a moth to the flame, I end up talking to the drunk from the half-kept house down the block. He started off by telling me his name, and calling me Ma’am. I said, “I’m not a Ma’am. If anything, I’m a Mama,” and look around, to check on my kid, who is happily playing with the other neighbor’s kids. His heavy wife is friendly and has a very pretty face with nice skin and hair, and I tell her so. I don’t realize at first he is the drunk that my next door neighbor’s bad son has told me about, until he talks favorably about the neighbor’s bad son, the one who can't hold a job and blames everyone else for everything. He helped the bad son pick up his father whom they found collapsed in the bathroom, where he was for apparently three days without food or water. We felt badly about this. We helped the old ornery neighbor mow his lawn and cut his trees and I gave him soup and cookies and plants from time to time. But we didn’t know he was collapsed in there, the house next door, until the EMS came. He had gotten to the point months earlier where he didn’t answer his door when we knocked. The good son is keeping the place up, but says it’s unlikely the father will come home. Congenital heart failure. The crankly old fellow gave up the will to live when his wife died, 15 years ago. It’s been a long, slow, death ever since. The drunk feels sorry about this. And then I realize, he is the drunk, whom the bad kid tried to work for, but couldn't, because he was falling down drunk by 1:00 pm, laying stones.
So this neighbor guy asks me, as I’m refilling my wine glass, to pour some in his cup, which is a dark mixture of wine and/or something else, “Bacardi and tea and coke,” he jokes, and I say, “but it’s white,” he says, “It doesn’t matter, just pour it in there.” But I don’t. I start to get the codependent fix-it urge, the want to try to change him. “This stuff, you know, it isn’t good...” I say, swishing my full glass, maybe a tad bit sadistically, in front of him. “It’s not good for me. I shouldn’t. Maybe you shouldn’t, too.”
“Oh,” he says, “It’s good for you, a little red wine...” but I say...
“But it’s not just a little, for people like you and me...”
Before I realized he’s a drunk, we were talking about life, and how he likes to hunt, and fish, and how he wants to go to West Virginia in the spring, and just be in the outdoors for a while. How he was a military brat, how he moved around, how he landed at the local military base, and met her, his fat pretty wife, her kids were grown, who tells me she’s 54 and is a great-grandmother already. That her son took a lunch break in high school, gone for the first time, and the kid looked just like him. "One time. He was 15. It happens," she said.
The wife walks up to the police officer like a groupie, who is giving us tips about keeping our houses safe, while the drunk guy slouches in the lawn chair apart from the group giving quiet commentary. “You can’t trust that one,” he says, of the woman hosting the block party, his next-door neighbor. “She called the police on me, and the chainsaw wasn’t even making noise. I gave them some venison over the back fence while they were drinking, I ground it myself, for Christ’s Sake.”
He said he couldn’t wait to get out to the mountains, where he could relax, away from people. That the point of life was to be happy. I said I was basically happy, and I had a lot to be grateful for, my husband, my son, but that I was still somehow unsatisfied.
“Still haven’t hit that g-spot, have you?” he said. And I said, “No, I guess not.” “What are you looking for?” “I wish I knew. I really do,” I said. And fuck if I didn’t find him attractive. Fuck if I didn’t want to know what he could do about my unsatisfied g-spot. God damn that fucking g-spot.
He was good looking, in a drunk, logger, backwoods, redneck sort of rugged American way. Dennis Quaid or Montgomery Clift. Like a cowboy or a sailor. Like a street person, nothing shiny or digital about him, too real to be looked at directly.
“Her son messed around with her, you know, in that house,” he finally said, under his breath, as if he were desperate for some continued attention, for something to keep engaged. I didn’t respond, just kept looking towards the policeman. I didn’t want him to know that I had heard and probably understood him. There was something too embarrassing that he had even said it. “There’s a lot of drama over here," he said, pointing over his shoulder to his house, five doors down from mine. "Yeah, a lot of drama.”
The writer, the empath—the sick person in me—wanted to know more, wanted to tell him that he should be grateful for the woman who was giving him a place to live, whatever her bizarre history, and to turn away from the alcohol, that made his stated dreams of going off into the woods seem not noble and romantic but selfish and hollow...I wanted to try to say something that might veer him off the sad trajectory I saw for his life, “she’ll make me sleep in the truck tonight,” he said, even though I didn’t fill his glass...and she, the wife, trying so hard to make good, in the home she had grown up in, that she fell back to after her first divorce, after her parents had died...too much pain, in both stories.
But my husband saw me stranded near this fellow, and he inched closer. I inched closer to my husband as the policeman spoke, about keeping the brush from our home, and closing the windows...my husband, whom I love, but who cannot, for reasons beyond both his and my control, fully satisfy me.
But that doesn’t matter. My husband is my man, and I’m committed to him. I read and loved D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover when I was a teen, but now that I am a parent and a long time wife of someone who has successfully managed multiple disabilities, I find it selfish and short-sighted to fantasize that way. You don’t betray your family and your home just because you can’t have regular sex with the person you love. And some drunken guy who gives me a cheap stupid rise at a party isn’t going to take that honor away from me.
I didn’t say anything more to the man. I took my son home, washed him up and brushed his teeth, read him a book, and put him to bed. My husband stayed and got to know the neighbors better. And I’m glad he did.
But, the pathetic thing is, I still want another drink.