Today’s prompt is neighbours. Or neighbors if you’re American.
I am helping Dad change the oil in our car, the blue Ford Tempo that he bought when I could no longer fit in the backseat of the 2-door Mustang. I must be 11 or 12 years old. Dad thinks everyone should know how to change the oil in a car. I decided to come out here with him rather than help with the chores inside the house. Mom always makes me do dishes and vacuum and I prefer being out here in the men’s world of car maintenance.
Dad’s garage is like a hardware store; stocked with screws, nails, ladders and random sheets of steel. It is dark and it smells like wood and metal. We have our garage door open because it’s summertime. The hood is up on the car and we are peering in at the engine, when the neighbour across the lane, whose name is Dwayne, pulls up outside his garage in his own shit-kicker of a car.
Dwayne drives an old, pale blue Honda Civic that takes ten minutes to start in the morning. He tinkers with his car a lot, usually with a transistor radio nearby, blaring classic rock. Today he gets out of the car and pulls a six-pack of beer from the trunk. He pops the top of one beer, hoists it up and says, Hey Len, got the kid helping you out, eh?
Dad smiles and says hello but he doesn’t like Dwayne, and so, neither do I, even though I am awestruck by his flagrant abuse of the rules. He drinks beer in the alley, he calls his car (and everyone else) a fucker. I think he was the first person I ever heard use the word “fuck” and he used it like a waiter uses a corkscrew. He is gloriously, happily profane.
My parents would cringe if we were in the backyard, enjoying a summer afternoon behind our carefully maintained 10 foot cedar hedge, and we heard Dwayne come out of his back gate or pull up in his car. They could protect their yard from being seen, but they couldn’t stop the clouds of foul language and cigarette smoke from drifting over the fence. It drove them crazy. There were many angry conversations over dinner about how inconsiderate and boorish and (Dad’s ultimate insult) good-for-nothing certain members of our neighbourhood were.
I remember summer afternoons, sitting in the backyard, the plastic lawn chair stuck to my back with sweat, reading a book or Sassy magazine, hoping Dwayne would come out. I thrilled to hear his coarse language, his grunts and angry explosions, the clang and smash of the Rolling Stones on the radio, the slam of his tools on the cement. I loved seeing my parents get so upset, without it being my fault.
Dad walks me through the oil change and we wipe our hands on an old, greasy cloth he keeps hanging on a hook by the door. OK, see you, eh? he says to Dwayne and turns his back without waiting for an answer. I press the garage door button and between the ground and the descending door I see Dwayne gather some saliva in his mouth, and spit into the alley.