THE BAR OF SOAP: 31 City Stories

The Bar of Soap.2This collection of short stories covers a wide range of subjects—from homelessness, sex and sports to school and animal stories. Plus, there’s a cruel mother-in-law story, a story about an unthinking neighbor, a story about a man who saves Manhattan from disaster, and even a story about all unknown writers being the equal of Hemingway. These stories are innovative and unusual, as well as stimulating and humorous.

 

Short Story – “My Across the Street Neighbor the Ex-Marine”

My across the street neighbor’s name is Doug Kite. He moved into his house a year ago with his wife. What has Doug done in one year? He’s dug up his front lawn with his own two hands and replaced it with gray stones the size of small potatoes. His thinking was probably, “I don’t have to water or mow the lawn anymore. I’m free. Whoopee.”

After getting rid of his lawn, he then, again with his own two hands, painted the outside of his house. It’s impossible not to notice it across the street when I open the living room drapes in the morning. It’s a bright yellow with no contrasting trim color anywhere in sight. His house looks like a giant yellow cab to me. I have to cover my eyes it’s so damn bright. What I haven’t been able to figure out is why he left one side of his chimney the previous house color.

But what really bugs me are Doug’s two cars. One is an old, long, large, four-door Lincoln Continental. On the back license plate frame is printed: “Once A Marine Always A Marine.” Oh no, I thought when I first noticed those words, an ex-Marine. He’s probably a redneck who believes in might makes right instead of reason and compromise. His second car is an old Ford pickup.

Why do these two cars bug me, frustrate me, and make my blood go through the roof? Because his tank of a Continental has been parked in front of our house for the past month. The only time he moves it is for the street cleaner once a week. As soon as the truck rumbles by every Monday afternoon at 1:20, Doug is already in his car ready to park it in front of our house again. I surely don’t own the parking space in front of our house, but the guy isn’t using his head when he parks there. Doesn’t he realize that parking is at a premium in San Francisco? If he wanted, he could easily park in front of his house, in his driveway, or how about this, in his garage. But no, he parks in front of our house, as if it were his own designated parking space.

Do you want to know what infuriates me even more? He parks his Ford pickup perpendicular to his driveway. That would be fine with me if his driveway was as wide as his pickup. What I’m saying is, his truck takes up part of a parking place in front of his truck and part of a parking place in back of it. Plus, the guy does the same thing with his pickup as he does with his Continental: he moves it only for the street cleaner when it comes by every Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. If I parked in our driveway like my wife does with her car, I couldn’t care less what Doug does with his two cars. But I have to scramble for a parking spot on our street or around the corner every day. I’m about ready to blow my top.

So what does a person say or do to an ex-Marine who’s either oblivious to what’s going on or who wants to be the bully of the block? Does one call the police? Does one call the Department of Parking? Should I knock on his door and explain the most obvious thing in the world to him? Or maybe I should write a note and leave it on the windshield of one of his cars. Whatever action I take, I can see this big, brawny, 40-something ex-Marine, who still sports a military crew cut, kicking down our front door and pointing his rifle at my heart. Or maybe he’ll zero in on me through his riflescope to pick me off while I’m working in my front yard or getting into my car. It’s conceivable he could do this, because after I introduced myself to welcome him to the neighborhood last year, he asked, “Would you like to go deer hunting with me some weekend?”

He was working under the hood of his pickup listening to Rush Limbaugh on radio. “Thanks for the offer, Doug, but I’m not a hunter.”

“You don’t know what you’re missing,” he said. “It’s a great sensation to kill a deer.”

Do you see what I’m saying? The guy knows and loves rifles. So how should I deal with this “Once A Marine Always A Marine”?

I finally had had it up to here with Doug hogging the parking spaces on the street. I had to take a stand, not only for myself but for the whole block. A few days ago I decided to ring his doorbell. I wasn’t just a little nervous, I was extremely nervous as I stood at his front door. I heard a little stirring behind the bright yellow door but no one opened it. Well, I thought, if he or his wife won’t open the door, I’ll write a note and put it on one of his windshields. I went back to my house, sat at my desk, and composed a note with as much reason and as little emotion as I could possibly muster so as not to rile this former Marine.

Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Doug,

I tried parking my car in front of your pickup and in back of it last week and it wouldn’t fit either way. If your pickup were parked in your driveway instead of perpendicular to it, two parking places would open up on our street, because, as you know, it’s very hard to find a parking place around here.

Also, if it means anything to you, I would like to park my car in front of my house every once in a while, but I can’t because your car is always there.

Al Reno, 2828 Sanchez

I left the note on the windshield of his pickup.

When I saw the note was still there the next day, I grabbed it and dropped it in his mailbox. Another day passed and there still wasn’t a response. If Doug had read my note and wanted to argue his case, I was more than ready to give my side of the story. But what if he wanted to go further than that? What if he came at me with a rifle or gun? What if he wanted to duke it out? I’m no spring chicken anymore. I’m 65 and had hip replacement surgery four months ago. Or maybe he would ignore my note and let me stew in my hatred of his stupidity. As you can see, I was both stumped and filled with fear. Who wouldn’t be afraid of an ex-Marine who hunts deer, listens to Rush Limbaugh, digs out his front lawn and replaces it with stones (maybe he did the same in his backyard), who paints his house a bright yellow with no trim and leaves one side of his chimney the old house color, or who thinks he has two designated parking places on our street (actually three, since his truck takes up two spaces)?

I’ve come to the conclusion that Doug is going to react to my note in a violent manner.

****

I once saw a movie on TV—Sunset Boulevard—with Gloria Swanson and William Holden, where Holden, who plays a screenwriter in the film, narrates this 1950s classic from beyond his grave. Well, I’m not writing this piece from beyond my grave, I’m writing this at home at my desk. I’m not going to lead you on by imitating the format of Sunset Boulevard. What I’m saying is I’m still alive!

When I came home today, I found an empty parking space in front of my house. Doug’s Continental was parked in front of another house. And his pickup was parked in his driveway, not perpendicular to it, which opened up two parking spaces on the block.

There was no breaking down of our front door, no argument, no rifle, no fists and I didn’t have to call the cops or the Department of Parking. I had written a decent and reasonable note and Doug took heed of it. It was just plain old common sense that came out on top today.

I’m thinking of writing another note to let him know he forgot to paint one side of his chimney. On second thought, I better leave well enough alone or else I’ll surely be writing a sequel to this from beyond my grave.

 

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