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I Took Out the Trash and Thought of You
(My next country song, maybe)
Tomorrow is trash day and for the last hour or so I’ve been listening to our neighbors, one household at a time, drag their cans to the curb. I love hearing the familiar scrape of those plastic wheels against cement. Not sure why, but it might have something to do with the gentle evidence of normalcy. So much in this world feels out of our control right now, but tonight on our street, we know that if we drag our cans to the curb, hardworking people will empty them tomorrow morning and we get to start over.
We leave our cans on the tree lawn. I was in my 30s before I learned that this is a very Cleveland way to describe that strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street. In Akron, they call it the devil strip. Depending on where you live, you may call it a curb strip, a planting strip, or a tree row. Some people call it a neutral plot, which sounds like a book I’d rather not read. Neutrality has its place, I suppose, but my heart longs for commitment.
I’ve been sitting at my desk with the window open because it’s a mild night for autumn and the last of the cicadas are droning away like a metronome, as Kathleen Burgy once described crickets in her poem, On the Edge of Eighty. I’m a long way from eighty but I’m old enough to know the value of listening more closely to people who are farther down the road. I wish I’d picked up this habit in my twenties, but if we’re going to get into that list we’ll be here all night.
As I write, I can hear the occasional dog bark and eight times out of ten I know which neighbor is out for a final walk before making that tired climb to bed. It’ll be a while here before Franklin and Walter make their last dash out the back door and into our fenced yard. We have a new ritual for their nighttime bathroom breaks. Before opening the door, we walk into our sunroom and flick the ceiling light off and on several times. I’ve heard from a lot of people in recent weeks that this is a good way to make skunks skedaddle.
I sure wish I’d known to do that on July 18, when Franklin woke me up in the middle of the night. Within seconds of dashing out the back door he met a skunk who did not care for his advances. More to the point, I suppose, I wish I’d had the sense God gave a goose, to quote my mother, and closed the door as soon as I caught a whiff of their encounter. I’ve already told you all about that, but I’m going to be talking about it for years to come. It’s worth it just to hear Sherrod say, “I’m sorry, honey, I sure wish I could have been with you,” and then watch him contort his face in an always futile attempt to look like he means it.
I keep thinking we should let our next-door neighbors know why we’re flicking the lights at night. They haven’t said anything and they seem to still like us all right, but I’m a Midwesterner and I was raised to explain myself. Maybe I’ll tell them next week and thank them for being the kind of people who don’t jump to conclusions. They’re too busy for that nonsense. In some neighborhoods, people get needy for excitement. You know who they are. They watch a few nights of you flicking the lights and decide they’re living next door to spies. If those were our neighbors I’d want to learn Morse Code just to drive them crazy, but Sherrod would say what he always says at such moments: “Honey, don’t escalate.” He’s saved my life a time or ten.
Thanks to neighborly reminders, I’ve already dragged our cans to the tree lawn. I’m glad for that because it made me stop and take in the view. It’s a normal night on our street, at least for a little while, and I am grateful that my biggest job of the evening is behind me. In a little bit, I’m going to tidy the kitchen and get everything ready for tomorrow’s coffee. I think of this as Evening Connie putting Morning Connie first, which doesn’t happen often enough around here if you ask me.
Goodnight, good people. Tomorrow we get to try again.
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