by Nicole Freire
So, I've been spending a lot of time at home lately, what with the stupid shingles and all, and I've progressed from the bed into the living room. The living room is MUCH MORE exciting by far. If I knew how much fun I'd be having in the living room I would have left the bed earlier.
I know what you're thinking. You want to know what's so darn exciting about my living room. It's not the giant flat screen television (don't have one) or the big sectional couch (don't have one) or the full bar (come on, people, you know I don't have one of those!).
It's the giant picture window we have. It's my version of a big screen television, because I've been spending a lot of time looking at my big picture window. Well, not looking at, more like looking through. Because that's what most people do with windows. Look through them.
So, in the morning, I have some tea and I settle myself down in our giant purple chair and I start to watch. Maybe I should get a housecoat and some binoculars too, since I seem to have taken up another hobby of the retired or elderly ilk.
The mornings are a bit frantic, what with all the walking to school parades. Moms and small children walk to the right of my house, on their way to elementary school. And children/budding teenagers/tweens walk by to the left, on their way to junior high. I watch the tween set pretty closely, having one of my own. I want to see what they're wearing, what kind of backpack they carry, who they're walking with - you know - mostly nosy mom stuff.
As an aside story, I bought everyone new rain boots this year. And not dorky rain boots, but cute ones with patterns and colors (not ducks - we're past that), and I love Zappos.com, and finally it rained, and I made, nay, insisted that my tween wear her new, very cute rain boots to school. Because certainly, out of nearly 1200 kids, someone besides she would be wearing rain boots IN THE RAIN. She threw a fit of epic proportions, shrieking that she would be the only person wearing rain boots, and people would be making fun of her, blah blah blah. I drove her to school, which was nice of me, seeing as how it was pouring water from the sky. She started texting me before I even got out of the school parking lot. "Someone just made fun of my boots." By the time I pulled into the driveway, "I am the biggest dork ever". As I was making tea, "I am never wearing rain boots again". So parents, I beg of you, when it rains? Please make your children wear rain boots.
Then there is the parade of moms with babies in strollers. Some moms with infants walk pretty quickly. Moms with toddlers often let them out of the stroller (a fine idea, by the way, staying in a stroller all day is boring) to walk, and toddlers are short and much like dogs, must stop every three feet to see what's going on with the plants or the sidewalk or a leaf or a rock.
There is one mother I see every day, rain or shine. She has quadruplets, and pushes them in a giant stroller contraption. It reminds me of those sleds that they use in the Iditarod races, giant ones. And boy, does she push it. She seems darned determined to get out of the house and get some fresh air and strap those kids somewhere where she can't hear them whine. I want to cheer her on as she passes my big window. And since I have made up names (again with the rich internal life) for all my neighborhood people, I want to cheer, "Go Quadruple Lady Go!"
I see a fair number of people taking an exercise-related walk, stretchy pants and zip up jackets, and purposeful expressions on their faces. I don't have names for them; I just refer to all of them as 'exercise overachievers'.
I also see a few people who read as they walk. This actually seems like an idea I could get behind, except it's so obviously dangerous. What if you clothesline yourself with an anchor wire? What if you trip and sprain or break your ankle? And how will that sound when you try to explain it to the emergency room staff? That you were walking (ok so far) but you decided to walk and hold a book in front of your face while you walked (you just lost some sympathy points from the staff).
As the morning progresses, I get to see all the dog people. There is a park nearby, so I get to observe a lot of dogs and their people. There is 'green plastic stick guy' who has a nice active dog. He throws tennis balls to the dog, using one of those catching sticks. I think those are brilliant. Dog slobber bothers me. There is 'man with the untrained Akita', a dog that upsets all other dogs and people by barking and lunging at them. There is the guy who is always 'just walking my son's dogs'. He walks them all the time though, so I think he should just start calling them his dogs. Why all the explanation? There is the 'weiner dog lady' and the 'hound dog lady' and the 'yappy dog lady' and then there is the man with 'those crazy shepherd dogs' who run around like it's the greatest thing in the world. Sometimes 'flexible frisbee-thingy' lady comes with her black dog.
A lot of people drive to the park, and get out of the car with their dog, a behavior I find odd. Why not just walk your dog to the dog park? There are lots of parks in Santa Barbara, certainly one by their house?
Lunchtime brings a whole different crowd. People like to pull up in front of the park and eat their lunch. They don't get out of the car and sit on the grass, picnic style; they just like it inside. Sometimes a couple will pull up and just sit there, talking. Naturally I think these couples are cheating.
We have other neighborhood characters that I watch. There's the alcoholic neighbor who pours bottles into his recycling bin with alarming regularity. There is my other neighbor, the one with a severe case of obsessive cleaning. It's hard to be his neighbor, because no matter how often we clean the gutters or sweep the driveway, we will look bad next to him. And there's no way we could even try to keep up -- yesterday he was cleaning the battery posts in his wife's car. Yep, cleaning the INSIDE of the car engine.
We have a felon living down the street, but he's not on Megan's List, so I think and hope that he's mellowed out. People have asked me how I know he's a felon, and, what can I say? He just is. His body language, the way he dresses, the many prison tats, and most of all, the insanely tense and aggressive aura I have encountered. Wow. And I've seen him working at a car wash. It's hard to find work as a parolee.
I see lots of women walking in groups wearing scrubs, but since we live near a vet and near a medical clinic, I can't guess where they work. There's an old lady down the street who knows everybody and everything. I know this because of the mail. The arrival of the mail is a big thing for the stay at home set. I have a bonus though, because my mailbox is right in front of my house --- and it's one of those 'community mailboxes', maybe a dozen or so boxes. So I get to see everybody get their mail. The happy faces of people with a big stack of mail, the people bummed at a box full of nothing but pizza circulars. Anyway, the old lady and I talk at the mailbox sometimes. Oh, the stories she can tell.
I try not to spend too much time outside though, because it's outside, and I like to be inside. Once a week is one of my absolute favorite neighborhood activities, "baby soccer". Man, do I love baby soccer. I call it baby soccer because there isn't one kid out there over the age of 4. They have a little goal set up (probably comes up to the height of my knee) and some orange cones, and the coaches, or dads, actually try and make these little ones do drills. This doesn't work out very well. Often some kid will kick another kid or knock over an orange cone and it always ends with quite a number of baby soccer players in tears. As you might guess, baby soccer practices rarely last more than 40 minutes. I'm surprised they last more than ten minutes, but I don't like soccer and ten minutes would be ten minutes too long for me.
I'd like to talk more with you about my rich inner life and my new hobby of spying on the neighborhood, but it is almost time for the people who work outside the home to start arriving, and I've got to make some more tea so I'll be ready.
Next week is my big 'best of' article, so be sure and hold your breath for that one.
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Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.