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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Rumor, Innuendo, And The Nature Of Neighbors

“Garbage in, garbage out”, said Blaine’s mother when she saw a story he had written about the neighbors next door. “And I’m not referring to your writing.  I’m talking about the Kitters”, who everyone knew were ne’er-do-well degenerates. “Anything anyone writes about them will have to come out reeking and putrid.  What did we do to deserve neighbors like them?”

Like any family the Fandos had moved to the suburbs looking for more house for the money, a roof over the cars, and decent schools.  They got all that, and although the High Meadows was not exactly high-class and far from the gated communities of Hilton Head, it would do fine. 

Hilton Head

As a matter of fact Marge Fando had no clue about the golf clubs, tennis courts, croquet lawns, and multi-million dollar homes of these exclusive enclaves.  In fact she had no idea about any of the wealthy residential areas of Great Falls, McLean, Short Hills, Rancho Mirage. She had grown up ‘normal’ as she was proud of saying, daughter of a mill worker and school teacher, who married at least slightly up to an accountant, and who had managed a small second-hand clothing store in the city.  She had done quite well for herself, worked hard for a living, and brought up two children who had turned out well.

McLean home

Blaine, the writer, had always been a pill, a “rambunctious trouble-maker”, his grade school teacher had noted on his report card, which meant that he was always in high spirits, snooping in other people’s things, and leaving cryptic notes in them. “Is it true?” was one, that made sense only when paired with “Or false”, left a week later, and finally, “Does it really matter?”

“It shows an existential streak”, said his father; but the teacher wasn’t happy with the remark since one of the students – humorless Janie Simmons - had claimed harassment and under the new rules the alleged infraction had to be addressed.

In any case Blaine wrote stories about the neighbors, most of which he made up, but there was always a lot of truth because he noticed things and scribbled them down in his notebook creating a composite of the target family. “Extra vodka bottles in the trash…discarded Bible…why would anyone throw that away?….cat food tins but no cat…bloodied bandages….phone bills with repeated calls to Minneapolis…”.
Helen Flutie woke to the sound of dishes being washed.  She was surprised because there was always a pile of them in the sink and no one in the family seemed to care….
Bibles discarded
This bit of information Blaine had gotten by hoisting himself up on the trellis outside the Kitters’ kitchen window.  The sink was not only piled up with dirty dishes, but the counters were gross and disgusting, ants had swarmed around the bits of apple, lumps of mushy cereal, and smears of peanut butter and had formed a supply line into a crack behind the faucet, into the foundation, and out the back wall under his feet.
She noticed the empty, warm folds of the bed where her husband Frank slept.  “It must be him”, she thought. “But at 3am?”. She heard the sound of crockery smashing and a loud, long wail. “Why has He forsaken me?”
This part of the story was based on the discarded Bible and the frequent calls to the Mayo Clinic. Mr. Kitter had terminal cancer, finally confirmed by the extensive tests that had been run, and in a moment of angst and fear, he had thrown away his Bible, convinced that there was no God, for why would he allow suffering?
The pain was worse, deep down in his gut, and Frank Kitter saw the pile of dirty dishes as a symbol of pain and suffering – spiritual detritus in the form of crockery – and he knew that he had to destroy them.  He picked up each piece – a chipped cup, a stained saucer, and a greasy serving platter – smirked, and sent it flying into the far wall, smashing the porcelain owls his wife had neatly arranged as tacky sentinels of the feeding trough.
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Ever since Blaine’s mother read her son’s story, she wondered if any of it could be true. Frank Kitter looked fine, even dapper, as he left the house every morning (Marge peered through the curtains so she wouldn’t be seen, and ducked back if he looked her way).  He always wore a clean, starched white shirt, tailored suit, and new Florsheims and gave no sign of the godless anxiety that her son had written about.

Her Kitter family composite was based on rumor and innuendo.  Whereas her son was a little Peeping Tom, she could never bring herself to invade people’s privacy; but she could keep her eyes and ears open. There were whispers at church that Frank Kitter was gay.  It was one thing to dress snappily for work, but those outfits he wore on Saturday afternoon! They were as swishy as anything Liberace ever wore, and if you walked past the driveway after he had left, you could still smell the slightly feminine scent of his cologne. Others dismissed that rumor and said that he indeed have a lover but a female one; and that despite his good and conservative taste in professional attire, he simply was out of touch with casual wear and dressed like a fag simply because he didn’t know any better.

The rumor was that because of her husband’s trysts and continual infidelities, his wife had become an alcoholic, and the regular appointments every Thursday at 5pm could only be AA.  She needed those meetings to keep her on the wagon, and so like clockwork she headed out in her Subaru, turning left towards Farmington where the AA’s Hartford County Chapter met.

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It was impossible to keep track of the many conflicting stories about the Kitter children.  One was a slut, the other pious and ready to enter the Convent of Jesus and Mary, the third a dope dealer who peddled meth to the Polacks on Broad Street.

To an outsider, the Kitter family displayed none of the behavior that would suggest such dysfunction.  What the natives saw as surreptitious and suspicious (Bobby Kitter was seen on a street corner on Broad Street one winter evening, huddled with another boy) could easily have been explained otherwise.  It was a Saturday afternoon, dark and cold, but the boys could have been going to confession at St. Mary’s the biggest Catholic church in New Brighton with a reputation, thanks to its young priests, of being more forgiving and understanding. 

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Jennifer was no slut, only naturally sensual as some young women are. Although not particularly pretty in an Elle way, she had a natural sexual allure that was obvious to men and women alike.  The kitchen may not have looked so distressed all the time, but only after a messy sleepover or teenage party.  The vodka bottles the result of housecleaning, and the regular left turns to Farmington only for bridge dates

“Rumor and innuendo are nothing more than textual exegesis”, wrote a Post-modern, deconstructionist professor at Duke. “A natural human instinct to reorder the world according to personal observation.  There is no such thing as truth in such a world, but only composite realities. The best way to understand the behavior of others is to build the mosaic with as many fragments as possible.”

It is hard to buy this academic double-speak.  People simply like to feel superior, and the easiest way to do so is to make things up.  An abstemious family can snicker at the vodka bottles in the trash.  A reserved and demure family sees sexual profligacy over the hedges and everywhere. Anyone straggling in to Mass just before the Consecration must have just crawled out of an illicit bed. Strange hours are signs of dereliction and social indifference.

One New Brighton neighbor insisted that the Lebanese couple across the street had poisoned their dog; and once that rumor got started, no one on the block could look at either of them without thinking of poor Belinda who one morning coughed up green bile, lay down on her bed and expired. 
Explosive yells and yelps were heard in the summer coming out of the upstairs windows of a house four doors down, and the neighbors were sure that it was because of domestic violence. 

After the family left and the truth came out – the man had suffered from both Tourette’s Syndrome and sleep apnea; and the combination of the two was the cause of the commotion.  The sleep apnea had woken him up with a start and the Tourette’s kicked in.  His loud barking and shouting of violent obscenities was no more than an expression of his disease.  If he and his wife had preferred air conditioning and kept the windows closed, no one would have heard anything and the Smythes would have been considered model citizens and neighbors.

Image result for images logo tourette's syndrome

One can only imagine what neighbors think of each other.  Lord knows Blaine Fando would have had plenty to write about although the family across the street was a model of rectitude and proper socialization.

 Of course every family thinks this way, but the curiosity and inventiveness of neighbors is limitless.  Each family on our block has a story, each invented, all subjective creations, all twisted composites based on completely innocent events like bottles in the trash.  An outsider listening to them might well think that a circus freak show had come to town and settled in Fairmount University Park.

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