Saturday, August 28, 2010

What're Those People Doin' Now?

An unmowed lawn is the suburban fuck you. It tells your neighbors that you don't care what they think, that you have better things to do than manicure your yard. Like write blog posts about how much you hate lawn work and suburbia in general.

My yard has a special bonus: a long mound of dirt from when the main sewer line was replaced. It's been a year and I haven't done shit to plant new grass or cover it with straw. For one thing, the mound is still settling. Planting grass in it would be wasted money and energy. After hard rains, I've shoveled the top layer, turning the dirt over then raking it in a smooth line. I don't know what this does, other than give my voyeuristic neighbors the illusion that I'm attending to the eyesore. If nothing else, it's good exercise for the upper body.

I've got nothing against neighborhoods or neighbors. In New York, you spoke to people in your building and on your block. Park Slope was especially neighborly, at least when I lived there. I knew the newspaper stand owner, the coffee shop cashier, the Mexican restaurant hostess, and most importantly, the bartenders at Jack's, a dark quiet restaurant across the street from my apartment.

One pretty guy was a struggling actor, as was the cute blonde woman who mixed my large martinis. I don't recall her name, but I still see her beautiful face. She had a great body, was friendly and flirty. We talked about film, theater, music. My anecdotes and one-liners usually won me free rounds, but not her sweet touch. No matter. I wouldn't have acted on it anyway.

The other bartender worked as a part-time private investigator. He was a dead ringer for comedian Jim Breuer, and loved to discuss comedy. When writing and editing Mr. Mike, I spent a lot of time around this guy. I sat at the far corner of the bar, manuscript in front of me, red pen in hand, martini and a lit American Spirit framing my furrowed face. The wonderful thing about New York was that I was pretty much left alone. A writer in Brooklyn was not a strange sight. The bartender eventually asked what I was working on, and when I told him, he opened up.

"Mr. Mike! That guy was fuckin' twisted, man! You knew him?"

"A little, yeah."

"Righteous. Here -- next one's on me."

He witnessed me going from manuscript to proofs to final edit to publication. All the while we talked about the old SNL, and I shared my experiences meeting and interviewing the original members of the show. He knew his shit. Appreciated different forms. When I gave him a signed copy of my book, he seemed elated, and clearly read it quickly, for soon he was quizzing me about obscure references in the text. He even promoted me to P.J. O'Rourke, the former Lampoon editor who refused to be interviewed. O'Rourke was in Manhattan signing his latest GOP joke book when my bartender pal approached him.

"Have you read Mr. Mike by Dennis Perrin yet?"

"No," O'Rourke reportedly replied. "Michael was a genius, and I won't read some tabloid book about him."

"But it's not a tabloid book. It's really serious about comedy. You should definitely check it out."

"Maybe I will," said O'Rourke. Maybe he did. Who the fuck knows or cares.

I've lived in southeastern Michigan for a decade now, and have never come close to this kind of community. One exception: the nationalist Greek neighbor who lived next door to our second house.

He always had people on his back porch, drinking, shouting, laughing. If he saw me outside, no matter what I was doing, he'd yell, "Hey Dennis! Come over for a drink, eh?" And I did, trying to find my place amid the locals. While they were welcoming, they talked about nothing, just the minutiae of their daily lives. They had no interest in the wider wicked world. I rarely broached this topic, but when I did, they would stare at their feet. The awkward silence was usually broken with predictions for Michigan's football team.

My Greek neighbor occasionally waxed political, primarily when drunk. His right wing views seemed based on emotion, because his logic was pathetic. He loved Fox News, thought CNN promoted communism and Islam, supported US wars, and bemoaned the lack of rigid order in his native country. He'd get mystical about fascist Greece, remembering how happy he was as a kid when the generals ran things. "Too much freedom now!" he'd lament. "People need to be controlled."

"Um, right. Thanks for the drink. Gotta run!"

"Hey! Come on! One more! Just one!"

I accepted, but rarely went over there again. Within a few months, we moved to our present location. Haven't talked to the guy since.

Nobody talks to us over here. Nor much to each other. But there's a lot of staring out of windows. On my corner, nearly everyone is Gladys Kravitz from Bewitched. Too bad I'm not a warlock. Oh, the show I'd give them! My sloppy yard will have to suffice.