Another Day in Paradise



   The knock Tuesday morning wasn’t much of a knock. I wasn’t even sure it was a knock and considered ignoring it. If I answered the door and no one was there, people would think I’m nuts. Then again, if I ignored the knock and someone was there, people would think I’m a snob. Since my sanity is already in doubt, why give people a snooty nit to pick? I answered the door.
   It was Nona, one of Covenant Woods’ marketing people. My first thought was she wanted to know why I hadn’t gone to the reception for new residents on Monday. An invitation to act as a greeter at the reception had been slipped under my door Saturday. If she asked, I’d have to decide whether to tell her the truth – that I had forgotten about it – or tell a harmless fib and deny having received the invitation.
   But my absence wasn’t mentioned, chances are it wasn’t noticed. Nona said she wanted to take a picture of my apartment. Well, maybe my absence was noticed, and this was her way of checking up on me, of making sure I hadn’t become a demented hermit, holed up in my room drinking booze, watching porn and talking to my pet spider.
   “We’re going to put together a brochure,” she said. “I like the studio apartments because you can get an idea of the whole layout with one picture.”
   “Oh,” I said, doubtfully.
   “We’re going to have a professional photographer come in when we’re ready,” she said. “I just need to get some stuff together. If we decide to use your apartment, we’ll have housekeeping straighten things up in here first.”
   “Oh.”
   “I like your apartment,” Nona said. “It looks roomy. You don’t have much furniture. You don’t need a lot of furniture, do you?”
   Wondering if Covenant Woods was hoping to attract less-finicky, less-pretentious residents, I moved to one side while Nona snapped a picture. Then she left, and I went back to my desk-slash-kitchen table, determined to channel a river of creativity through my fingers and into the computer. Instead, I wandered aimlessly around the Internet until sitting on my butt became a pain in the butt, and I took to my bed, taking a volume of Billy Collins’ poems with me.
   The first poem in the book, “Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House” has nothing to do with the Second Amendment, assault weapons or a well-regulated militia, and everything to do with the dog next door.
      The neighbor’s dog will not stop barking.
      I close all the windows in the house
      and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
      but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
      barking, barking, barking…
  
   A dog lives in the apartment to the left of me, another lives in the apartment to the right of me and there are a few others living in nearby apartments. They are all well behaved and seldom bark. The same cannot be said, however, for William, a former Marine who lives on the third floor but spends a great deal of time next door visiting Richie. William has a seizure disorder. A couple people have told me he has epilepsy, others say it’s the result of lead poisoning. No matter, even as I try to concentrate on the words of Billy Collins, I can still hear William’s muffled voice, yelling, yelling, yelling.
      When the record finally ends he is still barking,
      sitting there in the oboe section still barking,
      his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
      entreating him with his baton…
     
   William goes on, never witty, frequently obnoxious, often profane and always loud. I suppose I should have a little sympathy for William and his problems, but compassion is hard to come by, especially when I see him each morning coming back from Piggly-Wiggly lugging a twenty-four pack of Coors.
  
   Johnny, the maintenance director, was in the hall when I went to check my mail. He asked if I was going to the Mystery Dinner that evening. The mystery of the Mystery Dinner is where it is to be held.
   “I’m going,” I said. “Do you know where we’re going?”
   “No. But you’ll enjoy it.”
   “How do you know that?” I asked.
   Johnny smiled the smile of a man who had been caught in a lie. In court, the DA would have asked the judge to direct him to answer the question. All I could do was wait until Johnny muttered:
   “Uh, mystery food is always good.”
   Johnny might have been dissembling about knowing where we were going, but he was on the mark about the food at Smokey Bones. I enjoyed my dinner while sharing a booth with Ralph and Isabel, two of Covenant Woods’ most delightful people.
   One of the lessons I learned during my first summer in Columbus is that public places here aren’t so much air conditioned as refrigerated. Once I finished shoveling the chicken asiago down my gullet, I realized I’d forgotten that lesson. The waiter asked if we’d like dessert.
   “Just some coffee for me,” I said.
   “Regular or decaf?”
   “Regular.”
   “Cream or sugar?”
   “No thank you.”
   “Just black? We can do that,” he said.
   Perhaps he could, but he didn’t. He did, however, bring the check, which I quickly paid before heading outside to bask in the warmth. The woman who shows diners to their seats saw me and offered to help me with the door. She asked me about the rest of the group, and did I know where to meet up with them, and did I know where to wait for the bus.
   “I’m just going to sit out here and warm up,” I told her.
   “Is it cold in there?” a man, headed inside with his family, asked.
   “No,” the woman from the restaurant said. “It’s really nice inside.”
   I couldn’t see her face as she held the door for the family, but I imagined her eyes rolling in a manner that said, “He’s just a geezer who isn’t comfortable unless it’s eighty-five and thinks he’s going to drive home in that wheelchair.”
   A few minutes later, Dennis came out and fetched the bus. After an uneventful ride home, I crawled into bed with my Nook at nine o’clock. My intention was to read myself asleep, and I did. My bladder roused me shortly before midnight. The light was still on, the Nook was snuggled between my left arm and my chest, but my glasses were nowhere to be found. They weren’t on my face, they weren’t on the nightstand, they weren’t on what I could see of the floor, and they weren’t on what I could see of the bed.
   My search was cut short by my increasing need to go. And a few more gray hairs sprouted as I maneuvered to get out of bed, worried with every movement I’d find the specs by breaking them. But I managed to get out of bed, into the wheelchair, into the bathroom and to do what had to be done without incident. Then I went back to look for my glasses. They were resting comfortably under the heap of blankets and sheets I’d created when I started moving around. I picked them up, put them on and satisfied that they still worked, I put them on the nightstand. And as Tuesday yielded to Wednesday, I got back into bed.
  

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