‘I know too much,’ is something I would’ve loved to have said to my neighbors to explain my reluctance to continue to participate in the rumor mill any longer. It’s a tantalizing line. It’s a line that I think we would all love to deliver to the unsuspecting. Deliver such a line in context, with a humble delivery, and in the perfect scenario, and I have to imagine that it would leave the audience dazzled.
That line has been used by movie makers for a generation, as a device to give their delusional and paranoid characters a level of omniscience that piques the interest of the audience. As most modern movie goers now by know, the paranoid and delusional characters in a movie are onto something that the rest of us choose to deny. In real life, however, such a line is often used by those that know little to cover for that fact. I was one of those types, until a Saturday in August when I decided that I had to know more that led me to knowing too much.
I can’t remember exactly what my neighbors said, after that Saturday in August, but I know it revolved around the idea that I had changed, or that something was different about me. They may have said something as simple, and as general as, “Are you all right?” Or, it may have been more specific. I can’t remember. I think I walked around in a daze for a couple of days, but I do know that that ‘I know too much’ line dangled in my head as a suitable answer to their concerns.
Yet, I didn’t want to pique the interest of my neighbors. I didn’t want to tell them I had scoop on the neighbors at the end of our block. I didn’t want to engage in the ever-present rumor mill that occurred on my block from that Saturday in August on. I didn’t want to even talk to those select neighbors in my neighborhood anymore, for fear that they would start in on the latest scoop of the neighborhood. I didn’t want to participate in that anymore, because I didn’t want to flirt with the notion that what I learned on a Saturday in August could top any scoop they may have had on any of our neighbors. I wanted nothing more than to put that Saturday in August behind me, as best I could.
Call it the desire for a good story, or whatever you want, but we all have a secret desire to know more about the lives that occur around us. How many great movies have been made about the curious lives of neighbors next door, how many serial killers seemed like good neighbors that just went about their business in relative anonymity, and how many of have secretly theorized that with our neighbors there’s more than meets the eye? Some of us are just curious about our neighbors, but some of us can be so driven by this need to know something more that we run the risk of being called nosey.
I was one of those people. I was a nosey busybody. I can say that now, upon reflection. I can say that now, because I no longer feel the need to know anything about anyone I know, see, or encounter briefly at the mall. I put my dog in the backyard now. I no longer want to walk him. I want to go to work in the morning and return at night. I spend as little time outside as humanly possible now. I want nothing more to do with anything regarding my neighborhood.
Even while I was doing it, I knew it was strange, but I could not stop. I loved making Ms. Patterson’s eyes go wide with the latest gossip I learned. I loved making Ms. Hawk giggle when I told her I had picked up an interesting nugget about the people that lived right next door to her. It made me feel interesting, and funny, and a joy to be around.
I thought there was something to be gained by watching people when they didn’t know they were being watched. I thought our neighbors were a bunch of phonies, and I wanted to see what made them tick. I would see them fight, I watched them kiss, and I even watched them watching television. Even while I was doing it, I knew watching other people made me a strange duck, but I could not stop. I don’t know if I was so bored by my own life that I wanted to know what was going on in the lives of others, but somewhere along the line, I crossed that line.
Even after I was caught, I kept doing it. Even after I had drapes swept open on me, catching me in the middle of their sidewalk, looking into their homes, it didn’t stop me. I stopped staring at that moment, and I think I stopped stopping at their homes for a couple of days, but even an embarrassing moment like that didn’t stop me for long.
I would eavesdrop on others’ conversations at restaurants, I would watch others interact at work, and I would keep up to date on the latest scuttle butt that circulated around my kids’ school about the other parents’ lives. I don’t do it for long periods of time. You’d never catch me hiding behind some shrubbery to get an elongated view. I did walk my dog however. I walked him twice a day, around my block and sometimes longer, and when I would spot someone doing something of note, I slowed my dog a little to get a better snapshot.
Most of my neighbors, like most people, myself included, are pretty boring. There’s was this one guy that would sit in his tighty whities, eating a bowl of popcorn. I think the man ate a bowl of popcorn a night. Popcorn, depending on what one adds to it, is neither healthy nor unhealthy, but there have to be some detrimental effects to eating a bowl a night.
Another home on our block housed a mother and a son. The son appeared to be approaching forty-years-old. I didn’t know if this guy had women on the side, if he spent most of his time at their homes, or if he hasn’t had a woman in decade, but I never saw this man with a woman, or a man. I never saw him bring another person home, and his car was in front of the house, parked on the curb, every weekend. The latter suggested to me that he was never out on the town. I passed that home, two times a day, sure that the two inhabitants probably spent their nights on a phone, a computer, or watching TV for five straight hours after eating, but something told me that there was more to the story. There probably wasn’t, but where there is no story some of us invent them. It’s what the curious do, right?
There was a slightly pudgy, but cute, little thirty-something female that sat out on her porch smoking pot, drinking beer, and sprucing the flowers that sit on her guardrail. She didn’t do the same thing every day, but she appeared to enjoy being outside when the weather permitted it.
She’s caught me watching her a couple times. She even looked at me for a while, a couple times. When she did that, it appeared as though she was trying to determine if I was looking at her or in her general direction. She never gave me nasty looks, but she would do nothing to cross that imaginary wall between us either. I suspected that she enjoyed being watched, but that she didn’t want to engage the matter any further. Whatever the case was, she never took visible umbrage with my need to stare, and she never tried to teach me a lesson for snooping.
There were some lessons learned along the way, lessons I now wished I heeded before that Saturday in August, when I decided to take my natural sense of curiosity a step further with the house at the end of the block. Why did I do it? Am I that nosey that I can’t just sit back and be satisfied with what I already know? Perhaps, but their almost every Saturday ritual was just gnawing at me so bad, that I leapt out of my chair, turned my computer off, and decided I needed to go do something about it.
I knew little-to-nothing about the couple in this house, or their daughter. They lived on our block for over a year, and no one that I spoke to knew anything about them. The one thing we did know was that they were having some trouble interacting with us. Whether this was out fault or not, and we’ve all gone back and forth on this, we hadn’t been very good neighbors to them. No one welcomed them to the neighborhood with a dish, or a potted plant. We waved, we all waved, but they spent so little time outdoors that our waves never progressed beyond that polite gesture.
It was obvious that the man of the house worked a lot. He was rarely home, and when he was, he went in his home and didn’t leave for the rest of the day. The woman did most of the lawn work, and she cleaned the windows and such on the outside of their home, but the majority of her time spent outdoors involved going to the car to pick her daughter up from school and returning. When the family was home for the night, they shut their drapes and didn’t move about the house, as far as I could see, or even turn on a TV. Their curtains were lit up by the lights inside, but I could discern no activity within, in the manner one might with shadows or a flickering of the lights.
On weekends, of course, the family was more active, but they were nowhere near as active as the rest of us. They didn’t put the time into getting to know others in the manner we did. This fact only piqued our curiosity about the house at the end of the block more, and we would speak about them so often that they had a starring role in many of our rumor mills.
The ‘we’ in this equation were all the other neighbors that didn’t have unusual traits. We were a pack of three, to four house members that would congregate over fences and in drive ways, in the breaks we took from tending to our lawns. Other neighbors would occasionally drift into our conversations, and they were more than welcome, but for the most part it was Ms. Patterson, Ms. Hawk and me standing in the other’s driveway with a rake in our hands. We would talk local and national politics, the general news of the day, which TV shows we were watching, and sports, but we would always turn back to our primary fascination our block, and the house at the end of the block was the primary focus of that primary fascination.
I was often the facilitator of such conversations. It embarrasses me now, but I wonder if most of these catty conversations, about the people around us, may never have happened if it weren’t for me. I hate to deal in generalities and stereotypes, but Ms. Hawk and Ms. Patterson were both widowed women that lived on their deceased husbands’ pensions. I was a middle-aged man in the peak of my life. The roles should’ve been reversed. In a stereotypical world, I would’ve been the one humoring them and their Mrs. Gladys Kravitz type, busybody stories. In our little world, these stereotypes were reversed.
We’ve had so many such visits that I can’t remember how it started, and if our roles in these conversations were more customary in the beginning, but I developed an insatiable need to entertain them. I felt like a reporter in some odd way that embarrasses me now. I had to know more than they did to top whatever “scoop” they had regarding the goings on of our neighborhood. Even if this dynamic hadn’t happened though, I’ve always enjoyed “people watching”. I’ve enjoyed knowing what makes the people around me tick, what makes them talk, what they dream about at night, and what they do attempt to accomplish those dreams during the day. I talk about people behind their back, and I spend a lot of time laughing, with my normal neighbors, regarding what the people around us do when they don’t know that other people are looking. Lots of people do it, few admit it.
That Saturday in August brought about the end of all that. That which I will no longer speak about, because it spooked me, happened on a Saturday in August. Saturdays, as I wrote, were the days when the inhabitants of the house at the end of the block broke the routine of coming home from school, and work, and going inside to never be seen again for the rest of the day. The primary break in the routine, and that which caused me to go from a casual observer to a busybody that had to know what was going on, involved a dog.
On the face of it, it’s not unusual for a family to bring a dog home, but they brought home a different dog home every Saturday. Actually, let me correct that, they didn’t bring a dog home every Saturday, but they did it often enough that it appeared to be a ritual, a curious, odd, ‘I have to know what the hell is going on with the dogs’ ritual.
I asked Ms. Patterson and Ms. Hawk about it, and Ms. Patterson said she saw them bring a dog home on one occasion, and Ms. Hawk said she never saw it.
“They allowed the dog to run around on the lawn,” Ms. Patterson said. “I saw it when I was driving by. I didn’t think much of it. They had a new dog, and it was cute, but now that you mention it, I’ve never seen that dog again.”
The general consensus that we reached was that the family in the house at the end of the block, must have been engaged in some kind of altruistic program that concentrated on giving a dog a home, until an individual decided that they wanted the dog.
“They call them dog rescue programs,” Ms. Hawk said. “They go by a variety of names, including poodle rescue, retriever rescue, and on and on. There are national and local programs.”
“That has to be it then,” I said, and I meant it. It seemed like a plausible explanation to the unusual ritual, but unfortunately it did not quell my need to know more. I include the word ‘unfortunately’ now, but I didn’t think it was an unfortunate characteristic of mind back then. I thought the family at the end of the block was hiding something. I had to deal with the idea that their ritual could be based on the fact that they were involved in an admirable program, like a dog rescue program, and if it was I would have egg on my face, but I was willing to risk it.
The risk I took was mostly internal. I think I said something like, “I don’t think they’re involved in a dog rescue program” to Ms. Hawk posing the notion, but I didn’t back that with so much conviction that if I turned out to be wrong, I would have egg on my face with her. The risk I ran was my personal belief that something was going on, and that personal, internal voice was loaded with conviction.
I was so determined to find out that I was right that when the woman of the house arrived home after retrieving her daughter from school, with a new, little white poodle in tow, I closed my computer down, and left my home with a sense of expediency. This expediency was based on defeating that voice in my head telling me to rethink this. That voice had won out for weeks, months, or however long this ritual became obvious to me.
I just couldn’t take it any longer on that particular Saturday, when they arrived home with another dog. I had to know what was going on. I planned my reason for being there, I walked over to their house, and I knocked on the door.
“Hello,” the woman of the house said, greeting me with my full name. I didn’t know how she arrived at my full name. My last name is on the mailbox, but my first name should’ve been a mystery to her. If she had said my last name, preceded by mister, I would not have been curious. She may have looked my name up in the phone book. I wasn’t sure then, and I still don’t know, but that has nothing to do with this story.
“I notice that you have had some trouble growing vegetables,” the woman said. She had no idea how much time and effort I put into that garden. The woman could not have known that my vegetable garden was a sore spot for me. She didn’t know that I planned to never try planting vegetables again. She did know that I was trying to grow vegetables, however, and that caught me off guard. I determined that it was possible that she could see the dilapidated patch from which vegetables should’ve grown, from her backyard. I determined that it was possible to see that patch, but I reasoned that it took some strain and effort, on her part, to see that corner of my backyard. She put forth that effort, apparently, and she was now openly acknowledging it.
“Which brings me to why I’m here,” I said, changing course on the fly. My excuse for being there was a good one, but this newfound excuse matched the conversation.
“I’m planning a stew, with store bought vegetables unfortunately,” and here I added some frustration that caused the mother to smile.
“I have no problem sharing,” she said. She had mentioned my full name again, here. She was alluding to the fact that she had experienced no problems of her own growing vegetables. I couldn’t tell if this woman was being silently, and politely competitive, but I decided that it didn’t matter.
“Thank you, but no,” I said. “I am actually looking for an idea, a spice I can add to this stew, or a something that you might know to kick up the flavor of what I’ve been eating for so long that it bores me.”
“Hmmm,” she said putting a finger to her lips. “Come on in,” she said mentioning my full name again. “I can’t think of anything on the spot.”
The woman asked me if I wanted something to drink.
For whatever reason, right here, my thoughts turned sexual. This older woman, she appeared to be in her late fifties, was not attractive in any way. There was nothing sensual about the way she spoke to me, and she was nothing more than pleasant and politely, but I began thinking about ways I could get away with it. I thought of alibis and excuses for how it happened. I have no idea what prompted such thoughts, but I quickly doused whatever flames ignited by saying:
“You have a very nice home,” I said when I allowed the screen door to close behind me. I was concentrating on that which was her backdrop when I spoke to her. We all have our quirks. We all like things that require explanation for our neighbors and few neighbors will come right out and ask another about them, but some of the times the need for explanation overrides polite silence.
Her immediate backdrop, or that which I faced, was a library of books. There were political books, science books, and mostly non-fiction, adult books that were bordered by trinkets. The trinkets were everywhere. There were religious trinkets, and cartoon trinkets of little girls that appeared to be half mushroom. Other than the thought that these ubiquitous trinkets suggested a heavy female influence, countered only by the books, I thought nothing of this wall. When I turned, however, my eyes went wide. I offered that which rested behind me during the introductory part of our conversation a cursory glance, but my double-take had to be so powerful that the woman had to have notice it.
The living room was what laid behind me, and I could not look away once that double-take was completed. The family at the end of the black had decorated their walls in saran wrap. Scotch tape bisected the long layers of saran wrap, but for the most part the wrap was so tight and smooth one could barely tell it was on the wall. The furniture and the carpet had a thicker layer of plastic wrap that was so tight against the fabric that it took some effort to see, not as much effort as that which was on the wall, but some. It was all elegantly done, as if it had been done so well on one occasion that it lasted. Either that or the family had the practice of lining their living room with saran wrap down to such a degree that they had perfected it.
We were speaking while I scoured the living room of a home I had never been in, even with the prior owners. We spoke about the weather and nonsense like that, and she began going through some ideas of spices that I might add to my beef stew. Initially, I didn’t know what she was doing when she mentioned a spice that came to her out of nowhere, but I caught that quick. I quickly pulled my phone out, asked her to repeat the name of the spice, and I wrote it in the “Notes” app on the phone.
“Thank you,” I said with as much genuineness as I could muster, and I wheeled around slowly and politely, as if I were examining the entire living room, until I was eye to eye with the dog, the almost-every-Saturday dog. It was as I said, a little white dog. It appeared to be a mutt, but it appeared to have a heavy dose of poodle in the mix. The poor, little puppy was cowering in the corner of his new home, and I noticed that the poor, little pooch had been chained to that corner of the room.
On first glance, the plausible answer was that this family brought home a number of kenneled dogs, and they had learned that kenneled dogs have no discipline with their biological functions. As such, to protect their walls, and their furniture, the family decided to saran wrap their living room, and they chained that dog in the corner of the living room to keep him in the saran wrapped area of the living room. This was a perfectly reasonable answer for the saran wrap, until one began to question why the family at the end of the block put that saran wrap so high on the wall. The saran wrap went ceiling to floor in some places. Perhaps, they were attempting to prevent whatever smell the dog caused from permeating the walls in any manner, I thought, as I searched for more answers to questions I didn’t dare ask this mother, for fear of appearing nosey.
Whatever the case was, I found this puppy’s fear of his new surroundings a little endearing, and I wanted to help this family ease the pooch’s transition in this home.
“Here boy,” I whispered. I made kissing sounds. The puppy trembled even more under my attention. The puppy didn’t move an inch. It lowered its head, as it appeared to recognize that I was now going to step towards it. Did this little feller know something I didn’t? I didn’t think so at the time. I thought the puppy’s fear was nothing more than a new puppy entering in a new home, with new people that terrified him. I didn’t think his fear was anything beyond the norm.
The woman looked at me like I was from Mars when I began making those kissing sounds. I felt that stare before I saw it, and when I turned I saw that she was sharing that stare. I turned to her point of view and saw her daughter standing there. I hadn’t even noticed the daughter enter the room.
She was also smiling at me, with a scrunched up face.
“Hello,” I said.
“Hello,” the daughter said, and she mentioned my full name.
After those pleasantries were concluded, I moved across the room to scratch the little pooch behind the ears. I heard clicking sounds of disgust behind me, as I moved to the dog. I turned when I reached the dog and saw them standing shoulder to shoulder. They seemed to be standing, unified in either confusion, or disgust, for the affection that I showed a puppy that I had never met before.
“What are you going to name him?” I asked them with an uncomfortable smile, as I scratched this dog behind the ears. This appeared to only further their confusion. I considered this a perfectly natural question to ask of a family that had a new puppy. To look at their expression alone, however, one might have wondered if I asked them which sex act the teenage daughter enjoyed the most.
In a way I considered so obvious that it was hardly worth explaining, I thought I was teaching this family at the end of our block how to welcome a dog into a home. As a man that has had about a dozen dogs over the course of my life, I thought it was obvious to all that a good dog owner pets the animal when it’s in their home, and that they name that dog. Even if all they were doing was participating in a dog rescue program, and they would end up only owning the dog for a week, until the next Saturday, I did not think that naming a dog to be unreasonable. It may have appeared a little obnoxious to do these things in their home, but it was not my intent to overstep my bounds as a guest in their home, at least to the point their expressions appeared to be indicating.
“Name him?” the woman of the house asked. Her perplexed look slowly brightened as she began to understand what I meant by name him. Her perplexed look turned into a smile. My face reflected her progressive smile, until she was laughing, the daughter began laughing too, until I joined in the laughter. I was confused, but I was laughing.
“Name him,” the woman of the house repeated. She looked at the daughter with a conspiratorial smile. “Let’s name him Yum Yum.”
The daughter looked from the mother, to me, and back to the mother. She repeated that name “Yum Yum” and laughed herself hoarse. She covered her mouth with both hands, until she was bent over with laughter. She came back upright, apologized to me for her laughter, and composed herself. Her eyes were red and her face was dripping with tears.
I was laughing throughout. Their laughter was infectious, and I thought the name Yum Yum was cute. “I take it he’s quite the eater,” I said with laughter while continuing to scratch the pooch behind the ear.
Throughout all of this laughter, my need to use the facilities arose. I had to go to the bathroom soon after I entered their home, and I don’t know if the laughter made it worse, but the biological function became difficult to ignore.
My first thought was to excuse myself, run home, and use my bathroom with the hope that they would welcome me back in. I already had the woman of the house’s idea in my phone, however, and I could think of no reasonable excuse as to why they should invite me into their home again. I knew that leaving now, with no answers, only guesses, wouldn’t sit well in my system in the coming weeks, so I decided that breaking the social faux pas of going to the bathroom in another person’s home would be worth it, if I could discover the secret behind the nearly every Saturday dog.
I decided that Ms. Patterson would consider it a real coup to find the nuggets of information that she knew plagued me, and I knew it would make Ms. Hawk laugh her head off. I decided that I would be the hero of the block when people realized that I suffered through the embarrassment of breaking the social faux pas to get them this information.
“Would it be all right if I used your restroom?” I asked. I didn’t realize this until I actually did it that there is a ritual we all use when we ask another person if we can use their bathroom. We begin walking in the general direction where we believe the bathroom to be, in the hallway, and we ask it as we are in the hallway. Our purpose for this ritual, I think, is dual-pronged. I think we do it to avoid looking into the eyes of the person we are asking, and I think we enter the hall to create a climate in which the recipient of the request feels obliged to say yes, for the alternative could cause us to screech on the breaks, in the middle of our path, and create a degree of discomfort that would supersede the request of using the bathroom in another person’s home.
“No,” the woman of the house said. “Sana is in there.” She pointed at the bathroom door cautiously, and she said. “Sana, my husband, is in there.”
“Oh,” I said. My suspicious eyebrows furrowed a little, and I couldn’t help but look down the hallway to where I thought the bathroom was.
When I stepped back to the foyer area, the woman put a forearm to my breast, holding the wall on the other side of me. She did this, I can only assume, to prevent me from impulsively entering the bathroom, even though someone was already in there. From that proximity, almost nose to nose, she whispered, “He’ll be right out.”
My first thought was how confrontational this was. It was subtle and the woman maintained a polite smile throughout, but my face flushed a little with the subtle force this woman exerted on me. I did not like it, but I was not about to further a confrontation with this small woman in her home.
“When he comes out,” she whispered. “You’ll learn all that you came here to know.”
That was confrontational. There was no mistaking it. She didn’t look at me when she said it. She looked away, an action that made the words coming out of her mouth feel more confrontational. That may appear odd, seeing as how looking someone in the eyes defines confrontation, but this woman was so polite and demure that I considered this her most confrontational action.
Her lips tensed, until they evolved into the polite smile that I had been greeted at the door with. She looked me in the eyes for a second, until I backed away from that smile and that look:
She just smiled. I saw the muscles in her arm lose their flex, and I watched that smile to see if it would turn into something more. What did more mean? I didn’t know if the smile was as pleasant as I assumed it to be, if it was an all knowing smile, or if it was some ominous smile that portended a future event that would quell my curiosity as she suggested it would.
“Sana, my husband, will be right out,” she repeated.
I looked to the daughter that looked at me with that same polite smile. The daughter’s smile coupled with the woman of the house’s smile, sent me back another step, until I was measuring both mirrored smiles.
“What’s going on here?” I would’ve asked if I had been allowed to finish that question. I wasn’t. I think I hit the word ‘going’ when Sana exited the bathroom.
Sana was screaming when he exited the bathroom. Within one step, after opening the bathroom door, he was screaming at the top of his lungs. He had a broad, very expensive looking sword held up high, above his head. I looked to the contorted facial expression. I looked to the sword. Sana’s exit was so dramatic and forceful that I hadn’t time to contemplate what I was seeing. When Sana exited the bathroom, he nearly broke down the door. He sprinted past the three of us with that scream. He looked at me in mid-flight and mid-scream. His eyebrows contorted to confusion in the brief moment when the two of us were almost eye to eye in his passing, but the rest of the face and his pace remained. He raised the sword as high as possible when he passed the lowered hallway ceiling and was into the raised living room ceiling. His face was stretched with anger, and he had a bandana tied around his head, and his face was painted. It caught me so off guard that I began screaming with him. I even wet myself a little, enough to feel humiliation but not so much as to be noticeable.
I nearly dropped when Sana bisected this poor, little mutt, this Yum Yum, into halves three different times on three different swipes. I’m not sure if I made it to the third bisection, or if I dreamed it, but I did fall, and my last memory was of urinating all over myself.
Between those two events, and before I hit the ground, I came to grips with the woman of the house’s ‘Yum Yum’ joke. I didn’t think it was funny then or now, but I did understand it in light of the events that followed. They were going to eat him, after bisecting him. I tried to lessen the shock and awe of it all by assigning some sort of cultural relevance to it all. It didn’t matter to me then or now if that was the case, for even if it was I saw how much they enjoyed it. I heard their laughter. I figured that they used the imprimatur of their culture, or their religion, to engage in such perversity.
I awoke to the woman of the house putting a small mug of warm liquid at my lips. “This will calm you,” she said, “It’s milk.”
In whatever dream I had prior to waking, I convinced myself that I had dreamed the whole event. It was just too shocking for my system to ingest in a normal manner, so I tried to convince myself that I had dreamed the whole event up. When I was made conscious again, with the mother whispering to me, trying to calm me, with my head in her lap. I had a cold cloth on my forehead.
I removed the cloth quickly and escaped the arm she gently placed on me to keep me down to stabilize me. I looked over to the corner of the living room that housed Yum Yum. It was empty except for the blood. There was more blood than I assumed a tiny, little puppy had in him. The idea that I now knew too much plagued me, as I laid back into her lap and allowed her to coo me and put the cup of milk at my lips. The idea that I should call the authorities and report this cruelty to animals hit me next, but I decided that not only would I not be calling the authorities, I would never speak about this again. I also decided I would never be talking about anyone else again.
“Poor Yum Yum,” I whispered. “Poor little Yum Yum!”