It was a humid Fourth of July. Brogash’s sweaty hand stuck to the useless employment
application. Land of the free, right. They’ll take one look at my name and that’s
it. He scribbled a signature and took it
to the counter. At least it was cooler
inside than out there under that hopeful flag.
He’d hang around a while, maybe buy something cold with his last buck.
The manager read Brogash’s application.
snapped. Then, more politely, “My grandfather was a Bulgar.”
“Mine, too. This
looks good. Come back Monday morning at
nine. We’ll start your orientation.”
The city streets were so cold. She’d walked forever, dodging people with bitter eyes and hunched shoulders. The fifteenth marquee didn’t even show the name of an upcoming play. She opened the door anyway and crossed the thin scarlett carpeting to examine the outdated posters. Faint music floated from somewhere.
“Lookin’ for somebody?”
She jumped. “Oh! No. Not
The woman looked at her muddy shoes and pinched cold
face. “You an actor?”
“Couple seasons. Back
“That’s more’n some of us.
C’mon, kid. You can watch us
rehearse. We got coffee.”
I’ve always loved being a peeping tom, and it’s even better in a small town. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not some kind of sleaze. I just mean, if I’m not the one doing the driving on the way home, I will gaze out at the night-lit windows as we pass and make note of what I can see inside.
It’s amazing how often I don’t see people in the lit rooms. Where do they go? Back to the kitchen? To bed and left the living room light on? Are they settling down after a long day or getting dressed to go out and release some tension?
That’s one thing about New England – there are still plenty of houses that sit barely back from the road — those roads that used to be quiet lanes that rarely saw a vehicle during the day, never mind at night. Now ‘traffic’ (hardly worthy of the word) goes on all the time, even late into the night. Yet often they leave their draperies open to the street view. And I appreciate it.
I study the different tastes in wall covering, furnishings, lighting fixtures. I try to guess how many people live there. And I wonder why they are still up so late, or alternatively have already gone up to bed when the sun’s barely behind the hills. I read books that still mention the blue-tinted light of TVs, but that hardly applies now that black-and-white is retro. With more and more realistic color, it’s the movement, the flicker that I see now. And it gets easier to see what they’re watching with the great screens that are hung up on a wall because they’d be too cumbersome as a piece of furniture. It’s wall art, ever changing and intriguing.
Sometimes I see heads above the backs of sofas and easy chairs. I wonder what they’re talking about, or what they would talk about without TV. That’s not a criticism, there was radio before that. The Lone Ranger. Dragnet. The Boston Pops. So to sit quietly and just listen isn’t really new.
There are anomalies that fascinate me, that stay with me. The other day I took a walk along a different small-town street, looking in the cafe windows. At least, I think it was a cafe, although I could find no sign hanging out. It may have been someone’s home made over from a long-ago cottage industry. It was a gloomy brick building with no draperies, very little furniture and nothing to be seen on the far wall to break up the pale expanse. In one window a woman sat angled so that she seemed engrossed in something to her right along the intervening section of wall. As I walked on past the next window, I saw that another woman sat in the left corner, looking back in the direction of the first woman. It certainly looked like they could be having a conversation, but the separation of the two windows had to be ten feet. Why sit so far apart? Was there a table between them pressed against the inside of the wall? It had to be a long table. Or was it two separate tiny tables, with each woman’s companion crammed in between them? I hovered, waiting to see if anyone joined them or if a waiter came up, but eventually I felt I’d better move on before I got arrested for standing there staring at them.
I suppose my favorite peeping is when we coast along our own main street, pretty much the only street of what you might call ‘town’. It runs about half a mile west before it rolls on out past the volunteer fire department and then the farmlands. The ‘business district’ consists of a tiny post office, cafe, and a small grocery which all share the same long building. The library’s around the corner, a little bank branch is right on the corner, and “Mike’s”, a four-pump gas station with portable potties outside and a deli and wine selection indoors, is a very popular stop for skiers and folks hauling boats and campers out to the lakes. The hair salon and barber shop are tucked in between old and stubborn clapboard homes, and it’s all overlooked by two historic mansions up on the hills – for sale, at very modern prices. There are no traffic lights, just three or four stop signs in unexpected spots that generate a lot of consternation in people if it’s their first time through.
We skirt the hundred-year-old imposing brick town hall and roll on past the three-room cottage labeled “Historical Society – call for appointment” (if you look close, they are open Mondays at certain hours which aren’t exactly peak tourist times). The recreation center is on the other side of the street, with a park, playground and ball field stretching behind it all the way back to the library. Not much for peeping there.
After that comes the pretty homes in wide lots with their porches full of rockers and potted plants. The garages are always unattached and out back, with some of them sitting right up close to the ‘crick’ that runs through the trees. A few houses might be a hundred years old, others maybe just fifty or so. But they all have the tall, wide front windows of a friendlier, less fearful time, and I can glance in as we cruise by. Living there, you could wave from your living room window to people across the street, or stroll out to have your coffee on the porch and speak with passersby.
At night the lit-up homes always look as open, warm and inviting as I remember my grandmother’s house. So I happily peep and try to imagine the stories going on behind the windows.
When we get older we sometimes participate in a kind of disconnect without realizing it. I don’t mean things like politics or music; with a little effort or enthusiasm I can keep up my end enough to carry on a conversation about most things with my grown grandchildren. But sometimes I have to remind myself that my memories and my opinions are based on a much longer base of experience. They are looking at the world through a camera lens, while I am zooming across nearly seventy years.
Last week I attended a Meet-Up with a local group of writers I hadn’t met before, and I was pleased when four of our seven turned out to be young – that is to say, twenties? It gets harder to judge at this end.
Conversation was invigorating. At times these “kids” reminded me of my old friends who camped outside the store back in the Eighties so they could be the first in line for the latest Piers Anthony or Stephen King or a particular fanzine. It was when the talk moved on to editing manuscripts that I was pulled out of my no doubt condescending amusement.
I brought up the fact that one college-age person who had attended my other group for a short time did her “critiquing” entirely on my punctuation and had laboriously gone through and “corrected” where I had double-spaced after every period at the end of a sentence. I said that when you’ve been taught and have practiced that double-space for so long, it was damn near impossible to make your thumb hold at one space when your mind has already moved on to the next sentence. And what was the big deal, anyway?
One of the young women explained to me that one space was insisted on because many people would “pad out” their work in order to make it look longer. This seemed to make sense; at least it was the first actual explanation I’ve ever received. So I nodded and conceded that it was a good point.
Then I got to thinking about it.
The fact is that the double-space at the end of a sentence has been the rule since manuscripts were first submitted to publishers in typewritten form rather than long-hand. In other words, by insisting on one space you are not restricting anyone from doing it differently — it’s the one-space that’s different. If professors today don’t want padding in their college papers, they might concentrate on overworked themes and drawn-out conclusions rather than focusing on something that has been in place for upwards of a hundred years. Or simply make the guidelines involve word-count and not pages, just as any publishing house does.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we need to stick with the double-spacing after a period. I really don’t care. I am saying that there is a reason for it just as there is for double-spacing the lines. I don’t even want to picture a manuscript submitted with the lines single-spaced. Double-spacing between lines was required because editors (or professors) did not want to strain their eyes trying to read however-many submissions day after day. From experience I know that sentences can start running together if they are crammed in elbow to elbow, top to tail. And you need space to write comments, insert corrections, add or delete. This is incredibly frustrating with a single-line-spaced manuscript, and I can’t think that having only one space between sentences would be any help either.
But rather like the little boy who ran home from school and exclaimed, “Mom! Did you know that Paul McCartney was in another band before Wings?”, these younger people were looking at the world through a zoom lens that didn’t extend into the past much further than, possibly, ten years before their birth. I guess us old folks have to keep remembering that.
By the way, there’s a double space after every sentence in this post. So sue me.
She crouched behind the thornbush and heard him croon her
name in the night. His silhouette
crossed in front of the backyard security lamp, and she clenched her eyes tight
so he wouldn’t see her tears reflecting the light. At first the thunderous rain had masked every
sound, but now there was silence except for the crack of the stick when he
lashed out at something.
She couldn’t tell anyone what he’d done. She would curl up and let the earth absorb
her. The cold was sweet and forgiving,
and the yard lamp shone through the thorns like a star.