A Simple Twist

          I have new neighbors . . .

          Bill Teter has a great "small world" story. When he was in Paris, standing in line to view the “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre, he saw the reflection of, in the bulletproof glass with which they now protect the painting, a Lab School student and "7-Eleven guy," Dana Smrekar. Travel halfway round the world, and you know someone standing in line at the Louvre. If it's your student, you pray it's at least one of your good students. He was. Now that’s a small world.
          I have to laugh. This morning I was staring at my next yardwork project. Looked to be a back-breaker. Stalling, I was into my second cup of coffee and listening to a little Gordon Lightfoot to steel myself for the all-day job – at least – that I could see coming. While I sipped, my mind drifted back to a woman I’d, well, known pretty well, or so I thought at the time. The album was Don Quixote, not my favorite, but hey, it’s Gordon Lightfoot, my musical idol. Anyway, while I worked on my second cup of coffee, kind of dreaded the upcoming yardwork, and mind-wandered to this woman in Madison, what should come up on the CD but “Second Cup of Coffee.” Not too much humor in my life these days, but this made me laugh out loud:
          . . . Thinking of the lady who got lost along the way . . .
          Ces’t la vie, I guess.

          My sister lived in NYC at the time, attending Barnard College. I’d come to visit her in the summer of ’74, two years into my own undergraduate experience at UH Manoa – Go Bows!
          So one night my sister says, “Hey, let’s go to The Village. I know this great bar. Folk music and blues. Dylan played there.”
          “Well, no, not recently, but that’s the kind of music we could hear.”
          Not really enthused if it weren’t The Bob himself, but wanting to be nice to my dear sister, I said, “Sure. Sounds, uh, great.”
          “Should we walk?”
          “Ah, Karen, I’ve done some of these ‘walks’ with you, like to The Met. How many NEW YORK blocks are we talking about here?”
          “Oh, only twenty or so.”
          I groaned — but inwardly only. “Can’t we please take the bus or the subway?”
          “Oh well, okay I guess. I just thought we could use the exercise.”
          Not that kind of exercise. No sister dear, we could not.
          The subway had us there in like twenty minutes. By foot we would have been lucky to make it to the bar by closing time. I heard something folksy-esque pouring up stairs as we walked down.
          “I need a beer,” I suggested brightly.
          “Me too,” she said.
          We sat. My sister immediately began swaying to whatever it was we were listening to; I sensed it was not the second coming of Bob Dylan. I swear, I thought she was about to start snapping her fingers to the beat.
          “So how long do we have to wait for service in this countryesque-country?” I asked.
          My sister snapped. “Be patient! They’re doing the best they can.” My sister worked as a waitress at the original Zippy’s when it first opened. This had molded her into a wait-help super advocate.
          The music drooooooned on. It wasn’t even classifiable as country music. More like country-not music.
          Finally a waitress came to our table. The name on her tag read Val. Instantly she looked very familiar. She took our order, but before she could walk away, I said, “Val. Is that short for Valerie?”
          “Yes it is,” she responded politely.
          “Is that Valerie as in Valerie Haskins?”
          She stopped proverbially dead in her proverbial tracks and stared at me. It looked like she was sizing up some crazed psychotic from the dark side of another planet. After a long moment she said, “Yes, yes it is.”
          My sister suddenly left off her musical enchantment to pay attention to what was going on. I jumped out of my seat and hugged Val. She appeared to be contemplating a call to NYPD.
          “Mrs. Haskins, don’t you recognize me?” I asked, stupidly I guess since she obviously didn’t.
          She stepped backwards. “No, who are you?”
          “I’m Lanning Lee!” I shouted. “You were my eighth-grade English teacher at University High School in Honolulu!”
          “Oh my God,” she shouted back. “I would have never recognized you with that long hair.
          “Oh, yes, I guess I’ve changed a bit since then. But you look great! What on earth are you doing here?”
          Mrs. Haskins went on to tell us about how she and her husband had both quit their jobs after she taught our 8th-grade class that year. How they’d decided that they would backpack all over the world.
          “I’ve waited tables from China, to England, to South Africa. Right now we’re trying to save up enough money to tour South America. That’s the last place we’ve wanted to see.”
          After lots of small talk, Mrs. Haskins brought us our drinks. Each time she’d bring us another round, there’d be more talk, about what was going on in Honolulu, about what she’d seen and done. At the end of the night, she comped us all our drinks. We tipped her $50, and I told her I hoped it would get her closer to her goal. She and I hugged with great emotion when my sister and I left.

          So as I started to say, I have new neighbors. In that house, for as far back as I remember, we’ve had hellacious neighbors. Most of them have been renters. But it didn’t matter whether they were passing through or were permanent for the time being. They all sucked and sucked hard. One of them tried to beat one of my dogs to death. I mean if I'd had a gun, I’d probably be doing life in O Triple C right now. Not murder second or manslaughter. Seriously, it would have been HEAVILY premeditated.
          Dogs. That’s one part of my vast menagerie. Sometimes I feel like the second coming of Dr. Doolittle. Right now, I have a rooster who’s adopted our yard. Buddy has been here for nearly a year now. You know how some folks believe that roosters crow in the morning because the sun is coming up? This is a genuine myth fostered by folks like Chaucer. Take my word for it, this is not true. Roosters, if they crow at the break of dawn, are doing so purely by coincidence. Roosters, it may interest you to know, pop off at all times of the night and day depending on whether they feel like it.
          So for almost a year, I’ve been expecting a visit from HPD, or the appearance of the good old note rubberbanded to the front doorknob from the Humane Society. Believe me, I’ve had my share of both of those thanks to all the wonderful neighbors over the years nextdoor.
          I’m sure, given this brief happy history of my life with all the good folks nextdoor, that you can imagine what was on my mind last week when the wife of the current buyers said “Hello” to me when I was out in my yard working. I held my breath –
           See what I mean? Buddy is crowing right now, and it’s 4:00 in the morning.
          Anyway, as I was saying, I held my breath and said, “Hi?”, expecting the worst.
          After a pause, with her staring at me through the fence and apparently waiting for me to make the next concersational move in this fateful head-on collision, she said, “Oh, I just wanted to say hi. I wanted you to know that my husband and I love all of your animals. We’ve named your rooster Roger. We love to stand at the window and watch all of your pets running through your yard. We love dogs, and cats, and rabbits, and chickens – it all reminds me of growing up on Kauai.”
          I was now officially relaxed. “Kauai? That’s where my dad’s from. He grew up in Kekaha and went to Waimea High.”
          “Oh,” she said, “just like me. I grew up in Kekaha and graduated from Waimea High School too!”
          Okay, now I officially think I have neighbors from HEAVEN. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t been praying all these years. Hallelujah!
          Her husband then appeared and confirmed that they absolutely loved all my animals since they’d been living in a condo for so long, and that it all reminded him too of his childhood in Ewa Beach.
          I think they call it luck or good fortune when it’s great, fate if it’s not. I feel as though the wheel – at least in this part of my life – has luckily turned to where I’m sitting on top of absolutely wonderful fortune.

                                                                                                               She dropped a coin into the cup
                                                                                                               Of a blind man at the gate
                                                                                                               And forgot about a simple twist of fate.
                                                                                                                                                                “A Simple Twist of Fate”
                                                                                                                                                                 — Bob Dylan

Mahalo for reading!

Talk story

Leave one comment for A Simple Twist

This website uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. By browsing this website, you agree to its use of cookies.