Today I went over to my cousin F.’s new apartment. She lives not far from me, a little further than the dogs would be willing to walk. I’ll be closer to her when I move out of the Underground Cave. She’s a single mother with a thirteen-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. She has had a couple years of troubles that would have utterly broken my spirit, but she managed them superbly, and the whole time she has been a moral support for me, putting up with my cranky ways, giving me practical advice or just doing things herself, as if my woes were a pleasant hobby. Really, my life here would have been infinitely harder if she hadn’t been here. I often find myself saying to her, “Well, fine, but what have I done for you lately?”
After all her troubles she found safe harbor in this apartment, and it was shortly after her move – about a month before mine, that for the first time in our relationship I heard something that sounded like she was fraying at the edges. It was boxes. She had gotten children, possessions, etc., all collected together into one location again and had a room in her apartment that was piled almost to the ceiling with boxes. During a conversation at the beginning of my move I was offering her a pine dresser for her kitchen, when I realized that she was overwhelmed by the boxes and couldn't get into refinements like this. So today I went over to help. I worked on her place, sometimes alone, sometimes with her, for about four hours, nonstop, and we cleared a big space, organized things, and she was very happy with the results and so was I. I came home with a backache and it was still too early to take the dogs out (they don’t like trudging about in the heat), so I took a nap, and slept like I had been drugged.
At about 6:30 I took them out for a long, long walk. You already know how much I love the character of this neighborhood, the old row houses with the shady porches and the tiny little front gardens, each one unique, and the people on the porches wave to you out of another time. The dogs have even made a couple of dog friends, a pair of pit bulls, very sweet, who come to the fence to greet them. Today their owner, a Puerto Rican man, I think, was giving the female a bath in the front yard and she was not enjoying it. She’s the dominant one of the two The male, who has an enormous head like the dogs in the Grimm’s fairy tale about the boy who didn’t know fear, was lying on the porch, his face the picture of consternation and misery. “He knows he’s next,” the owner said.
So we were in the last block, and the dogs are both pulling for home, hungry and tired. And I’m listening to my iPod and enjoying the lovely lovely afternoon light shedding total blessedness of smiling people and gardens and houses and I hear someone singing. It comes right through my Bose headphones, sort of colliding noisily with the music I’m listening to.
It’s a rich, tenor voice, a voice that you might hear leading the singing in a country church, ringing across fresh green fields on a bright Sunday morning on a summer day like this, and if you happened to be within earshot you’d pause and listen because it was so fine to hear it just then. It was coming from about half a block away. I thought, well, here’s another nice thing about where I live, this man singing so loudly, so unabashedly and so well. I switched off the iPod and took off the earphones. I couldn’t make out the words, it just sounded like an unfamiliar old hymn. And I was struck again by how loud the singing was. I mean, people don’t usually sing that loudly out in public. At last I saw the singer. A little skinny older black man in a baseball cap and glasses, one of those guys who tend to look exactly the same from about their 40th birthday till their 105th, and he’ll probably live that long, because he looked to me like one of those people who one morning as the gospel songs say "woke up with a made up mind" and it's been made up exactly the same ever since. A matter of convenience and crankiness, I'd say. He was kneeling on a patch of front lawn about the size of a queen-sized bed, and with a tiny pair of shears, was trimming the grass along the edge of a border of flowers. It was one of those raised front yards you see around here a lot, and the flowers (zinnias I think) were about up to his shoulders as he was kneeling. His house was one of my favorites; with miscellaneous aging decorations about the front, giving it character that you just cannot buy. Well, that was pleasing too. He looked up as I walked by and I smiled and politely said good afternoon, and he nodded and kept on singing and I was several steps past him when I finally caught the words of the refrain, so I stopped and listened to him through a couple more verses just to make absolutely sure because --
My dear readers, if I lie I die. These were the words:
Fuck them all, Fuck them all,
The old and the young and the small;
Fuck the horse that they rode on…
That's when my day went right over the top. It was totally made, then.
But you know, it's not all about me.