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JeffsLife


Cat Care; He's Gone; Taker of Cabs; ROR; Dear Jon; Tweeners; The Hunt

Cat Care

My wife Jill and I still have two cats, Mimi and Monroe.

Mimi is a blackish-brown male -- we tell everybody he’s French -- and he was the first in Jill’s household to welcome me. Monroe and Jill fixed me with a twin gaze that night when I sat on a couch opposite them, five years ago. Monroe was polite for a moment, then ran under the bed; I think Jill wanted to follow him.

But Mimi jumped to my side and pushed his head into my hand and purred. He was the first of us to know what was coming.

These furry bugs have been more a part of my life with Jill than her parents. Mimi and Monroe were there on our first talks into the wee hours, and afterwards they didn’t seem as anxious as Jill that I go home. They were there on our first mornings together. There when we returned from our honeymoon in Arizona, late on a snowy cold night so we could be back at work next morning. There when we talked of the future, and brought in moving boxes. There in new places.

Mimi is the baby cat. Get on the couch and he’s there, head in your hand. Get in bed and he’s there, nestling your arm, breathing Bacon and Liver breath, touching your lip with a paw fresh from the cat box. Monroe is a tuxedo New Englander with the grudging purr, six toes and a human expression. He sleeps on the floor, chirps when you turn on the light, and wails like a humpback for no reason around dawn.

These cats aren’t perfect, but I have no perfect relatives. When Jill and I return from vacation they look at us once and run to the kitchen. Mimi meows without stopping at mealtime, often slipping into a strangled yawn. Pick up Monroe and he gets a look on his face like a P.O.W. “Cuddle punishment,” Jill says. He’s been known to miss the box now that his back legs aren’t what they used to be. Again, like some of my relatives.

Monroe’s kidneys are fading, and two times a week we jab an IV needle under his fur and pump him full of saline solution while he wonders what fresh hell is this. And Mimi suddenly has tumors. “About six months,” the vet has said to us.

As dutiful parents Jill and I have over the past five years written checks for everything but a whisker transplant. “How’s Mimi?” our pharmacist asks. “Will that be AMEX?”

But even after this time I never know what to feel when we stuff the boys into carriers for the ride to the vet. Such remarkable furry relatives, who can figure out how to open a door of the food cabinet and change a TV station, but never do connect the trip in the carrier with feeling better.

When we bring the carrier out of the closet and snag Mimi, Monroe shoots behind the couch. “’They’re torturing cats,’” Jill said, reading his mind. “’They’re torturing cats. I’m outta here!’”

Sometimes on the ride they howl. Sometimes they do something worse. I sympathize, because suddenly not every trip to the pharmacist is for the cats. My rear legs aren’t what they used to be. A pepperoni pizza now packs a hangover. Using my own box has become harder.

This afternoon at the vet’s, they took Monroe into the back for some shot. While he was gone I saw a golden retriever carried out the door, squirming in the technician’s arms. A few minutes later the dog came back in, eyes open and unmoving, on a stretcher. Monroe never saw him.

On the ride home Monroe howled from the carrier there in the seat beside me. “Good boy. We’re almost home,” I said to the carrier. “Good boy.” (Spring, 1998)

He's Gone

I’ve now lived through the day that began with Monroe, and ended with no Monroe.

Monroe was a cat, belonging to me and my wife Jill. He was about 16. Most people in the world never met him. Most people never heard him chirp when they entered a room. Their loss. Mine, too. He’s been gone for weeks. The tears have cooled. I no longer cry in the cat food aisle, where all good owners go to stare at the cans and say, “Nah, he don’t like that one.”

In that aisle tonight my only thought was for how I had to go home and, before I forgot, figure out how the world is different without him. Because the world did change that Tuesday, right around lunch time, when the vet uncurled her stethoscope, tucked one end under his black and white chin, and said, “He’s gone.”

Near the end he hardly ate. Not Fancy Feast, not bratwurst, not Fancy Feast and bratwurst mixed with milk. Day by day we’d watched our alternatives, and his future, evaporate. His rear legs had stopped working; the vet said it was part of kidney failure.

On the night before Monroe had been in bed with me and Jill. Beside her sleeping form, he and I stayed awake for a couple of hours, and I thanked him for the moments he’d had with me around. Thanked him for being a big tuxedo boy from Massachusetts, like me a New Englander among New Yorkers, although he was the better dressed.

I met him seven years ago, on the first night I ever set foot in Jill’s apartment. She owned him then, as much as anyone ever did, and liked to show him off.

She snatched him up, rubbing his belly and telling him, “Purr, damn you!” He didn’t, but he did look at me as if to say: “Are you the reason she’s doing this?”

I thanked him for all the times he played with a long handle of the spoon under the blanket. I thanked him for batting at a string in the air. Thanked him for eating like a Doberman, weighing 15 pounds and for enjoying his life. Much as a New Englander can.

Thanked him for all the days and nights, and all the chirps. I wished him well, while my wife slept.

The next day we watched him on the couch, his back to us, his nose to the cushions. Too soon we carried him down in the elevator, while somehow the business of our apartment building continued. In the elevator we ran into a cat owner. “Awwww, poor kitty,” she said. She knew. Too soon we took him to the bushes out back, where he could hear the birds and smell the air once more. He seemed to appreciate the moment, and boldly crawled to the shade.

Too soon he was on the vet’s scale. The numbers wavered and then stopped at 3.5 pounds. The vet stood to my left, her hand near Monroe’s head. His cheeks were drawn, his eyes too large. The fur under his chin was collected in short white spears. Jill sat behind me on a folding chair, shaking her head at each, increasingly complicated suggestion to save Monroe’s life. I was at the aluminum table; Monroe was on his side. The vet was handed a fat black barber’s clipper -- for a moment I thought it was the device, and I wasn’t ready -- but all she did was place it on his front paw and whir off a square inch of fur.

Then she suddenly had a syringe filled with bright, inhuman pink. Jill appeared to my right, and the green second hand kept moving down the huge white face of the clock on the wall. I smelled alcohol, hollow and cold. Then he was gone.

Monroe knew. My tears came up by themselves.

Jill and I moved shortly after that day, to the first apartment we’ve shared that Monroe will never see. To an apartment where, for some reason, we still expect to see his face peek from behind the cardboard cartons. The move was hard; the truck carrying our stuff broke down and left us in an echoing new space for two days -- during which we were tortured by thoughts of things left behind. On the second night Jill awoke crying from a dream in which we still had Monroe: He was reading a picture book and carrying a bag of things he liked. We were trying to catch him in the dream.

Monroe, if that hadn’t been a dream, if you’d had a picture book and a bag of things you liked, like dried bugs, we’d have built a special case for them. I’d have hammered the thing together myself, while you snoozed on the couch cushions, watched me hammer, and wondered, “Am I the reason you’re making all this noise?” (Spring, 1998)

The Taker of Cabs

Dan Abramson, a guy I used to work with, died the other day. Last night I took his name off the address book on my computer. With a press of that Delete button went a time of my life.

A time of walking New York alone for hours on Friday nights, storefront lights on my face and money in my pocket, glancing at women's faces and thinking that I at last I was getting somewhere. That was 10 years ago.

I learned about Dan yesterday from Neil, another old friend and co-worker who left a message on my answering machine that he hoped he had the right number, he hope my wife Jill and I were well, and that he had some bad news about an old friend. A lot of people have died in the past year, and somehow I figured Neil was talking about Dan.

Dan was the first to show me you could make a living in this business. "He never knew how special he was," I said to Jill. She said special people never do.

Dan was kind of rotund, not fat but not slim, with a black beard and glasses. He loved slim cigars and marijuana. I wasn't always positive when he was listening to me. He banged a keyboard with two fingers, writing in one draft about baseball, movies, East Enders, and anything else he loved. He made a good living at it. Forty grand a year at one point, I think, a hundred bucks at a time. He wrote every day and often far into the nights, I think. Pound pound pound. On the subject of overwork, he had clear advice for the New York freelance writer:

"Say 'yes' to everybody, and take cabs everywhere."

When I met Dan, we were both freelance writers at a publishing company that put out three trade newspapers, two on direct marketing (junk mail) and one on institutional laundering (huge washing machines). This company made cubicles available for us, and in them I graduated from moving from $50 a story for community news weeklies to $300 a story for trades. And between us over the cubicle wall budded a fellowship that lasted about four years and included sharing contacts. Sharing contacts is as unprecedented for freelance writers as it is for bookies.

We shared contacts and profited. We cracked the video magazine market together, for instance. In the late '80s, video-store chains put out magazines with stories geared to their major releases of that month. Dan and I got our hands on a list of video chains, and started dialing.

Pretty soon when one of us got the name of an editor he'd pass it on. Pretty soon we had all the names of video-mag editors who didn't hang up on us. Dan knew so much about movies that he could make half his Jackson Heights rent in a morning, using nothing more than two fingers and his memory. But I needed Dan on the phone.

"So what does happen in Witness for the Prosecution?" I'd ask. He'd tell me. I'd take notes and sit at the keyboard for a while and a few weeks later a check would arrive -- at one point Blockbuster owed me two grand -- and I'd thank Dan. Later on he gave me the names of editors at sports card magazines. I tried to reciprocate with the names of community news editors, but the money usually wasn't enough to interest him.

So I'd thank him again, and he'd say, "That's OK."

The only real time Dan and I got deeper than the professional was in 1991, when I talked to him about Jill. At that time I was still dating another woman, but gradually sensing that Jill's feelings for me were moving beyond mere endurance.

"She must like me," I said to Dan. "Last night we talked for six hours."

"Maybe it didn't seem like six hours to her," Dan said.

I thanked him for that. "Don't mention it," he said. "I intend to go after one you decide you don't want..."

After Jill and I began dating, we had lunch with Dan. He said he thought she looked like Natalie Wood.

By 1992, the recession had scorched my freelance career and my enthusiasm for hustling. During one of my dry spells Dan hatched the idea of writing baseball history, and he slipped me a couple of twenties to go to the archives of the public library and sift through miles of microfilm for 1910 box scores. Dan could have done that himself. When he learned I wanted to write humor, he found a couple of little publishers in Queens who were in the market and whose checks probably wouldn't bounce.

Right around then, Dan also had a small stroke -- people in the office at first thought he was drunk -- and a few days later I visited him in the hospital and thought, You should watch out, Dan.

In the early 90s, the notion began to fester in me that I yearned to work on a daily. I got busy stuffing envelopes with resumes to litter the Northeast; Dan and I didn't talk as much anymore. He started a newspaper dedicated to "East Enders," a British soap opera I couldn't stand. He put the newspaper out with some other guy. I don't think he knew I'd returned to New York. I often meant to call him, and thought of that every time I took a cab.

Then Neil called. "Colon cancer," Neil said. How old was Dan? "Forty-five. Yeah," Neil said.

There was supposed to be some kind of service this week. Neil said he'd call again, but so far I haven't heard anything. (Spring, 1999)

ROR

I need personal references that attest to my character. These references will be read by people who have probably not gone through what I have gone through in the past few years, which of course has forged a lot of my recent character.

Like most adults of high ambition and edgy temperament, I've had to rely on references for new jobs every 24 months. At the bottom of every resume I type "ROR," which somebody once told me could stand for "References on Request." The Resume Readers make the requests, and I do my steps in the initiation of the business world mating ritual and supply the references. I don't know what any of these people have actually said.

For the references, I've contacted two friends. I met one in high school and the other in college. They're two of the smartest people I know. I used to kid one about his posture and the other about his organizing a National Honor Society get-together in 1979 that got canceled by a blizzard. I hope these guys forget the ribbings, because somewhere along the line we all grew up and now I need them to tell grown-ups what to think of me. I'll get to read these friends' references. Edit them, even. ("Perspicacity" better not mean what I think it does.) Since I'm often unsure of my character, I'm looking forward to reading these references. Trouble is, now that the Alex "thing" is sort of winding down, I have asked my friends to answer a question that's harder than it might have been three years ago.

What should people think of me?

Some of the people with whom I have gone through the past few years know the most about me, heaps more than the longtime friends. Because the last few years have burned away most of the dross, and a little of the skin, I used to have, and when you burn away that stuff you get to whatever's underneath. What's underneath tends to be real. Some of these people who have seen the real me are also not nice people. They probably know I won't ask them to write me a reference.

But what if I did?

From some doctors: "The Stimpsons (this reference must incorporate Jill) are on the surface a compliant couple, but I have found that prolonged exposure results in an erosion of their deference toward authority, which was never their best quality to begin with. They are questioning, combative, and mulish. I would find it difficult to recommend them for a long-term relationship."

Or from some nurses: "The Stimpsons start out quiet, but are whiny. I've seen the mother cry every day for five months! The father stares down a lot while the doctor tries to tell them how it is. All of them, including Alex, get in the way while I try to do my job. Maybe they do better with other people. Their son is cute."

From an insurance company: "With no warning to us, this couple accumulated a large medical bill between June of 1998 and July of 1999. We handled the bills because we had to, but it should be noted that we were forced to employ almost all our SSTs (standard stalling tactics) to delay payment, with the resulting loss in the kind of customer service this company has always made a top priority! They also filled forms out neatly at first, but later, clearly, relied on photocopies."

From a home medical equipment supplier: "Mr. and Mrs. Simpson are very demanding and all ways seem to need to much oxygen tanks."

From other nurses: "The Stimpsons came in every day to see Alex. They never stole too many supplies that we knew about, and they got us presents for Christmas. It's always nice when people do that. Tea cups. We think it was mostly Jill's doing. We love to see Alex come back! Last time, his dad walked him into the unit. They're a good couple. Maybe they're different with other people."

From relatives: "Jill seems tired all the time. Jeff doesn't call as much. We wonder if he's mad at us. We hope they understand that we think about them often. We wish them well, and we like it when they send pictures of Alex. We understand he's doing very well. We have problems, too."

I don't get the point of references. If you ask somebody for one, they're never going to supply the name of someone who's going to badmouth them. You want to know about me? Ask me.

"The Stimpsons are decent people. Jill will talk to you more than Jeff will these days. Yes he is angry, and no he doesn't call as often as he should. He's trying to find people who can try to understand the past few years. He has not found them. Give him time and leave him alone, and he will be an okay guy to have around.

"More than that, you have no right to ask." (April, 2000)

Dear Jon

Jon phoned me last night. I had called him about a week ago to ask about his older sister, who is sick. That call lasted just 10 minutes: Jon has two little kids and I have one, and two fathers divided by three little kids does equal 10 minutes. "I have my 28 minutes of consciousness remaining,” Jon said last night, “and I felt bad our call the other night got cut short."

The 28 minutes extended to an hour, and it may have saved my mind. Jon chatted on topic after topic in that way I admire: A smart thought put the best way. How the honeymoon with the Internet is over and people are getting "sullen" online; how because of free agency pro football is turning into billionaire players and low-paid rookies; how Jon feels a great relief that, if Alex isn't actually out of the woods, at least is staring out of the woods; how we're not the fathers of 40 years ago, and we don't disappear to the ELKS club after work; how two spouses working part-time means you're always "fresh" for kids or job.

When did Jon get kids and jobs? We met in ninth grade, when the vagaries of alphabetical order placed us next to each other in algebra class. (One more kid with a last name beginning with M or R, and all that follows might never have happened.) Once when the teacher asked us to dedicate ourselves to our algebra homework, I wrote, "To Emily, who laughed and cried" on a piece of paper and passed it to Jon. Later we sat next to each other in English lit, where he leaned over during our first Shakespeare lecture and whispered, "What in hell is iambic pentameter?" Snickers and whispers begin friendships well.

Jon was born in downeast Maine and through high school did a wicked parody of the accent, with falsetto comments about body crevices and low pants. Though he relished a recount of Kelly's Heroes or "Star Trek" as much as the next guy ("How the Klingons must hate Kirk!" he pointed out to me once), Jon has always been a mile ahead of me in brains. He got uninterrupted A's. He was president of the National Honor Society. He respected me for this writer thing, but let's face it: Brains is brains.

Jon went to Cornell. When I dropped out of college, Jon and I and two or three other guys we shared a second-story walk-up in Ithaca, New York, from November of 1981 to May of 1982. I worked at Arthur Treacher's while Jon studied chemistry on the couch and nursed his sciatica. We split French bread pizzas, played squash at midnight, and made jokes about sex with iguanas. Jon also worked on more vocal parodies. He perfected the hum of cars going over a nearby bridge and, when he had to climb the unforgiving plank rungs of our bunk bed's ladder in bare feet, he worked up a very good Japanese prison camp guard snapping, "Walk the radder!"

My strongest memory of that winter -- my favorite winter, in some ways -- is of the night when I came into the bedroom late and Jon turned to me with wide open, dead-asleep eyes, and intoned: "This is the Toucan monkey. This is what Jeff and I are going to do. Do you want to watch us?"

("That’s one freaky phrase," says Jill.)

A few years later, Jon and I found ourselves back in Maine for a few months. We quickly made a Thursday night institution of Chef Boy-ar-dee pizza and "Hill Street Blues." Sometimes we'd play squash at the local university. Sometimes I'd find him the library, photocopying a book. "This is what I'm going to do with your books when you write them," he'd say. "That way I won't have to buy them."

One of the last time I laid eyes on Jon was the day after Thanksgiving, 1997. He was visiting his sister in Maryland, near where I lived at the time. He had his wife and son with him. The boy kept running toward the road. A mutual friend of ours entertained the boy flawlessly with piggyback rides and antics in the bushes while I stood back as if at a first dance. Jon tried to talk to me about familiar topics. He has always tried to talk to me when I was sure he had better things to do.

Like when a co-op board blindsided me last summer with a request for two personal references. It struck me then that I have no friends, but maybe I could get Jon to rake his memories for a few compliments. Of course he wrote a fine letter.

Jon's call last night came in one of those moments when hearing from an old friend is far from my mind. But then that thought hasn't been in head much lately. This is a time of renovation, moving, a stalled career, a new baby, trying to provide a stable home for Alex just as he becomes aware of stability. I feel the terror of a life that's teetering; I needed somebody to hold the board while I regained my balance. Who better than the one of algebra, pizzas, and Toucan monkeys?

Jon capped his call last night with the suggestion that he and I and a mutual friend -- who is my other reference-letter hero -- get together with the wives and the kids-

("That’s one freaky phrase," says Jill.)

-next summer and rent a house on the coast of Maine. Yes of course! The perfect thing for me to look forward to now. Perfect. Brains is brains.

"Let's do it," I heard Jon's voice say. "Let's not just let this idea go."

No, let’s not. (November 2000)

Tweeners

My friend Jon and I were born around the end of 1961. We were born to hard times, usually involving our parents telling us about hard times.

We were the last to grow up with just three networks and PBS. We had "Star Trek" only in syndication. We've tried to be a proud generation, if quiet, and we remember "Pong."

We don't remember Kennedy dead or alive. Our president was Nixon, our Camelot was Watergate, and our version of a nation-binding, Presidential end was a resignation speech soaked with sweat. Jon and I never ducked and covered, but we do remember waiting for the school bus in the pitch dark because Nixon thought going to Daylight Savings Time in the middle of the winter would save energy. Sweat, dumb ideas, and darkness: That was our president.

We saw no president shot on TV - unless you count Ford, who if you put him on a staircase would endanger his life faster than any assassin. I sort of liked Ford. It's not his fault he got shot by somebody named not with the evil majesty of a Lee Harvey or a John Wilkes, but simply "Squeeky."

Instead of futile fury of Vietnam, we had the impotence of the Energy Crisis and the Tehran hostages. We were too young for singles' bars, and we wouldn't have known what to do had we snuck into one. When Jon and I started driving, gas had just hit a buck a gallon, up from tiny decimalized amounts like "19.9." Movie tickets rushed to $7; buck nights closed with Jaws. By the time we started buying our own food and renting our own hovels, prices were freshly high. One of the first economic terms we learned to spell, and comprehend, was "inflation." The second was "minimum wage," which parked itself at about $4.50 for years just as we started earning it.

Our much older siblings marched against Vietnam. Our only forum for a protest march was the living room rug at an early bedtime. Computers didn't mushroom until we were in our 20s, too late for us to have ingested those skills that colleges and later high-tech employers scrambled for when wooing the thinly populated Gen X.

Jon and I have fallen between generations that made sense. "We are between," says Jon. "We're the Tweeners."

That stuck with me immediately. I've tried my own phrases to describe my mess of a generation. "To the Boomers everything's an emergency, and they pick the bones mighty clean," I say, feeling like I should hitch my suspenders and rock a little on the porch. Except I have no porch. My wife and I did recently buy our first home, but we bought it at the single worst period in history for real estate prices in New York City. New York's an extreme case, but the prices would have been at record highs everywhere.

I have no idea what the economics of 20-somethings is like because I don't talk to younger people. They seem to interrupt a lot. It irks me the way they buy things. They also grew up with presidents Reagan and Clinton, who spoke plain about standing for something and who didn't fall down much. What kind of sense of humor could these kids have?

I talk to a lot of older people, however, upper 40- and 50-somethings, and most of them seem to own two or more homes. They also seem to feel entitled to sell their businesses for rotund amounts of money and retire at age 60. I look at my work life and can't imagine I will ever be able to retire. I've worked on a string of Boomer-controlled Borg cubes where pruning benefits seemed to be the major method of motivating employees. Pay for your own insurance. Low, single-digit raises. Pay more for your own insurance, and forget picking your own doctor. This year, I don't have the Friday after Thanksgiving off, but I have been granted one personal day to use anytime I wish!.

I will probably spend it with my kids, all the time thinking, "How am I going to raise them as teenagers in this apartment?"

I express this worry to my wife's aunt. She has three Boomer kids and an ailing husband. She is a small woman but tinfoil tough; she married her husband young. She still carries herself like that poised teenager pulling on her gloves and picking up her purse for a date with a man who was building his own career after World War II. It probably seems like yesterday to her, just as Pong seems to me. She looks at me when I talk about raising teenagers. She just says, "Things change."

As a Tweener, I have always depended on that. (July 2001)

The Hunt

By the time you read this, there will have been an Easter Egg hunt and party for the children in our apartment building. Jill, Alex, Ned and I will have stayed home.

Alex doesn't know from hunting for Easter Eggs, at least not yet. Ned would probably have sat on the grass of northern Central Park and found something foreign to eat.

We went to the Easter Egg hunt last year. Alex pretty much ran around uncontrolled. Jill held Ned and tried to chat with "Angela," whose daughter "Paige" was governing the show. Angela brought a friend, German, I think, who watched the festivities while smoking a cigarette.

Readers of this site will remember Angela (not her real name, though I'm dying to supply it) from the essay "The Apple and the Tree." Without stirring up old rot too much, let's say Paige calls Alex names. Angela now avoids me on the bus and doesn't say hello to us in the lobby or near the mailboxes. I think Angela considers this classy.

Our building has been like my career in journalism: I haven't met anybody I consider all that smart. Leaving aside a co-op board that looks way over its head in trying to run a building in contemporary, expensive Manhattan, at this point I guess there are two ways to look at having no friends in our building:

1. We've only been here 18 months; we can't expect people to know us; and 2. How come more people don't introduce themselves to us? We've been here 18 months!

Okay, most of our neighbors are nice, especially those with dogs. Ned and Alex love to touch dogs. Our next-door neighbors have a sweet boy, who's 6. The dad is a sort of a homey biker guy; the mom grew up in the building. They don't go to many building functions.

Jill and I have met other people in the building. A terrific couple just moved in; Jill and I lent them spoons on their first night. Another couple, both attorneys, grew up in the neighborhood when it was pretty rough. They escaped, put themselves through law school, and now have returned and practice some kind of low-paid law. They have a little boy who's nice, even if he does play with Paige. There's another nice woman who seems intelligent but who nonetheless likes Angela. Her little girls also play with Paige. A couple of people -- one of them is some French woman -- don't seem to see us at all, or, when they do see Alex, look at him a little like the way grandmothers of other, healthier babies looked at him in the NICU.

Easter marked the second building party we skipped (the first was Christmas). Jill and I are trying to convince ourselves that the Easter Egg hunt meant nothing to the boys, and that we weren't simply ducking Angela and Paige. Also, as I tell Jill, "There's neighbors, and then there's friends. If the two are the same, that's great. But they're two different relationships." Or, when I'm feeling pithier, I just say, "Our community will not be here."

Our community, I suspect, will be among parents of other kids like Alex, at least until Ned comes into his own. We've attended special-ed. committee meetings and a couple of fairs since last summer, ostensibly trying to learn about opportunities for Alex, but also trying to net ourselves some buds. I don't know how successful we've been.

I do know we've come from every meeting, and every friendly person, feeling connected to the world. People at these functions sometimes call us "a remarkable couple." Their mouths drop open in gratifying astonishment at the story of Alex. They look at my essays and they visit this site, and say they enjoy it. About all anyone in our building has ever done to learn about our defining experience was when Angela furtively grilled our babysitter for "the story" on Alex. That on top of the looks from the French woman.

Still, the next-door couple is nice. Once they lent us eggs; Jill paid them back in brownies. At the Christmas party before last, their boy petted Alex's hair for a few seconds.

"She stopped and chatted with me today," Jill reported the other night. I said that was good. But I also repeated what I'm coming to believe: "I take my cue from them," I tell Jill. "Maybe they know something about getting along here that we don't. Yet." (April 2002)

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