Thursday, December 28, 2006

Now the Neighbors KNOW I'm Weird

I had a nice Christmas: I went down to Lisa’s sister’s house as planned, and we exchanged gifts and had a nice, quiet, large dinner, and then I came home. As I said, very nice.

However…. Did I mention I got a sword for Christmas? This is something of a tradition: for years, Lisa’s brother Bruce has given one or both of us a sword (or a knife, or some other reproduction weapon) for the holiday. (He’s a collector himself, and he understands the writerly desire to be able to play with some of the things we write about.) This year’s sword is a beauty: a 16th century cut-and-thrust sword, with scabbard. It’s essentially a rapier’s lower-class cousin, and the minute I unsheathed it I knew this was the sort of blade Philip Eslingen owned. He’d like something a little more gentlemanly for show, but this is the weapon he keeps for use.

It came wrapped in a blanket — looking rather like the sword wrapped by Eleanor in The Lion in Winter, for those of you familiar with the movie — but I brought it home unwrapped in the trunk of the car. As usual when I have a lot to carry, I parked (illegally) by the back door, put the emergency flashers on, and started to unload. I left the sword for last, and had just picked it up when the new neighbors came around the corner of their building.

They moved in less then two weeks ago, from someplace out of state. They are twenty-somethings, nice looking, pleasant kids that I’ve seen only in passing; if I’ve identified the right car as theirs, at least one of them is a grad student at UNH. And here I am, a hefty middle-aged woman in a fur-collared coat with a sword resting on her shoulder. I close the car trunk and smile politely. The girl hides her beer behind her back. (There’s nothing more calculated to make you feel old.) The boy — who I suspect has been sharing the beer, and is currently carrying their laundry — says, “Is that a sword?”

What does one say to that? A simple “yes,” while accurate, is likely to put one on the local police watch list; any more involved explanation is probably going to do the same, and end up embarrassing all of us. So….

“Yes,” I said. “I’m a collector.”

Which probably still puts me on the watch list, but hopefully didn’t frighten them too badly.

And is better than the answer I really wanted to give: “Doesn’t everybody get a new sword for Christmas?”

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Cacophony of Lights

Before Lisa got sick, we always tried to take one evening for a long walk through the older parts of town to see the lights, finishing up at the commercial pier where there was always one boat with red and green lights wound around its mast. Many years ago (more than fourteen years, I think, because it was before the house) we made that walk on Christmas Eve in absolutely frigid weather, and arrived at the pier to find — seals. Four or five of them, at least, bobbing in the thick-looking water and hunting scraps from the last boat while the crew washed down its decks under the spotlights. One swam over to see if we had anything edible, looking for all the world like a sleek, wise dog as it popped up out of the water, and abandoned us as soon as it was clear we didn’t.

Lisa hadn’t been up for that walk for several years, so I haven’t missed it as much as I might. Besides, the immediate neighborhood has been doing a good enough job of lighting things up. The Neighbors Who Decorate have done their usual stellar job: icicle lights hang from the upper porch, and giant candy canes hold signs wishing everyone a happy holiday; there’s a mini Christmas tree on the lower porch — complete with bubble lights — and a wonderful lighted garland wraps every inch of the lower porch railing. It’s particularly nice because the actual lights look like tiny berries until they’re lit: a nice effect. The family across the street, who put their vegetable garden in the front yard because that gets the best sun, have been equally practical about their lights. Their bushes have gotten too big for the strings of lights they already have, but they used them anyway, producing some odd zigzag shapes and a lot of good cheer.

The Victorian monstrosity next door — a former mansion now divided into apartments — is also putting on a good show. There are nearly identical trees on the first and second floors, placed in the corresponding windows, so that as you’re walking back from town you see two 8-foot trees decked in white lights and gold ribbons sitting one on top of the other. The fashion designer whose workroom windows are now opposite my office windows has rainbow lights in all his windows. (Gay? Nooo....) And, best of all, someone on the very top floor has placed a light-up gnome in one of the porthole windows under the mansard roof.

There are lots and lots of lights in the old folks’ home across the parking lot, more than last year, I think — though I’m not sure about the funereal blue lights someone has draped across all their windows. I’m also not sure I want to share my across-the-street neighbors’ brand-new giant flatscreen TV, but I really don’t have a lot of choice. That baby projects! I can quite literally tell what they’re watching from across the street — standing in my living room, in fact.

One light that’s returned unwanted is the streetlight outside my living room window. This has been a bone of contention since the late unlamented neighborhood association, the Richards Avenue Residents’ Association (yes, “RA-RA”), decided we needed more lights, and raised money for fancy, Victorian-style lights — but failed to get the money for the posts to put them on. Instead, these fake gas lights are attached to the telephone poles, and that’s how I got streetlights directly outside my living room windows. And I do mean “directly”: they are level with the upper half of the windows, and ten feet away. I put in light-blocking shades, got the electric company to put in baffles to direct the light away from the house, and never, ever call when a bulb goes out. Lisa kept threatening to leave a baseball bat out at Halloween and tell all the kids they were big piñatas.... (You have to understand, this is not a low-light area. There is a big streetlight on the corner, about half a block away, and another pair of lights at the entrance to the Margeson parking lot, less than half a block away.) However, a few days ago, I came back from the morning dog walk to find the utility company installing new bulbs. I said they didn’t have to do that on my account, but the guys allowed as how there had been complaints, so they had to do it. And somehow they managed to leave the baffle off one of the lights. Of course, I didn’t find this out until the light went on that evening, but the utility company has promised to send someone out to replace it — next week. If all goes well.

However, to offset that, we have one more new light in the neighborhood. The new library is open, just around the corner from the house, and it’s gorgeous. It’s more than twice the size of the old, crowded building, and has been designed to create lots of cozy study space and there are lots of windows to let in light (and air, apparently, in the spring). There are meeting rooms, and wifi access, and a cafe and courtyard; best of all, there’s room to browse what is really an awfully good collection. (In the old building, they kept moving the shelves closer together to try to make room for more books, until I had trouble walking down any aisle while carrying my purse slung on my shoulder.) I ran in just to see what it was like, and ended up spending an hour exploring sections I hadn’t known existed. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to return my books on time!

So, all in all, it’s been a good season for lights. I wish Lisa were here to see them, of course, but I’m also just very glad of their presence.