Welcome to My Neighborhood

The good news is that my neighbor, the little, old Hispanic guy who “goes walking” with a cane made it safely back from his 36 mile round trip walk to Alamosa. I saw him yesterday in his summer outfit (flannel shirt replaced by t-shirt) walking on my street. Seeing him reminded me of all the very interesting neighbors I’ve had in my life, one of whom LOVED to be driven — but only if you said, “Mr. Saysak, you want a ride in my new car?” If it wasn’t a new car, he wasn’t interested. The bright spot is that it didn’t have to really BE a new car; you just had to SAY it was. Mr. Saysak had dementia and was always taking off for his dream destination — Heidi’s restaurant which was about 9 miles from where we lived. Once I picked him up about a block away from that restaurant, but that’s another saga…

In his pre-dementia life he’d been a butcher and had a shop not far from our houses back in the 1950s and 60s when City Heights in San Diego was a quiet neighborhood. Sometimes Mr. Saysak would leave post-it notes on the neighbor’s doors referring to grocery orders, but the day my dog Maggie died I found a very strange and beautiful note. It said, “I have come like the prophets of old to say that I have gone because I have been found to be good and kind to all people.” I completely believe that message was from my beautiful golden dog.

One day Mr. Saysak saw a couple of kids trying to break into my house. He ran across the street and chased them off. There was really no one like him. When he died, his beautiful wife was both sad and relieved. I sent her flowers and a few days later went over with banana bread. She sat on her sofa with her hand on the flowers. I was stunned when she said, “No one ever sent me flowers before.” A couple of years later I gave her a ride to get her hair done. When I went to pick her up, she had a bowl of blooming paper whites for me. Mr. Saysak called her “my wild Irish rose.”

In Descanso I had an interesting neighbor, an Indian from a tribe north of Flagstaff. He never told me which. He had been in the Navy which is how he ended up in Southern California. He was wounded in Vietnam and, by the time I knew him, he was in a wheel chair. He had a beautiful big dog — a McKenzie Mountain Dog — who was strong enough to get him back up if he and his wheel chair fell over. He was an amazing dog. The Indian made jewelry, boxes and things made from leather and sold them in front of the general store in Descanso (this was California in the 2000s, folks, not the old west). I loved to hang out and talk to him and, of course, visit with the dog.

Over time, that amazing, beautiful and heroic dog died, and the Indian did not get another one. He did get a motorized wheelchair. That chair set him free to “travel” which bugged his kids because they liked knowing where he was. He carried a bag filled with milk bones for all the dogs he might meet on his way. He came to my house every day to visit the dogs who would go to the fence as soon as they heard the hum of his wheelchair. He especially loved Dusty T. Dog. It was a sad day for all of us when he went to join his McKenzie Mountain Dog. There is no official breed recognition for that dog but he looked like an immense husky and maybe McKenzie River Husky is his “real” name.

Here my neighbors are generally less colorful. Casey was the one really colorful neighbor — literally colorful because his mom made him wear a bright orange hunting jacket so he’d be safe on his daily walk to DQ and other points in the neighborhood. Casey was a severely autistic man probably in his early 40s. Casey had definite ideas about things; he was a little severe but likeable. He lived with his mother, and when his mother died, he had to move somewhere else. He had a border collie when I first moved here. He loved that dog and walked her in the park every day. When his dog died, he adopted my Aussie, Mindy. He came to see her twice a day, carefully letting himself into the front yard and closing the gate behind him. I let her into the front yard every afternoon to meet with her “boyfriend.” There was no way I could ever convince Casey that Mindy wasn’t a collie.

Everyone in town knew Casey. He was arrested once for staging a hold up at a local supermarket — the gun was a squirt pistol. The cops still hauled him to Del Norte where the jail is. Once, not long after I came to Monte Vista, I was having dinner at a local restaurant with my friends from Colorado Springs. We were listening to a local singer perform. Casey walked up to the stage and took a seat on a stool. When the song was over, he whispered in the singer’s ear. The singer nodded. Casey pulled his stool closer to the singer. The singer strummed a chord on his guitar, and broke into “Rocky Mountain High” which is, of course, Colorado’s state song. Casey joined him and they sang their hearts out. The people I was sitting with sang, too, because Lois and Michael CAN sing. My job when there is singing is that of appreciator, and I did well and appreciated deeply, with tears in my eyes over the beauty of the moment.

A while back I sent a query to an agent in New York pitching Martin of Gfenn. In my pitch was something to the effect that Martin was just an ordinary guy who ended up with leprosy and had to make something of his life and talent anyway. Something like that. The agent wrote back, “We are not interested in ordinary people. We are interested in extraordinary people.” That proved two things to me; 1) he didn’t know what made a person extraordinary, 2) he was the wrong agent for my book. The world is filled with extraordinary people. I don’t believe there ARE any “ordinary” people. How many little, old Hispanic men who need a cane walk 36 miles round trip to get a hamburger at McDonalds?

Featured photo: The Glorious Bean Field of 2023

21 thoughts on “Welcome to My Neighborhood

  1. I watched a movie on Netflix last night–‘Rescued by Ruby.’ Based on a true story about Ruby, an Australian shepherd/border collie mix. She finally found her person and was smart as a whip–such a good movie. I think you would like it and would probably be yelling at the characters on how to train her! 😉

  2. After anthropology, one of the things I wound up doing was video. People in the trade rarely are interested in exceptional people; they are looking for a story that has “legs” or can be altered to have them. That’s why so many mediocre “based on a true story” features are on Netflicks and its ilk.

    • That is exactly it! Those “true life stories” are all totally and egregiously predictable. So boring and I don’t think they’re good for people. They put pressure on people to be whatever animatronic entity those characters are.

      My neighbor in this little Colorado town is from Australia. She’s 83 and a dynamo. Her husband is slowly getting dementia so she’s dealing with that. She can knit anything — just one of her incredible (and old-fashioned) skills. She’s a leader in the little (11 member) Episcopalian church here, a church that was built by British immigrants to look like their village church at home. When called upon, she will write and deliver a sermon. SHE’S a story and a real protagonist. True stories — really true ones — are not necessarily inspiring and redemptive and all that BS. They’re like my grandmother who jumped up and said “My Lord!” whenever the phone rang because she couldn’t get used to it. 🩷

      • The phony “real life” tales leave many truly remarkable people feeling ordinary because their lives do not have the sort of scripted plot line of the phony stuff.
        A corollary is martial art movies. A serious martial artist friend said that everyone wanted to go to a dojo and become a black belt without the years of work and discipline required. They all had seen dozens of movies where the hero went from a slob to a 20th dan black belt in a 30-second montage.

        • Human life doesn’t — and shouldn’t! — fit a formula. There’s also the illusion that you can “buy” it. That Hispanic guy just takes off, no fancy water bottle, no trekking pole — his cane, of course, no fancy boots, He just GOES. Consumerism is also driven by that formulaic drivel.

          • You are right about consumerism. It’s funny, but even among the dream makers in the video field, they’ve bought the whole line about this or that equipment line ( cameras, lights, and such) being so much better. Then some students with phones and a cheap editing system make a knockout product for some three-day film festival. It’s what you do with what you have that’s important.

            • I dreamed of making films but I ended up writing stories that I could see in my mind. I completely believe, too, it’s what you do with what you have that makes magic. I think true creativity is exactly that.

  3. So many interesting people everywhere, we just have to be open to the experience. I believe the universe puts people in our paths just to see if we are paying attention!

  4. You are blessed to to have noticed so many very interesting characters in life that other people would dismiss or miss entirely. They are all around us and it gives me joy to take note of them.

    • Thank you — back in the “hood” we really needed each other. It was dangerous and a strong sense of community kept us safer. Here? I think it’s more typical of our lives and times.

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