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Sleepless in Suburbia

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I have been living in the suburbs of Corpus Christi, Texas, for about six weeks now.  It has been a culture shock:  the transplantation of an old lady who had lived all her life in the country now confined to a house at the end of a cul-de-sac.  What had I been thinking?  The day-to-day life still confounds me; it may as well be a river flowing backwards.

The trash has to be picked up tomorrow.  But is it the trash day or the trash and recyclables day?  What is to be recycled and thereby given a new life? If I throw myself into the recycle bin, will a youthful transformation take place? Apparently, the recyclables only occur biweekly but I didn’t bring the calendar with me; I have no way to tell.  (It is another month until my husband, our belongings, and our car arrive from out-of-state.)  In the meantime,I will piteously have to drag said containers out to the curb.  But I won’t have the fun of lighting them on fire.  No, that was another of my joys of living outside of the city:  Burning the trash after supper, looking up at the stars, and hearing the horses in the pasture as they grazed and walked around.    And then listening to the cacophony of the coyotes’ partying.  I had a full dance card and didn’t know it.

I am so used to older farmhouses.  Now I have a “smart house,” with numerous high-tech devices and a life of its own.  I fear – no, I believe – that this house has an I.Q. far higher than mine.

For instance, I have a refrigerator whose freezer is obsessed with making ice cubes.  Day and night.  But where do they go?  Who in their right mind would ever use so many?  What would they be used for? The freezer makes an intolerable noise every time an ice cube is deposited, worse than a chicken laying an egg.  All day and all night, ad infinitum, the mysterious thing cackles with glee.

The state-of-the-art thermostat is a “Nest” or maybe the name is “Burrow” or “Haunt” – I don’t recall – whatever its name, this thing is an attention hound (I originally thought of another word but that would be inappropriate here.)  I think the thermostat has an all-seeing eye; this theurgist knows when I am in the room.  A strobe light emanates from its perch on the living room wall.  I expect to hear my name called out, “Sally Stratso, come out with your hands on top of your head.  This is the F.B.I.” (A flashback to my youth.) Then I flinch at what must certainly be the beginning of a deafening procession of sirens.  No, there is just the light, and if you look closely, the thing will advise you on other devices in the house, like a miserable tattle-tale child with mucus dripping from his/her nose.  Maybe that’s going too far, but everything seems to spell doomsday to this entity; I am reminded of Chicken Little (yet another fowl comparison), always being Paul Revere to some imagined catastrophe.  Yesterday the thing became almost apoplectic because the time had evidently arrived for the furnace filters to be changed.

This “Roost” or whatever it is, keeps track of the temperature when I make an adjustment.  It is trying to learn my schedule but it does not understand hot flashes – one of the failures of its obviously male creator.  Finding no logical rhythm in my deviations, the creature decides to create its own snuggery, which only makes me interfere hysterically with the dials even more.  This has become a game of wills.  The ultimate goal of the entity seems to be a setting wherein the heat and the air conditioning will simultaneously work together and thereby drain my bank account.

I must admit that I miss the coyotes’ serenades as soon as darkness descended. This place is as quiet as a vault.  However, there is a wild creature somewhere in the neighborhood – I must ask the neighbors about it. On my first night in the new house, I thought that I spied a thin black cat sitting in the driveway.  Before I went to bed, I filled up a bowl with milk.  In the morning, the milk was gone.  I repeated this action the next evening.  During this next night, though, a neighbor’s dog howled and shrieked excitedly until dawn, disturbing the sepulcher by the sea (sorry, Edgar…).  When I peered outside after breakfast, I saw that the bowl was gone.  Something had dragged it away.

I don’t want to meet the creature that could do that.  And could incite that dog to such madness.

There are many, many restaurants and stores within a 2-mile radius.  Actually, everything that an old lady needs is within this radius.  When I first moved here, I rented a car and in spite of my using it every day (with the aid of the direction helper on my phone), I only used three gallons of gas for a week.

I had some time between the return of the rental car and the late arrival of my car (via barge from Honolulu, Hawai’i) and I found myself needing to use a ride share company.  Now, although my grown children have always encouraged me to try this mode of transportation, I have always been hesitant – always positive that I would end up robbed, raped, and murdered (in that order).  But these were desperate times.

The first person who signed on to pick me up was an older gentleman whose phone had evidently stopped working.  We were able to use my phone and figure out where I had to go.  But his older-model car was clean and he seemed like a nice grandfatherly type.  Kind of cute, too.  I banished – for the most part – all sorts of inappropriate thoughts. But I memorized his name for future purposes.

The next driver who showed up to return me to my home was very very very talkative; she never stopped talking even though she had to clear out the back seat so I could sit there.  I assume she had dogs, lots of them.  So maybe she spent a great deal of time at home with them, hence the hasty presentation of the ride.  That also accounted for her unstoppable flow of words.  She had a tough persona that reminded me of an old-time madam of a brothel in the Old West, aka Miss Kitty, straight out of Central Casting.  I would bet that she had a conceal and carry license.  I wanted to tell her that she should get herself an agent; she would make a great character actress.  But I stopped myself before I said anything.  I might mention the brothel and she probably did have a gun under the seat, even though everything in the car rolled forward when we took off after a stop light, and a gun was not among these artifacts.

The neighbors are very nice, albeit too quiet.  I should have enjoyed the peace.  But one day, a car rolled up and an old man disembarked.  Hark, He had arrived!

A day later, and we are unloading the groceries from the car.  My husband, in his garrulous voice, exclaims, “What happened to those gallon jugs of wine that you used to buy at Walmart?  Why are you buying these bottles now?  It’s costing too much.”

I felt the entire neighborhood hold its collective breath; even dogs and cats took notice and listened curiously. I searched for a scathing remark to volley back at him.  I waited.  I felt a force swirl around me, empowering me and bestowing me with a reply.

In my outside voice, I proclaimed, “Well, I see that you’re using the name brand hemorrhoid pads now instead of the generic version.  That’s adding to the grocery bill, too. That’s probably the reason.”

I heard a cat laugh hysterically.

Nothing more has been said about the wine.



Sally Stratso (USA)

Sally Stratso is a character actress, standup comedienne, and writer. Her work has appeared in Grit Magazine, Equus Magazine, Indie Slate, and Lemons Publications. She used to live in Honolulu, Hawai'i and has now relocated to Corpus Christi, Texas.

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