Three hours, two blisters, several bug bites, and a walk through a spiderweb later, the patio was swept, the yard was clean. It was hard, really, trying to make a dirt yard look neat. Look put together. Look like home. I grew up with yards, with grass between my toes and the smell of a freshly-mowed lawn. Summer, that was. It breathed summer, smelled like summer. Summer was when I would be outside, all day, every day, until the sun set and the soles of my feet blackened. Here, in the city, in the twelfth-largest city in the United States, I have no grass. No blades between my toes, but no hay to mow, either. Just dirt and mulch and leaves and weeds. It was the weeds I battled against last week. Weeds and forgotten spiderwebs. I unearthed orphan trees, swept dirt and seeds and leaves from behind the planters. My inherited, heavy, cement planters. I fussed and untangled the herbs in my inherited garden as well. The oregano. The heavy mint vines. The sweeping chives. Neat. Neat and clean, just as I like everything. I pulled the decayed and deceased flowers, shifted pots and plants and discovered, beneath everything, hidden in the crevices and tunnels and safety of the earth, worms and crickets and ants and snails. A cache of abandoned shells. I stared at each creature, at each piece of nature, with childlike wonder. Picked worms and moved them to fresh, dark, damp earth. Delicately stroked the lost wing of a cicada. It was all there; the naturalness, the ecosystem of creatures smaller than myself. I had to respect them. I had to allow "Spider Dude," the once-nickel-sized arachnid, to build its web just outside my door. Build its sticky net across my light, my railings, my steps, my door, my maple tree. Each night, a new web, each night a new house for victims. The spider grew. And grew. And grew. It's still growing, from a hard and bumpy peach, to a fleshy and silver dollar-sized creature. A garden spider, it will be. And, together, we share this yard. This dirt yard, these wooden steps, this Indiana air.


I hear the rattling, hear the familiar clanking and clamoring of the shopping cart. He's coming--the transient. Back up the alleyway, his usual every-other-day path. Checking for soda cans. For pop bottles. For recyclables and metals and wires--anything useful, anything handy. Anything for a couple of bucks. Some would say he's lazy, others would say he's not in his right mind. Crazy. But I know better. I know he's trying. With wild eyes--but with a mild countenance--he's trying. So I grab my wallet, and snatch an empty container to fill with water. It's ninety degrees out there. Ninety degrees, and he's trying.  

The transient--I wish I had his name. He's in his thirties, maybe his forties. Shorter than me, too, by a few inches. And with short, though untamed, facial hair. Hair and roots and growth the color of Kurt Cobain's. He is tired, wired, excited, absent.

"I don't ever have cans, really," I tell him, "but if I do, I'll just bag them separately and set them aside for you. My trash is the one next to the pinky-orange garage."

"Oh, thanks so much, miss. I'd really appreciate that." He looks at me, dents and cracks in his face, and smiles a yellow-toothed smile. "I don't like disrepectin' people's stuff," he says. "I don' wanna make people mad or upset with what I'mmuh doin'." He looks around, puffs out his bottom lip. Gestures outwardly, from his heart, to me. "So thank you."

"It's fuckin' hot out," I blurt, handing him a bottle of water. "So take this."

He cackles a dry, hacking laugh. "Ha. It's fuckin' hot out, she says." He takes the bottle. "Thank you."

"And here's a couple bucks for today, too." I pass him two one-dollar bills.

He's genuinely appreciative. Happy. Thanks me several times, says he never expects anything, and that he would just appreciate cans or metals or wires or anything that can be set out.

I nod. "No worries," I say. I look at him again, his uncombed, fair-colored mane. Black athletic shorts. A dirty, smudged, ripped tank top. Dirt beneath the nails. Wild eyes and a mild countenance. The rusty, unbalanced, rattling, clanking, cantankerous-sounding cart.

"No worries."


There are small children setting off bottle rockets in the alleyway. They live in the house behind mine, across the alley. They have a cat. Or, at least, they take care of a stray cat. The cat is orange, a shorthair. With a snubbed nose. Not the most handsome feline, but certainly a friendly one. Crookshanks, I’d call him. He/she/it purrs and rubs and meows and rolls in the dust, the dirt, chases birds, and lies in the grass for hours and hours and I watch it from my second story window, the one that overlooks the alleyway. The alleyway our resident transient visits.

I heard him for the first time a few weeks ago. It was dark, night, 11:30 perhaps. Late. And I could hear the cart. I heard the grocery cart rattling up the uneven, rocky pavement. I judged distance, sound, darkness. He was at the dumpster a short ways down. After a few moments, the cart rambled back down the alleyway, beneath my window. I knew he would check our trash can, the trash can of the neighbor, the trash can of the kids’ house, the trash cans that the cats hide by and slink around. I saw the transient again yesterday. He’s middle-aged, white. Has shaggy hair, but is not as rough and tumble as you might expect. He was hauling a small load, had a walking stick and a dozen soda cans. Coca-Cola. They jostled each other, tinged and pinged against each other, against the cart. Red. They were red. The transient peered into each trash can for just a moment, then moved on. Not hurting anything. Not bothering anyone. Just trying to make it in this sad, cruel world. A world where there are red berries on the tree just outside my west window. A world where I wake in the glow of sunshine, the light illuminating the glass of water I left on the sill. A world where the breeze filters in and tickles my skin. Where the quiet neighborhood nods hello, waves goodbye, takes care of each other, and is safe enough for kids to run barefoot, with their four-legged friends, setting off last month’s joys.

Things seem perfect, sometimes. When the ambient noise are the laughs of children and the distant Interstate traffic. A hum, a white noise hum of movement, of life. The traffic keeps moving. Time keeps moving. The berries? The tree? Everything just outside my west-facing window? It will all turn. Turn from green to yellow to orange to red to brown and fall, fall down, down to my patio and to the ground, the cold ground and turn and crumble and be buried beneath snow and shadows. But, for now, it is perfect. The light, the colors. All of it, just barely waving, whispers of wind in the leaves. I could reach out and touch it, if I wanted. Taste it, too, if I wished.

A life is much better lived when no one is watching. The hours pass more slowly. There is gratitude for the smallest things—for clean dishes, for a line of glass bottles along the window sills, for stacks of unread books, for the creases of your white comforter. It will not always be like this: clean, simple, calm. Things change. They always change.

You can’t stop traffic. You can’t stop time. Everything ages, including the children who play in the sprinklers, who set off bottle rockets, who ride their bikes and giggle and laugh and enjoy each and every moment of summer. The depths of it, the beginnings of it, the end of it.

And I watch it all from my window. Like “Facing Windows.” Like “Rear Window.” I watch. Watch the children, the neighbors, the breeze, the transient, the cars, the sunrises, the orange cat whose simple ways surpass us all.


Today is Day Eight of our "Terrible Hipster Trip." (So named because, on the very first day, on our way to Iowa, we talked about hipsters, how we're hipsters, and how we are inadequate hipsters.) For the first couple of days, we stayed in Iowa, at my mom's house. We visited Omaha and hit up the Henry Doorly Zoo, which is currently ranked as the No. 1 zoo in the nation. Since then, we've passed through South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Wyoming again, Montana once more. We're currently in Polson, Montana, near Glacier National Park. We'll drive to the Seattle/Vancouver area later today and will finish up our trip next week. We've already created new inside jokes (thanks to a South Dakota state trooper who thought I was Ty's wife and Zoe was our child). Collectively, we've taken thousands of photos. We've laughed until we've cried. We've plucked sprigs of wild sage and put them on the dashboard, airing the car. We've oohed and aahed over the Badlands, the bison, the tiny chipmunks, the Yellowstone Grand Canyon, the vista. The vista. The vista. The colors. All the colors.

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