BY CHANA SHAPIRO / AJT //

Chana Shapiro

Chana Shapiro

When I retired, I promised myself that I’d continue to wake up with the sun – but you know how that sort of vow usually goes. And thus it did…until this morning. A violent electrical storm blew its way through our area last night, and I decided to get up early to survey the damage.

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Ever since reading “Growing Up in Samoa” by Margaret Mead, I’ve been a pushover for exploration of unknown cultures, and I now had a mini-empirical study right outside my door. In addition to damage-assessment, I could discover what really goes on in my very own neighborhood when I’m usually sleeping.

I checked the outdoor thermometer: 67 degrees, perfect al fresco investigative weather. I decided to postpone my shower and daily hair struggle for later because, at that early hour, I’d be the only person walking up and down the street.

I donned my ugly walking clothes, secure in my disheveled state. Adding to my confidence was the fact that we live on a long cul-de-sac that, I thought, would lead me away from the main street in my neighborhood where people could see or smell my pre-cleansed, uncombed self.

Of course, I was wrong. What I learned on my trek is that early morning is the favorite time in our neighborhood for dog-walking, weeding, leaving for work, picking up carpools, taking out the garbage and speed walking. There were loads of people out and about, and I ended up meeting most of them. Here’s a sample:

There’s a couple living on our block, who I’d never met, dragging out gigantic, overflowing, leaking metal cans. Their garbage receptacles suggested that replacements were called for, but I wisely refrained from offering such useful advice; you never know what has sentimental value to others, and it was entirely possible that the containers had been hand-me downs from beloved ancestors.

It turns out that this duo had been living in their house for over a decade. Although I’d often wondered about the provenance of the garbage cans, the couple and I’d never spoken before. They were clearly as surprised to meet me as I was them; I managed to admire the wife’s shocking pink bathrobe and her husband’s camouflage pajama bottoms, then off I fled.

I also spotted the mysterious Mrs. Yuan, who’d previously existed only in my imagination. She was sitting on a low bench as she pruned bushes. I called out a greeting, but there seemed to be a confusion of languages – she responded by nodding vigorously and pointing to her bare feet.

I’m not sure, but I might have inadvertently discovered the Chinese phrase for “shoeless.” I wanted to know about her fruit-bearing trees, but who knows what my words would mean in Mandarin?

Then, I bumped into Jacob Montblanc, the father of a family that my husband and I had assumed were into natural healing or organic weed experimentation. I hadn’t seen Jacob for many months, and I was fascinated that his facial hair now closely resembled his lawn.

I was a hair’s breath (pun intended) away from offering the use of our lawn mower and electric shaver, but I considered that Jacob might have launched an agrarian hobby or vocation while at the same time becoming an Orthodox Jew. Thus, we simply exchanged pleasantries, but as I started to move on, as Mrs. Montblanc edged her car down her steep driveway. I’d only met her once in 13 years, so this was quite a treat.

At least, it was for me. Apparently Mrs. Montblanc wasn’t in the mood for socializing because she drove right past me with nary a word nor wave. I know when I’m being shunned, and I didn’t blame her.

Up next was a stranger, pulled along by a large, shaggy dog. The dog looked scary, but it turned out that it was one of those ultra-friendly canines that love to lick.

The dog’s owner made no attempt to keep her pet from drooling all over me, but I understood – my clothing and hairdo were proof that I was a homeless person who could use some lovin’. To prove that I was sociable and one of life’s winners, I introduced myself.

For whatever reason, the stranger decided not to tell me her own name, but she did tell me her dog was named “Big Boy” – an appellation which I found to be embarrassingly redundant and self-evident.

I wanted to explain that, in spite of appearances, I was not a dangerous vagrant and one should never judge a book by its cover, but Big Boy was already rushing to lubricate someone else. His target was none other than the unshorn Jacob Montblanc; apparently, Big Boy has a preference for the more au natural among us.

Soon after that encounter, runners and cars started to become more numerous. This turned out to be the worst part, because everyone who passed me made a special effort to slow down and greet me face-to-face. The majority of them, while withholding comments about my appearance, had a slightly amused look on their faces.

I knew what they were thinking, especially those who attend the same synagogue as we do. They’d previously seen me wearing real clothes, under which proper undergarments did their job.

Some thought it would be polite to try to engage me in conversation. I decided to come clean, a phrase whose figurative and literal meanings were not lost on me; I explained that I was just out on a stroll to evaluate the aftermath of last night’s storm.

“Only one little pine tree down, and litter blown all over, but nothing very interesting. Not much happening on our block,” someone said.

Based on my morning expedition, I beg to differ.

Chana Shapiro, who clearly needs all the exercise she can get, is pleased to announce that she’s returning to her treadmill in the basement. Walking outside, while widely recommended by experts and much lauded by so-called friends, is just too much for her to handle. She happily leaves all future sociological and meteorological investigations to others.

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