I can never go around making friends with the neighbores, I mean neighbors, because I need my space. I run into them all the time, and to keep up with the customary small talk is a relentless burden. I can't deal with it. I just want to live in a state of blissful unawareness. But, you know how the neighbors never leave you alone, and it causes many problems. The day we moved into the house, the doorbell rang while my wife was still unpacking boxes in the bedroom. I came down to the foyer and saw the big white mess the movers left on the doormat. I shouted to my wife:
"There is white trash at the door!" And flung it open. Standing outside, in a state of shock, was a White couple, seemingly here to welcome us into the 'hood.
"Get rid of it!" my wife shouted back. They ran away, before I could grab the apple pie from their hands.
Later on, the guy who lives right next door hollered just as I stepped out of the house.
"Hey! Check it out. The Sun is shining today."
Save me, Jesus! "Sure, it is. "
"You think it will shine again tomorrow?"
"Sure … well, nice talking to you. I got to run …"
"Don't forget, tomorrow is the trash day."
"Oh yes! Well, I'll be seeing you … "
"When tomorrow is the trash day, you have to put out the trash cans tonight. You remember that, don't you? It is tricky, man."
"Right. I think I figured that one out." Like, the day after my birth.
"What do you say - nine tonight? "
"Putting out the trash, duh!" He shook his head and rolled his eyes: "I saw you last week: putting it out all alone. I'm saying - to myself - Guilty me! I put out my stuff too early or I could give the fella some company. Then, I got thinking - to myself – we fellas gotta stick together when it comes to trash. We gotta sync-up so the womenfolk know we are having fun! I figured out - to myself – why not nine every Wednesday night, eh? Right between dinner and bedtime. We all need the exercise. Good time for you?"
"Uh … ok. Whatever."
"Right on. I will set up a recurring Evite and send it out to the Hillcrest group."
"Yeah, that is our Yahoo page. Don't tell me you are not subscribed."
Great! (a) I just made a putting-out-the-garbage date with the Mr. Junk Foreman here, and (b) our tiny little street has its own Yahoo group. Why do I even endure this shit? Just because we are living on the same lane doesn't mean we got to know each other.
Then, there is Judge Judy, in the house opposite, who stares at me with unblinking recrimination. She thinks I'm trying to poison her creepy cat Frizzit, who likes nothing better than to litter on my porch. Judy got this wild idea when she caught me feeding expired milk to the cat. Let me say in my defense that we buy our milk at Costco. There is only so much Costco milk a family can consume before the milk expires or the family dies on lactose overdose. But, I can't bring myself to throw away a full carton of milk - someone has to drink it (just not my family). That is why I feed it to the boneless wonder. After all, it is malnourished – I hear we dump our expired drugs into Mozambique to treat sick children. How can this be worse?
But, really, the story I am here to tell you is the enigmatic guy who moved into the vacant house next door a month after we moved in. I just came back from buying a laptop and a WiFi router eager to set it up and download pirated Indian movies from the web. Clutching the bag, I reached out to unlock the door when I heard this:
Is someone talking to me? Ignore, ignore, just get inside! I unlocked the door.
"It is at least eighty degrees!"
I paused with my hand on the door knob. Still safe. Just need two more seconds.
"Must be a good time for shopping!"
Darn! I turned around, and forced a smile.
He looked like a slightly built Vietnamese.
"Hi, I am your new neighbor. You are Indian, great! I love Indian food."
"Really, yeah I like your food too. Pho is good."
He frowned. "Pho? You think I'm Vietnamese? I'm a Filipino! What's the matter, bro, you can't tell a Filipino from a Vietnamese?"
Hell. "Sorry, of course, you are Filipino. It is just the shadows, you know, …"
"So, you like Pho? You should try Pho King. You will like Pho King." He burst out laughing.
Boy, heard that one before. What are you? Fifteen?
"Right, well …"
"You know where to go if you made a serious mistake and you need a coffee to clear your head? The joint called Pho Cup!"
That is a new one. But, he laughed so hard he spoiled the pun.
"Well, it is nice …"
"I know what you are thinking - What The Pho, bro! Well, that is a nice place too. Hee hee ha ha ha!" He was screaming laughs now.
"I really got to go."
"Nice talking to you, bro. What is your name?"
Glad that he asked. There is one thing to be said about unpronounceable names. People think twice about approaching you again once they realize they have to master this unrepeatable word to keep up with the friendship. Ever notice John and Jenny have way too many friends while Phinnaeus and Guilluame are eating alone in Denny's? I keep different versions depending on how much I really want to hang out with the person. For the office guys, it is Bharad. For the drink buddies, it is Brad. For the rest,
Got the desired effect. He was startled.
"Eh? Got shorter version?"
"Nope. That is it, I'm afraid."
His face clouded. He was obviously ticked.
"Well, my name is Jejobar Luzviminda. Sorry, don't have a shorter version either."
Ha! The sword is double-edged. Even better for me! So long, bro. Maybe, in the next life, when you are Jim and I'm John, we will think about hanging out together. Adios.
So, imagine my surprise when a few days later, I was again entering the house when I heard this:
"How are you doing, Bha-rad-waj?"
The heckles on my neck stood up. I turned around. The Filipino stood there smiling with his arms crossed. I stammered something that I don't really recall. How does he still remember my name? I said it only once. No one here knows my name. I was still thinking about it when my wife and I were having dinner that night.
"Now, what do I do? All I recall about his name is that it sounds like Zanzibar Lascivious. That can't be right. It is a mystery how he remembered my name."
"Maybe he is good with Indian names," she said.
That is not possible. He had the same incomprehensible reaction everyone gives me when they hear my name the first time before they forever disappear from my life. I noticed the mail lying on the table. It suddenly came to me.
"I got it. He snooped!"
"What do you mean?"
"You know the mailboxes here don't have locks. He stole a letter addressed to me."
"Oh, come on!"
No, I'm right. There was no other way. Well, two can play this game. Better keep my plan to myself, if I want to finish this excellent dinner.
On the next Saturday, I watched him leave from my window. Then, the mailman came and stuffed his box with a pile of letters. This was it. The golden opportunity! No one was looking. Armed with a notepad, I pulled out the first letter I could reach from his mailbox. I jotted down the name. Jejobar Luzviminda! I got it, yeah!
"What in the world are you doing?" Judge Judy was right next to me, in her most chilling avatar.
"Why are you stealing the Filipino's mail?"
"Really, oh. OH! I thought this is my mailbox."
"Don't fool me. I know you are the mail thief. I always knew it. Who else could it be?"
Unbeknownst to me, there was a kleptomaniac roaming in the neighborhood. This guy, for whatever reasons, only stole Bed Bath and Beyond coupons, so no one really bothered to complain, because, really, we were all sick of those coupons. Except Judge Judy here who started a one-person neighborhood watch just to catch him in the act so people can continue receiving that incessant stream of junk.
"Wait. Whoa! Hey. This is an honest mistake."
"We will see about it. You are not going anywhere until the cop shows up."
She called her cop friend who lives in the next street. He came over ambling and asked me a few questions. He went off to check on my background when the Filipino returned. Judy immediately pounced on him with a grossly exaggerated version. He was shocked.
"Why are you stealing my mail, bro?"
"Hey, I'm not stealing. I'm doing the same thing you did. Just snooping around to figure out your name."
The Filipino frowned. "I didn't snoop your mail, bro. Not cool."
"Well, then, how did you do it?"
"I'm not telling you."
I was burning with curiosity. The cop interrupted us.
"He is not your guy, ma'am."
Judy was livid. "Why not? I caught him red-handed. Listen, I'm a good witness. I won't turn hostile even though I realize my life is at stake. We will nail his ass to the wall."
The cop shook his head. "I think his story checks out. Look at the letter in his hands."
I held it up. It was a Fry's coupon. Not Bed Bath and Beyond.
"Doesn't fit the pattern," the cop said, and left me with a warning.
Judge Judy, obviously disappointed, muttered some curses under her breath and went back to her house, to her watch station behind the curtains. I caught the Filipino just before he stepped into his house.
"Jejobar, wait! How did you figure it out?"
He stopped at the doorway. "Well, if I tell you, will you hang out with me?"
"Well, I got to …"
"No one hangs out with me because of my name. Please. I just want to have a friend with whom I can have a drink. Just once a month."
"All right. Just tell me how you did it."
"The Wi-Fi network you installed last week. It is unsecure. Everyone here gets on to it. It is like the Community Center. I got that tip from the Hillcrest Yahoo group." He paused. "Bro, all the stuff you download from the net, you just can't put it in a folder called "Technical." You think your wife can't figure that out?"