Posted by: 4initalia | April 27, 2009

Hang Ups

It’s raining again. Some people think gray skies are soothing. Those are crazy people, and they should all move to Seattle, where they’re out of the way and can’t hurt anyone. I don’t do well without sunlight. I’m starting to feel like Boo Radley, the recluse from To Kill a Mockingbird who didn’t see the sun for 35 years. That can’t be good, because we have scissors, in the chiffarobe.

Oh Lordy, it seems like only yesterday I was a lawyer who identified with Atticus Finch. Two weeks of rain, and I’m going crazier than the dog Atticus took out with a single shot.

It can’t keep raining, or I’m going to demand a retraction on that “Sunny Italy” claim. After five soggy days of denial, I bought a cheap umbrella. But I’d be better off with one of those little paper umbrellas you get in tropical drinks; at least those open and close more than once. That umbrella purchase was a total waste of five euros, but the guy who sold it to me looked so trustworthy. And I keep thinking that all the friction between the water molecules, from the rain constantly falling, is going to wear out the clouds eventually. Or perhaps the friction against the cloud fluff will make the soft parts pill, like a cheap sweater.

I think you can remove that with scissors; that will give me something to do until the rain stops. Or maybe I’ll make a little boy, a little girl, out of wax.

Do you hear that howling? Or is it me?

When it rains I don’t go to the grocery store, because I have no car, and I do not like to carry bags of produce while swimming. But I am a wimp. In Modena, biking to the store in the rain is just another way for Italian old people to show that they are tougher than American Hells Angels. In this city, the oldest citizens ride bicycles to the market, while holding umbrellas, in traffic. Drivers dodge and weave, moving so fast that they braid the air surrounding the bicylists, who, enclosed within horizontal sheets of water, peddle serenely on. If America is ever invaded by Italian senior citizen bicylists, it’s all over.

If it’s raining, I’m usually home. If I’m home, I’m washing clothes. I don’t know how we end up with so many dirty clothes. I’m beginning to suspect that the children have multiple personalities, each with a separate wardrobe. This is a problem because the washer here holds only three socks at a time, two socks if they’re dirty. It takes two hours to wash a load, and for every one of the one hundred and twenty minutes the washer is running, it makes a disturbing noise.

Between cycles, the washer beeps, exactly like a Fiat enraged by a cyclist. When the washer is spinning, which it does forty times in two hours, it sounds like a jumbo jet is landing in the hallway. The washer is apparently afraid of planes: at the end of every spin cycle, it tries to escape by thrashing against every available surface, including the ceiling, and the ground crew. To keep the shaking down, I can either sit on the washer for two hours, or heave the heaviest thing in the apartment, an old metal toolbox, on top of the washer. But every third load, the washer manages to throw off the tool box with a thunderous crash, which can’t be endearing to our downstairs neighbors. That may explain the popping sounds and the bullet casings in the hallway.

Fortunately, I just bought Alex an electric guitar, so the hideous grinding sounds coming from the amp will drown out the noise from the washer. Response to legitimate concerns is the key to good neighbor relations.

Another fun rainy day activity is sweeping. I sweep because the children are feral, and after every meal there are globs of food the size of cats under the table; the biggest chunks work well as ottomans. But even without the food debris, there is dust everywhere. It’s not just a light dusting of dust, there’s a living fiber beast that sheds grayish navy blue clumps. The clumps collect hair, farm implements and lawn furniture. No matter how many times I sweep, there’s another wad to replace it, and if I swipe up a large bit, I hear growling. Somewhere in the apartment, a secret door leads to the lair of a moulting Yehti, but unfortunately, it doesn’t eat table scraps.

I could sweep for two hours straight between washer loads. When the washer finally lets go of the clothes, I hang them on racks in the apartment. Not even wealthy people in Italy have dryers, because dryers require industrial-grade wiring, and who needs that when you can get the same jolt from espresso? So everyone hangs everything, and I do seem to be the only person in Italy who is not able to buy pants.

While I hang out the clothes, I sing mournful songs about American laborers, like James Taylor’s Millworker. or Paul Simon’s American Tune. I sing mournful songs to make my children feel guilty about how hard I’m working. It’s not having the desired effect. One afternoon, I sat down in Alex’s room, taking a break from hanging out the clothes. “Why are you just sitting around in my room? I’m the one who just sits around in my room.”

Our eyes met. “It’s all right, it’s all right it’s all right, you can live so well, so long….”

After Alex finished hanging up the clothes, I made him sweep.

On sunny days, I go to the roof and hang things there. There is a clothesline on the roof, and the view from the roof is of a miniature Modena; the city looks like a Lionel train set from the 1940s. The little train bumps along, the little cars try to kill each other, and pedestrians, in a charmingly tiny way.

To reach the roof, you climb a steeply angled iron ladder. This is tricky with a large basket of clothes, a small box of clothespins, and a huge fear of spiders. At the very top of the ladder, there is a steel door that opens with a skeleton key. Skeleton keys got their name because all of the people who used them ended up skeletons. The top of the ladder is totally dark except for the light through the keyhole. To open the door I balance the basket against my hip, fumble with the key, and wait to be tapped on the shoulder by a large and hissing spider. The anticipation of the spider’s tap makes me want to drop the basket.

Once, I dropped the key. Straight down, through the ladder, into a pile of junk that was stacked at the end of WWII and has since become a convention center and resort for carnivorous spiders. The junk was made up of windows and wall coverings that were stacked horizontally, so to find the key I had to reeeach in and feeeeel around in sixty years worth of dirt and spider webs. I still have a twitch, from that episode. If I ever drop the key again, I’ll just wear the wet clothes and drape myself over the balcony.

Every night I take out the garbage. When we first arrived, Giovanna took me to the grocery store. When, still in Costco mode, I kept searching the aisles for garbage bags, Giovanna looked at me like I was a was a lunatic. Hello, you don’t need to buy grocery bags, you re-use the plastic ones you get from the grocery store. But since you’re charged a few cents for every grocery bag, you’ have to buy bags one way or another. There are perfectly valid reasons to think that I am a lunatic, (Andy would be helpful on this subject) so I didn’t think my American reliance on garbage bags was all that odd. But in this country, if you can’t ride a bike in the rain, you have no moral authority, so I still use the store grocery bags.

Grocery store bags are small and fill up quickly, so I empty the garbage every night; I take the garbage to the dumpster outside the building. I usually wait until after after dinner, when it’s dark. We’re on the seventh floor, and the staircase is lit by a light on a timer. I hit the hall light switch on the way down the stairs, but there’s never enough time to get to the dumpster and back up the stairs before the light goes off.

We live on a little street off a busy traffic circle that spits Fiats into our street like bullets. Or maybe the neighbors do prefer laundry noise, after all. The trash dumpster for the building was carefully placed, between the sidewalk and the busiest part of the traffic circle. One side of the dumpster is impossible to open, and the other side opens easily, with a bar that you press with your foot. Of course the side of the dumpster with the foot bar is not the one facing the sidewalk, the foot bar is directly in the line of traffic coming around the circle. So to throw out the trash I walk into traffic, step on the foor bar, throw the garbage in, and attempt to return to our building alive. All of this takes a while, so the stairway light is already running out of time by the time I get back into the building.

You cannot push the button to give yourself more time on the hall light – you have to wait for the light to go out before you can turn it on again. When the light goes out, the hallway is completely dark, and a person in mid-step stands an excellent chance of falling on the stairs, which would end badly, because the stairs are made of marble. Cheap marble, but cartwheeling down a flight of cheap marble hurts just as much as expensive marble. I take the stairs two at a time, and go as fast as I can. So as I climb the stairs, I hold on to the bannister in case the light goes out, and pause on each landing. The light usally gives out when I’m between floors four and five.

One night I was particularly spry at getting the garbage in the dumpster and back up the stairs in record time. I made it all the way to the fifth floor, and I knew the light would go out soon, so I just waited on the landing. There is a hall light button switch on each floor, next to the door buzzers beside each apartment door. I was winded so I waited for the staircase light to go off, just outside Apartment Number 8. My hand was poised above the hall light switch, and I leaned against the wall, breathing like Boo after the knife fight with Mr. Ewing.

Although the hall is usually empty, just as the hall light went out, the door to apartment number 8 opened, and a woman walked onto the landing in her nightgown. The light went off, the door sucked open, and in the dark I gasped at a woman in her nightgown. I was too suprised to move, and the woman must have been creeped out by the crazy American breathing heavily on her doorbell, in the dark.

At least I wasn’t holding a Costco garbage bag, that would be crazy.

It is still raining, and I’ve finished sweeping. I don’t have any wax to make any toys for the children. But with these food scraps, and some of this fiber, I could make life-sized statues of the little boy and the little girl, to show that I’d like to be friends.

Stand up child, Atticus is passing out.

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