As the tie-dye sky dissolved into blue, my gaze descended to the yard. There sat two gross puffy recliners (why are they always taupe or mauve?), a microwave, pieces of wood, an aquarium, half a table, boxes, old windows, the crap that typically accumulates in a basement.
Sunrise in a Jersey Shore town is lovely.
My landlord, Bob, assured me no one would care about this massive pile in front of my house, a winter rental in a sleepy off-season. He said, “They know it’s me.” Bob is definitely the type of guy “they” know about. Also, to be clear, this stuff is his. Not mine.
I’ve seen a lot of Bob lately because a week ago, the power went out in my house. As usual, Bob attempted to fix it himself. This was admirable but ineffective. During his two days of not fixing the electric, the heat (gas baseboard) stopped working too. So he and several other odd-job types have been in and around the house day after day, and I work out of the house. And my work involves electricity and—in winter—heat.
I packed up for what I call “Traveling Office Day,” like I did the day before when Bob & Company decided to turn my yard into a Sanford and Son set, and hightailed it to my local for a hemp latte and free Wi-Fi.
After barely working for a few minutes, I drifted over to my favorite real estate site, aka middle-aged-lady porn. My lease is up at Bob’s in May.
I went to my umpteenth apartment showing, to meet an Austrian with a slew of renovated properties and cottages in Asbury Park. He hugged me last time I saw him, citing our “instant connection” from a conversation he thinks we had. I’d never spoken to him before, but I went with it.
We looked at a cottage that hadn’t been renovated yet; he said he sensed I was a creative thinker and could see past the wear and tear to get a huge place for little money.
The tenants were home: a large, multigenerational family who’ve been there for some years. Nice people but, my god, there was not only much to “see past,” but to “smell past,” a Cheeto-ey funk of cigarettes and dirty sheets.
As we maneuvered through cluttered rooms with filthy walls and broken floorboards, I was reminded of my twenty-something years on a crack block in North Philly. Big house with “good bones” and an obvious lack of security; I awoke one morning to find all my electronics and appliances removed through the kitchen window while I slept.
I resolved right then, in the basement, as I maneuvered between a stack of boxes and a folding table scattered with dominoes, to put a deposit on a remodeled beach bungalow I saw earlier in the week and bid Auf Wiedersehen to life on the fringes.
Then I headed over to a new fitness studio in the not yet gentrified part of town—uptown, or northwest Asbury. My clients (I handle their branding and marketing) were offering samples of their wares at its grand opening party; they’re young chefs just getting into the crowded meal-delivery game. The fitness studio is some kind of new concept in kickboxing. It’s a dark room with a colored strobe, lots of XL fonts and logos everywhere, and heavy on the cobalt blue. The branding feels established and franchise-y; the design is aggressive and very much in my face. My friend took a class there and said it was like a lonely rave.
The gangly, aggressively grinning owner mistook me for one of the chefs. I narrowly escaped a hug. His loud enthusiasm was repellent and, I guess, necessary. After all, he is reinventing kickboxing—apparently, there is more to it than foot-punching a heavy bag. I didn’t stick around to find out what the “more” was.
I made a quick stop at home to change for my volunteer shift at Jon Bon Jovi’s charitable restaurant—anyone can work for a meal, diners can contribute on top of the $20 tab to pay it forward for others to eat. And the food is really good! I enjoy volunteering here as a retired restaurateur; there’s nothing at stake, and I can show off my kitchen chops.
It was not to be. I drove a few blocks, and there was a horrific metal-on-metal sound coming from the front of my Subaru. What the fuck! I went around the block, and it seemed like it was getting louder. I was afraid to get on the highway, so I returned home amid screeching and swearing. I canceled my volunteer shift. Naturally, it was a Saturday evening, so no mechanic would be open till Monday.
I checked in with my good buddy Google, and wouldn’t you know, it was a common problem with Subarus—a pebble stuck in between the brake pad and the “dust screen.” Someone on Reddit suggested driving in reverse while wiggling the steering wheel and tapping the brakes. I imagined my nosy neighbors talking about it.
I tried it, but I couldn’t tell if it worked. The screeching had stopped, but I was still worried. I drove out to Main Street, and hallelujah, there was a guy at the gas station at the corner! I pulled in and explained what was happening. He mostly understood and took the Subaru for a spin. He came back and said, “It no making no sound. I no hear nothing.” I tried to explain the reverse wiggling. He just laughed at me. I laughed too.
When I got home, there was an Ichabod Crane-y dude rifling through the curbside trash. A mostly toothless woman came from my side yard cradling a rusty space heater. I said, “Take it all!” But their car was already pretty full. It looked like they lived in it.