Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Waiting for Juan

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My neighbors’ house burned down two Thanksgivings ago, and they are finally able to rebuild. Like ships and true love, their insurance money finally came in. Late is better than never, right?

Now, instead of living next to the scorched remains of an empty house, I’m living next to a construction site. I go outside in the morning to get my paper and wave at the construction guys parked up and down the street, early to the job, trying to catch a few extra winks before 7 a.m. when work begins. I go back inside and turn on the Easy Listening station as usual, my John Pizzarelli and Jackie Gleason quickly drowned out by buzz saws and jackhammers.

In the bad old days when I was short on patience, I might have marched over there and told them they were only allowed to work when I was running errands or going to campus, and they should keep an eye out for my garage door opening, my car backing out…my comings and goings. That would have been the only fair deal.

However, these are the good new days, and my enthusiasm about getting my neighbors back exceeds my displeasure with the noise, so I’ve kept my mouth shut. I will admit to asking everyone I know how long it takes for a house to come up from scratch, and praying about it at night: God, I want Juan and his family to move back in next door, and I want them to have a big new place to live, but I’m frustrated with all the noise. I’m sorry. God, how long does it take to build a house?

I’ve given up on cleaning because every day a cloud of dirt rises from Juan’s lot and settles on my house, caking the windows outside and seeping in through every crack, layering my possessions with a thick coat of dust. I look like a miner coming out of the shaft whenever I walk out the front door. I grit my teeth and there is actually grit in my teeth. Last night, as I killed yet another scorpion seeking refuge from the construction site—this one on the ceiling over my bed—I wondered again, How long will this go on?

Most of the men working construction over at Juan’s are Hispanic, and I can say for sure that they are not fans of Easy Listening music. No Chet Atkins for them, no James Galway. Instead, they like salsa music, which I enjoy too—when I’m at a Mexican restaurant, when I’m in Mexico, or when I simply want to toss my worries aside and get happy. However, when I’m working from home during the day, by definition I am not at a Mexican restaurant, I’m obviously not in Mexico, and it’s not time to be happy yet. Happy is for after work, not during work. Right?

For the first week of tear-down, salsa music, the sawing up of an enormous tree, salsa music, the sledge-hammering of tile that took Juan three months to install, salsa music, and the jack hammering of a work pit next to my Brazilian pepper tree, salsa music, I held my tongue. I bit my lip. I found a vise lying out front and put it on so my head would stop spinning around. Salsa music. Juan’s house is completely gone, so any sound coming from that area bounces off the remaining cinder block walls, creating the effect of an amphitheater. An amphitheater for salsa music.

Finally, I worked up my one remaining nerve and walked over one morning—crunch crunch over the gravel in my yard, careful steps around the work pit, wheelbarrows, and piles of logs. “Hola!” I called out.

“Hola!” the workmen chorused back.

“I’m the neighbor and the music is too loud!” I pointed at the blaring boom box. “Can you turn it down please?”

The men spoke to one another quickly in Spanish, and in a flash the volume was lowered.

“Sorry!” one man called out.

“That’s okay!” I called back, waving goodbye. “Thanks!”

In the evening, when the workers are gone and maybe I’m weeding out front next to Juan’s torpedoed yard, I might wander over to look at the site and check on progress. But I’m not schooled in matters of construction or extending foundations, so while I know it should look promising, all I see is a mess. I feel bad for the house and the shade tree that had to go; I don’t like that insurance companies take so long to deliver. I don’t like that I complained about the music. I feel like I should take a lesson from the construction guys and be all-around more upbeat. I’m working on that.

Ships and true love I can wait on, but I miss my neighbors, and I want them back. Their return will make me happy, and them happy, and then for sure we will raise the roof with music, a new and welcome home.


  1. You & the construction guys already have a respectful, functioning relationship, congratulations!

  2. A steady diet of that music all day long would drive me nuts as well.

    I'm so glad the construction guys complied with your request.

    Hang in there!

  3. And not a single word about any of your cats....

  4. We recently had lightning strike our house, causing much fun and excitement trying to move out and remodel with two small kids. I'm sure our neighbors totally loved us through that process.

    Amanda Hill