Neighbours

I live next door to a crackhouse.
Maybe I’m exaggerating just a little, but my next door neighbour is a crackhead.
He doesn’t own the house and he’s persona non grata there now, but make no mistake, he has been my neighbour for over four years. Not that there’s anything wrong with him, other than his addiction to crack cocaine, which brings on shouted outbursts of profanity, insults and threatened violence. Hey, we all have our quirks. How many consecutive nights now have I sat in my basement, alone with my beloved big-screen t.v., while I service my springtime addiction to N.H.L. hockey playoffs ?
So I’m not here to judge . Decades of observing our times becoming kinder and gentler have made me as soft as a plush toy in a newborn’s crib. Some of the other neighbours may not like the pounding on the front door at 6:30 a.m., the yelling and the inevitable arrival of at least two police cruisers shortly afterwards, but I don’t mind having my sleep being disturbed. Unlike some of my working neighbours I can catch a nap later in the day. And what goes on next door replaces more time spent in front of the television, watching manufactured drama. With my aching knees holding me back from some of my old activities, sometimes the only excitement an old man gets now is the vicarious variety.
Mark the Crackhead is in his early fifties. We are always friendly towards each other, and I’ve had quite a few conversations with the man. I’ve never asked him anything about his life story. John has filled me in a little on that subject, but with none of the sordid details. John is one of the two house owners, and it’s not his fault that Mark lives there. What happened is that his friend and the other owner of the house, Chris, ran into Mark downtown one evening in the vestibule of an office building while both were escaping a drenching downpour. Chris is from the Maritimes and an empathetic soul when it comes to those down on their luck. He invited Mark back to the house for the evening to partake of a square meal and to get cleaned up and Mark must have misunderstood the part of it being for one night. Some of you may have unemployed brothers-in-law who also have the same hearing problem.
Our family is good friends with John. He looks after our house when we are gone on one of our extended trips, and the courtesy is reciprocated. And even Mark has never been much of a problem, at least towards us. Sure, he’s chronically under-funded and sometimes approaches me with the request for a small loan in order to buy a submarine sandwich. You can’t fool me, however. If I ever do lend him anything, I’m always careful to advise him to get something with vegetables in it. He looks awful pale. Stay away from McDonald’s, I tell him. That place will kill ‘ya.
So, the thing is, after more than four years, Mark has become less welcome than a family of raccoons in the attic. And a darn sight harder to get rid of, I tell you. Hence the early morning greetings and goodbyes on the front lawn, with the police invited out as the bouncer. The last time I saw Mark was three days ago, as I was chatting with some neighbours who were strolling by on our tree-lined street. Mark drifted into the driveway on his bicycle. We greeted each other with big smiles like those two guys in the car commercial on t.v. who go through the motions of neighbourly chuminess. “Hi Phil.”
“Hi Steve.” Then when Phil disappears into the house, Steve drenches his new car with a soaking from the hose. Mark banged loudly on the front door. There was no response. After four years, John and Chris may be catching on as to how to rid themselves of an unwelcome pest. And with witnesses just a few yards away, Mark was behaving himself. He didn’t smash the window as he had done a few days previously. Instead he only picked up the garbage and recycling and calmly spread it all over the front verandah. Then he got on his bike and rode out of the driveway. “See ya, Dave.”
“See ya, Mark,” was all we said to each other. My strolling neighbours had interrupted their chat momentarily, stupefied as to what had just happened. I just looked over and winked, as if to say, that’s how we roll in the shire.

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