Why the Neighbors Don’t Need TV

| March 16, 2013

The fact is, our neighbors are old. Not that we don’t have a few people close to our age on the block, but a good deal of the neighborhood has been living here for the better part of 70 years. They’re all quite nice and helpful. The little old lady from right across the street took my arm when I wasn’t understanding her, and guided me across the street to show me that somehow my trash can had made it over there. My next door neighbor once waited to let me know it was yellow trash day (I felt awful, as I’d been sitting in the car reviewing facebook—who knows how long he’d been waiting). He’s not an old-timer–he’s working age–but he works from his home vacuum repair shop, so he, like everyone else, has all day to observe the American whackadoodle next door.

And they couldn’t be more concerned about our electric bill. On the very first morning that we woke up in the house, an old man tried to tell me we’d left the front light on all night. It was but the first of many reminders. The front light. The living room lights. The Christmas tree lights. Lights on during the day, lights on overnight. Our neighbor once asked his English-proficient friend to let me know I was leaving a light on all day, because clearly I wasn’t understanding.

In return for their lookin’ out, they are saving on their own electric bill, as they no longer need television. They have their windows.

IMG_1086 The old lady across the street need only look out her front window to see me dash past in my pajamas in pursuit of Flash. Or, like today, in regular jeans and a shirt. At least I now know enough German now for it to go down like this, auf Deutsch:

-Sequoia yelling “Flash!” over fence. Me running up the road, whistling and yelling, “Flash!”. Old woman yelling to her husband to find out what’s wrong.

-Me telling him in German: “my dog- the gate was open”. Him telling me he didn’t see him.

-Me sprinting around the corner yelling “Flash!” and whistling. Me returning, man looking quizzically at me, me saying he wasn’t there. Him saying he hasn’t seen him, me saying I’ll search by car.

-Me getting in car. Man hobbling up the street, then yelling something to his wife. Woman motioning to me as I’m backing out; she’s yelling “He’s coming! He’s coming!”

-Me getting out of running car. Flash is just trotting along up the pavement, sees me, picks up the pace. Woman happy about our reunion.

-Me: “I was” (I gesture, indicating fear/indigestion/a case of the fantods), “because, all the cars always on this street.” Her telling me at least it was today and not a school day with all the kids driving up and down the street, in their fast cars. Her more thrilled by the minute to see Flash and Sequoia reunited. Then, watching me deal with the fact that I can’t let go of Flash because my running car is in the middle of the gate, so I can’t close it. Get in the car with Flash on lap, door still open, inch up a few feet, car door smacking the bushes, carry Flash to gate, close gate, let Flash go.

As for this gate, it has been the center of attention more than a few times since our arrival on the street. Starting with the very first day I showed up with boxes to move in. I unlocked the gate with the key, but could not get the thing to open. The neighbor on one side, after quite some effort but no success, buzzed and buzzed and then yelled rather effectively for my neighbor on the other side. He came, introduced himself, and showed me how to bump and lift and push.

When the gate swings open, each side latches into a large metal clasp protruding from the ground. The metal is camouflaged by the stone driveway. After I tripped over the one beside the pedestrian gate multiple times, then watched some of our unsuspecting guests do so, I placed a bright yellow soccer goal disk around it. I trip much less frequently now. On that.

I do, however, trip on our own front doormat—more often than one should. And I don’t mean just stumble a few inches and recover. I fly a few feet and swear, barely miss crashing headfirst into the car, limp around to the driver’s seat, curse a little more, and leave. And since we have beautiful marble steps, the neighbors have the pleasure of watching a Tom and Jerry-worthy slip and fall on ice and snow however many times a week we have not salted the steps, or a dance that looks like I’m trying to avoid tripping a cartoon bank alarm if we have salted, as I attempt to step on salt lumps. Some of those marble step spills result in me yelping or crying out “Help!” and hobbling back into the house, mangled, bruised, and wet. There’s a daily game of Twister going on the driveway, between me, myself, and I. No one is winning.

Our gate has been jumped; it’s a wonder the police didn’t show up. When we invited friends over at Thanksgiving, one family wasn’t sure when they’d be arriving, so we didn’t hold dinner. We were eating back in the Wintergarten. We neglected to leave a note on the front door, so when they all arrived, they rang the bell and knocked, waited, and were finding no one home. Unfortunately, the pedestrian gate had shut—and automatically locked—behind them. These people were locked in our driveway. Man, woman, toddler. The guy had to wait for people out for an evening stroll to pass, then he hopped the gate to get a phone number out of the car to call someone else who was eating here. I of course came immediately running out of the Wintergarten in no shoes to collect the family stuck in our driveway. Fortunately, they still talk to us.

This is reminiscent of the time I went sprinting into the Wintergarten at 8:00 at night when we only had one house key (Paul had broken the other in the front door). We were walking home from dinner and I urgently had to go to the bathroom. I rushed ahead, forgetting I didn’t have the front door key. Fortunately, the Wintergarten key is different and there is a bathroom inside. So here I come tearing into the driveway and sprinting into the Wintergarten; followed a few minutes later by Paul and Sequoia moseying on down the street and into the driveway and the house like normal people. I then calmly walk from the Wintergarten to the house as if there is nothing awry at the Martindales.

Friends aren’t the only ones who have jumped the gate. Our poor little realtor did one night when the doorbell wasn’t turned on, when we first moved in. We were surprised that evening to hear banging on the front door. Once the doorbell was working, it took me quite some time to grasp the relationship between the doorbell, the intercom, the buzzer, the gate, and the door.

Phase 1: Someone would ring the doorbell, Flash would go nuts, I’d be yelling at him and answering the intercom, I’d decipher absolutely nothing that the caller said in Deutsch, I’d run outside in my socks, I’d forget the key to the pedestrian gate, I’d run back to the house, I’d get the key, I’d run back out and let them in.

Phase 2: Someone would ring the doorbell, Flash would go nuts, I’d be yelling at him and answering the intercom, I’d hit what I thought was a buzzer, I’d go to the front door and wonder where the person was, I’d look out and see them still standing at a locked gate, I’d run outside in my socks and, having remembered the key, I’d let them in.

Phase 3: Someone would ring the doorbell, Flash would go nuts, I’d be yelling at him and answering the intercom, I’d immediately say “Ish komme”, I’d run outside in my socks or slipper boots (yes, it’s cold weather and I still don’t know how to use the freaking door), and I’d open the gate.

  • Now, one day my landlord shows up and I say “Ish komme” and he says, “Eh, Kari…” and proceeds to explain the buzzer. Only, I still don’t get it. He’s telling me about a mark on the button. There is no mark. He says he’ll explain when he gets inside. I run outside and let him in. I am relieved when he sees that the button’s symbol is worn off—I look slightly less inept. When Paul comes home, I show off and test out my new skills. To Paul, who knew this all along. Paul then teaches me that the buzzer also works for the freaking front door.

Phase 4: Someone would ring the doorbell, Flash would go nuts, I’d be yelling at him and answering the intercom. I’d successfully buzz the person to the front door.

Baby steps.

Speaking of steps, the neighbors might be wondering if I’m running low on shoes. They might also wonder if I’m running low on day clothes, as they’ve seen me in my pajamas on more than just the occasion of chasing Flash down the street. They’ve seen me sprint toward the garbage man in pajamas and wet socks. They’ve seen me run from fireworks in a nightie and fleece blanket that barely covered my derriere. The neighbor directly across the front door could have been awake the morning I answered the door to Paul, who had locked himself out before leaving for work. In retrospect, I desperately hope I was wearing pajamas that morning.

At least I was wearing clothes and shoes when I dived full-body into our nearly-empty 4’ high Papier recycle can in search of a tax receipt envelope. Speaking of cardboard…when we moved in, the moving company said they’d return to pick up all the cardboard boxes once we’d unpacked. When we were ready, I called to arrange for pickup. We piled boxes up all along the front fence line. The movers never came. I called that afternoon and asked what was up. They promised to come the next day. Meanwhile, my landlord called wondering what the deal was, hinting with concern that perhaps I’d kicked Paul out. But we actually met quite a few people on the block, all of whom needed boxes. Unfortunately, some rang the buzzer to inquire, bringing on Phase 1 in the door answering process. One old woman reached Paul, then ended up tugging him down the street to meet her daughter, who spoke English. Paul was carrying a beer and was in: bare feet.

You know what they’re thinking: “Hans, someone should buy those poor Americans some shoes.”

When the pond ran low on water after Paul accidentally left the fountain running, we needed to make sure that the cause was overflow from the fountain being left on, and not a leak in the lining. We therefore needed to fill the pond back up. We had unhooked the faucet from the well pump for the winter, so we needed to use the hose. Paul had to fly to California in December just as this needed to be accomplished. I tried to hook up the hose, but I of course had issues with turning the faucet back on. Since the landlords would be coming within a few days to check on the pond, I schlepped back and forth between the Wintergarten sink and the pond with a pair of ice buckets from the bar, raising the water level enough to test the pond until Paul could return and help with the hose. So basically a scene out of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, without the luxury of a broomstick following. Just a dog following me back and forth and Sequoia yelling every time the sink was filling up because I’d left the water on. Thankfully, the neighbors don’t understand enough English to realize that my wasteful utility habits were spilling over to water usage.

Probably the most frustrating thing for any German to watch me do is enter and exit my driveway (although I’m getting better, really). We live on a narrow street that allows parking on one side, including right up to our gate entrance on one side and the gate next to ours on the other side. In order to enter my driveway, I must turn sharply while beeps and lights go off inside the car to indicate that I am going to hit something in no fewer than 3 different locations at once. If a car is coming toward me just as I am approaching my house, I participate in an exchange that usually involves:

-Sequoia asking, “Why are you yelling, ‘No no no no no’?”

-Me waving my hands wildly, to show the person that I need to turn into the driveway entrance that he’s starting to swerve into to give me right of way

-Sequoia asking, “Why are you doing that?”

-Me driving onto the sidewalk

-Other driver squeezing between me and car parked on left

-Me turning into driveway, reminding Sequoia how much I hate turning into our driveway; turning off engine and reminiscing about wider roads

When I must exit my driveway, I back toward the road and stop before the sidewalk. I check about 8 times before crossing over the sidewalk, because we live on a street that receives a good deal of foot and bike traffic and we have a column blocking my view on one side. I then stop and back only a few feet into the road so that I can see if any cars are approaching, with parked cars blocking my view in both directions. I then try to back out in one to two moves. One is a good day. Three can happen on a day when some jackass is parked too close on either side of the driveway, and a guy goes down the road and seems like he’s clear, but then he does a U-Turn and now he’s sitting behind me as I’m trying to back out, and an oncoming geezer seethes as he watches. And then the same geezer happens to be coming the next morning, and he really, really seethes.

We are now up to twice that the neighbors have seen me arrive home and inspect my side view mirror for damage. I’m sure they’ve gained a lot of confidence in my driving skills. Granted, if they noticed my windshield wipers wiping my windshield even on sunny days for the first few weeks after I got the car, as I tried to figure out the controls, then they already had formed some opinions. We’ve also left the house and then returned and parked in the street for half an hour, taking turns running back and forth to look for our international drivers licenses. That day, our neighbor came to say hi, saw we were packed for a trip, said hi to Flash, and tactfully didn’t say a word about our license-search relay. Of course, one can only imagine what the neighbors were thinking the day I got just a few houses down the road before parking, running to the house, and returning to the car, the only change being that now I was wearing my glasses and could actually see.

They’ve seen me pull up with a giant Thule rooftop storage container hanging out of the back of the car, hatch open in the winter, my child asleep under the container, then drag the container out of the car by myself. Over Christmas, Paul put the container on the roof, took it back off…and then we proceeded to travel never once using it. I’m sure this choice of how to spend our money has kept them talking. And the car has continued to provide entertainment throughout the winter. There was the morning I got Sequoia ready for school and we went out to the car, only to discover that my door would not open. The handle was solidly frozen shut. It wouldn’t budge. I crawled across the front seats of the car to open it, got out, inspected the situation, accidentally closed the door, and was forced to crawl back across again. You can just picture the little old lady across the street peering out her window: “Is this Frau for real?” And when I was unloading the back of the car as snow and ice shot down the roof of the house and landed on the hatch of the car, causing it to bounce down and nearly decapitate me? You’ve gotta hope they’d call an ambulance for me when they stopped laughing.

One day, a woman was passing by as I was shoveling the walk. We spoke for a minute. She told me where she lived, but I wasn’t sure where her house was. She explained that she was around the corner and I could see it from the terrace. I’m going to take that to mean that she can see me. In fact, when my neighbor came to tell me that his invalid mother was coming to stay with him, my first thought was, “How’s her eyesight?”

It reminded me of the plaque that we found hanging in the Wintergarten when we arrived. In German, it says that God knows all, but the neighbors see all. Ain’t that the truth.

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Category: In Germany A Broad blog, Shits & Giggles

About the Author ()

Kari Martindale is a writer and ESL instructor. She’s visited all 50 states and 37 countries, including many of the big cities of Europe and a ton of Christmas Markets. She spends her days straddling the fence between a sense of adventure and a sense of dread. She is married to what is clearly a patient man and has a daughter who, frustratingly, is just like her. Her academic and professional backgrounds are in linguistics and foreign languages. When she's not teaching ESL, she's writing. When she's not writing, she's thinking about her next trip.

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