My parents are big believers in the American dream. Like most of their fellow believers, they have always equated home ownership with securing a tangible piece of that dream. Unfortunately, as a young deaf couple trying to support a family of six on my dad’s meager associate pastor’s salary, their housing options were limited to a few neighborhoods bordering some less-than-family-friendly areas of Rochester, New York. By the time I reached my tween years, I noticed that our neighborhood was transitioning, and not in an upward direction. Once lulled to sleep by the sounds of crickets chirping and birds warbling, the popping of stray gunfire and wailing of police sirens now drowned these hallmarks of nature out. Though I was largely oblivious to the economic implications of the changing landscape, I definitely noticed that my new neighbors were a lot more colorful than they used to be. When some new blood moved in on the other side of my house, I was eager to make a good first impression. Before I could introduce myself, however, one of my new neighbors beat me to the punch.
Late one afternoon, I arrived home from school and hurried upstairs to my room. I threw my book bag on my bed and pressed “play” on my newly acquired compact disc player. I grabbed my brush and began rapping along with my favorite Christian rap group, DC Talk. I was rhyming hard core when I heard a competing beat. After a brief pause, I mentally confirmed that yes, I definitely heard the beat of steel drums coming from somewhere outside. Curious, I stopped rapping, hit the pause button, walked over to my window and peered out. My eyes scanned to and fro and I tried to pinpoint the source of the music. Suddenly, I saw a flash of bare skin through an open window in our neighbor’s house just above my own. The window, like the others in the house, was not equipped with blinds, shades, curtains, or any other fabric intended to ensure privacy. As the music I heard earlier was seemingly coming from that direction, I kept my eyes trained on the window and was mortified to see that the flesh belonged to my neighbor, a mysterious thirty-something woman with a pack-a-day habit and tattoos covering seventy percent of her body. Unfortunately for me, her tattoos did not fully obscure the undulating parts of her chest and mid-section I saw next. Horrified, I immediately spun around and tried to collect my thoughts. My first thought was to tell someone. Someone important. Someone who could make sure no one else was subjected to the gag-inducing scene I had just witnessed. But who? After mentally scrolling through a list of candidates, I settled on the one person whom I knew would share my sense of righteous indignation: my mother (hereinafter referred to as “Syl”).
My shoulders now heavy with the important news I carried on them, I approached Syl in the kitchen and requested an audience. Syl obliged and I proceeded to relate in fast in furious hand gestures the subject of my moral outrage. Predictably, Syl was furious at my neighbor’s inexcusable indiscretion and sprung into action. Or, as I should say, we sprung into action.
Having discharged my whistle-blowing duties, I attempted to leave the room. But before I could get out of arm’s reach, I felt Syl’s hand tighten around my shoulder blade. Twisting my neck around to see what she wanted, Syl signed, “You’re not going anywhere. We’re nipping this problem in the bud RIGHT NOW.” Slowly I realized that she intended for me to be her mouthpiece. My stomach immediately dropped as I realized I would soon be charged with the unenviable task of confronting my naked neighbor. I begged her to drop a note in the neighbor’s mailbox or adopt some similarly non-confrontational course of action, but Syl demanded that we address the issue right then.
And so we marched out the back door, down our driveway, up our neighbor’s lawn and climbed her porch steps before stopping at her front door—a door that Syl proceeded to rapidly and determinedly beat with her fist. I tried to explain that custom dictated that one knock on another’s door no more than three times, but Syl had no use for such meaningless social conventions. After a few seconds passed without an answer, I grew hopeful that my slutty neighbor would not make an appearance and began my transparent and ultimately fruitless attempt to coax Syl off of the neighbor’s porch. I had just convinced Syl to take a step or two back when I heard the screen door hinges squeak and saw the main door open a crack. Before I could stop myself, I looked back, but then quickly tried to spin Syl around before she saw the door. Alas, I was too late. Syl marched back up to the door, excitedly motioning for me to follow. I slid my feet across the splintered wood porch at a glacial pace, eventually making eye contact with the slits glaring at me from the dark crevice between the screen door and doorjamb.
“Yes?” a husky female voice queried.
I dutifully signed “Yes?” to Syl and waited.
Syl proceeded, unleashing her silent fury. As she signed, I spoke, trying desperately to soften the blow, to bring a sort of diplomacy to the situation.
Syl signed: “You have no respect for us. I have two teenage sons. You need to either keep your clothes on or get some curtains!”
I said to the naked neighbor: “We’re your next-door neighbors. Welcome to the neighborhood! Nice house. Though it sure could use some curtains, don’t you think? They’d really add a lot to your home décor.”
Doubtless sensing the disconnect between Syl’s beet red face, foaming mouth, and wild gesticulations and my composed, flat affect, the neighbor opened the door to reveal the same scantily clad woman I’d seen earlier. At this point, though, she was (thankfully) at least sporting a silky robe, albeit one that hit mid-thigh.
“What’s this about?” my neighbor said this time, with a decidedly unkind tone and an angry eyebrow raised in my direction.
Syl looked at me. I looked at the neighbor.
Syl signed, “Did you tell her what I said?”
I, of course, lied and said “Yes.”
I then turned to the neighbor and hissed through gritted teeth, “For the love of God, get some curtains.”
The neighbor leaned forward, cupped her hand around one ear, and said, “Huh?”
Seeing this, Syl all but flew into a deaf rage as she construed the neighbor’s physical gesture as a form of mockery. Before Syl could cut her way through the neighbor’s screen door and stab her, however, I desperately blurted out, “SHE WANTS YOU TO KEEP YOUR CLOTHES ON!”
Unfazed, our tattooed neighbor said, “Tell your mother to get over it” as she shrugged her shoulders and slammed the door in our faces.
“That went well,” I cheerily signed to Syl.
“What did she say?” Syl asked. “Is she going to get curtains or what?”
“She didn’t say,” I responded truthfully, speed walking back to our house, effectively ending the conversation, and praying all the while that our neighbor would move. SOON.