As is my habit before going up for the night, I peeked out the front door. On bad nights I may see the neighbors across the street (the ones we don’t get along with) out on their front porch having an argument. On calmer nights it’s just the guy, talking on his cell phone to someone and having a conversation where every other word is “fuck” or “fuckin.’” Lately, it’s been quiet, though, and after I peeked through the front door window, I immediately turned away. Then I did a double take and looked back because I thought I saw something, and when I did there it was—a beat up looking Playmate cooler. What the hell is that doing there? I thought. Being tired, I was about to just leave it for the morning, but my curiosity wouldn’t let me. I opened the door to check it out.
After fiddling with the handle a bit, I got it open, and at the top was a big bag of potato chips. When I pulled that out, I saw a plastic mug from a convenience store, some crackers, and then, below that, a banana. At the bottom were a couple of blue ice packs. I thought that maybe Linda, our next door neighbor, had given it to us. Now and then she’ll drop off miscellaneous treats or sometimes hand-me-downs for Julien. But then I saw a pack of Marlboro Menthols. Linda knows we don’t smoke and would just keep a spare pack of cigarettes for herself, since she does smoke.
Knowing that the neighbors right across the street from us would never leave us anything—and that it was unlikely that any of our other neighbors would leave this for us, I figured out that someone just had the wrong house, and these chips, crackers, banana, drinking mug, and Marlboro Menthols were meant for someone other than us.
I pushed the cooler to the side of the porch and was about to go back in again when I noticed a plastic paint bucket next to the Dutch gnome that guards the front door of our house. The gnome, a gift from our friends Bart and Nina in the Netherlands, has been guarding the front door of the various apartments and houses where Heather and I have lived ever since we were married. The gnome used to have a fishing pole, but that broke off a number of years ago. Tonight, though, with the bucket placed right in front of him, the gnome had something new to behold, because inside the bucket, under a now melted bag of ice, were several loose cans of Bud Light.
I know, Bud Light could hardly be the gnome’s beer of choice. But, after going for years without his fishing pole, even the bucket of Bud Light must have looked good to him. It was late, and I was tired, but I could have sworn that there was a look of delight on the gnome’s face—a look that hadn’t been there for years. So I went in, got my camera, and took this picture of it.
Then I went back inside. I’d had some coffee late this evening to wake me up enough so I could get some work done, so although I was tired I wasn’t anywhere near being ready to sleep. So I sat down at my desk and thought about the chips, the crackers, the cigarettes, and those cans of Bud Light.
And now I’m wondering if when I wake up in the morning, I’ll open the front door to see an empty bag of chips, cracker crumbs, cigarette butts, and several empty cans of Bud Light. Evidence of the gnome having had a little party. And then it occurs to me that maybe these things weren’t left at the wrong house at all. That, indeed, they were left here, on purpose, for the gnome.
And after I walk up the stairs and go to bed, that’s what I’ll be listening for. The sound of the gnome pulling open a bag of potato chips, munching on some crackers, cracking open a can of beer, and then lighting up a cigarette or two. I’ll also be waiting to see if I catch a whiff of the cigarette smoke. Maybe I’ll catch it right before I finally drift off to sleep—that scent of cigarettes, cheap beer, and cheap food. Just like in the old days, when I was young and hungry. Hungry not for the better things in life, but just for life, in whatever shape it came in.
Photo by Jose Padua