J’s dominance over the deck is a sight to behold. In the mornings he dashes around completing his chores (and supervising ours) while compelling the sun to move away from his favorite perch so he can take himself outdoors. Coffee is consumed in a hurry…yes, he’s that much of a taskmaster…and we want nothing more than to drag the sun a little more to the right so that the young man with the blue iPod can park himself under the patio umbrella.
I found a picture of two chairs, a table and a patio umbrella and laminated it for him. It’s the first thing he wants to put on the schedule board, followed by the PECS for his iPod. I can schedule anything I want as long as outdoor time is scheduled too. My plan has succeeded beyond even my wildest expectations and I wonder if, at any given moment, he might entertain the idea of camping out there overnight.
The one glitch in our peace and quiet is J’s music. Oh, J’s music. J has grown fond of artists that have never really enjoyed Top 40 fame. J.D. Souther has not had this much airplay since…whenever it was that he last had airplay in anything other than the soft-rock or Adult Contemporary stations. According to his Wikipedia page, the song Go Ahead and Rain peaked at 104 in the US charts 28 years ago. I remember this…I remember it every single time J starts the song over, which today numbers more than forty times. Any minute now he will find a way to locate music by Haircut One Hundred or Kajagoogoo and play it so often that the neighbors will write up and have signed a petition to ask us to stomp on J’s iPod or, if we are unwilling to give in, have us all pack up and move far, far away.
The only thing we can think to do is go out there and tell him to turn the volume down. He does. J’s good about that, but he will slowly raise the volume again…until we once more realize that the rattling at the base of our spines is the repetitive playing of the same annoying, mind-grating song at a louder volume. We’ve considered headphones, but we’ve realized that a) we would have to monitor the volume of the iPod dock very closely, b) he knows how to fix the Volume Control feature on the iPod and c) he would be able to tune us out and that’s not a good thing.
Our one saving grace is that people here don’t seem to use their patios at all. We are the only ones who regularly step outside, who have plants and a seating area, who hang out where the sun and air are not filtered by…well…windows, screens and actual air conditioner filters. We cook outside; we drink coffee outside; we lounge and read. We have a rather active garden, and we enjoy the spaces that jut out of our indoor living spaces. An afternoon walk last week revealed to me that other balconies are empty and other outdoor common areas are littered with cigarette butts. I wonder what other people think about us, outdoor dwellers…
Every evening, after dinner, we pour out of our back door to inspect the vegetation we care for with such delight. We look at the peas, the zucchini, the squash and wax poetic about how tasty they will be prepared in this or that way. We guide the morning glories up the stakes we’ve rigged for them, and we sing the praises of the herbs. The dill weed is calling out to some codfish we have in the freezer, and we are itching to put it on the menu for this week. We go through this routine, happily chatting about this, that and the other while inserting comments about tomatoes and peppers, as people walk past with their dogs and cell phones, completely oblivious to the possibility of growing things in a space that they’re paying for. We must seem odd to them, we suppose. Even J, who is usually completely unaware of the differences between us and others, has stepped onto the lawn, walked down the slope and looked up to our balconies and then to neighboring balconies. Ours, with umbrella, window boxes, planters, flowers, wind chimes, cushions and watering cans, looks like Gypsy Rose Lee compared to the other, plainer ones.
It’s not that we’re completely committed to growing our own food. It’s not even that we find the prices at the store absurd. We pay rent for those outdoor spaces, and we want to make sure we savor them. J gets involved in watering the plants, looking for pesky caterpillars that might be chomping on leaves and marring tomatoes, watching things grow and comparing this week to the last one. J sees all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, invested in those spaces that seem not nude, but rather naked, in the other units. On Friday I ordered a kit for growing bean sprouts; when I told J he started jumping around, not because he LIKES bean sprouts but because -I suppose- he sees another task to complete each week. Tomorrow we will walk to the mailbox to pick up the package, and J will get to carry it home and open it. If that’s not an event, I don’t know what is.
Now, my friends, the hippie on the deck beckons. He has decided that the slightly overcast afternoon deserves a vigorous round of Rob Thomas’ Streetcorner Symphony to animate the vegetation; Rob Thomas is big around these parts…he often interjects with the right song to fit a situation perfectly. On very rainy days he plays Edith Piaf for them (Non, je ne regrette rien,) on sunny days he will use Joe Cocker’s version of You Can Leave Your Hat On. On misty mornings, when the sun is trying to break through the clouds, he summons Cowboy Junkies so they can perform Anniversary Song or Ray LaMontagne’s You Are The Best Thing. The rest of the time he just focuses on giving an artist with not enough airplay or fame what he thinks is their fair share of attention.
Hey…the garden grows…J the hippie probably knows what he’s doing…