Saturday, May 19, 2012


It was a Fuzzy sort of night last night.

I grew up on a block that had a common driveway running down the middle.  All of the blocks in my neighborhood did.  It was years before I discovered that this wasn’t standard practice, and I still feel a bit sorry for neighborhoods where it isn’t.

For those of you who did not have this experience, a common driveway is just a bigger version of an alley, one that you can drive down instead of being just big enough for pedestrian traffic.  Ours bisected our block the long way, and everybody’s garage pointed toward it rather than toward the street.  At either end all you had to do was cross the street and you’d be on the neighboring block’s common driveway, so you could travel for quite a ways without being on a public street.  It was tailor-made for a neighborhood full of kids, since the only traffic on it was people heading to or from home.

You knew the cars, though you didn’t necessarily know where they were headed since we tended to sell them up and down the block.  For a while we owned a red 1969 Nova that had originally belonged to a family a few doors up and across the driveway, and our mammoth 1964 Chevy Malibu – a car that could comfortably sleep six – made a stop at our next-door neighbor’s driveway for a few years before he sold it to some college kid.  It’s still on the road somewhere, as far as I know.

You got to know the people on the driveway.

At one end – not the very end, but close to it – there was a guy who drove a big steel-grey truck.  He was short, squat and curly-haired, and he died in a robbery.  Someone wanted his truck.  Eventually that house ended up in the hands of a family that had fled the Iron Curtain – the dad was an animator whose biggest claim to fame as far as us neighborhood kids was concerned was a commercial he made for a local potato chip company, and his son became a good friend of my brother’s while we lived there. 

At the other end was The Mean Old Man, whose name I never did learn.  He owned the corner property, and had what was for our neighborhood a vast open lawn that we were never allowed to set foot upon.  The driveway sloped sharply upward in the last twenty feet or so, and The Mean Old Man had a large grey stone right there at the top of the hill, one pace from the driveway, that we would routinely get yelled at for sitting on.

In between there were all sorts of people.  There was a friendly lady and her meticulously maintained flower garden, complete with rock path.  A couple of doors down was my friend Matthew, whose dad had a powder blue 1965 Mustang that he loved like another son.  On the other side of the block was a strange old lady who was nice to me and my friend Chris in ways that made my parents profoundly anxious, though nothing untoward ever came of it.  And so on.  It was a nice block to grow up on.

There were also animals.  All sorts of animals.  Including Fuzzy.

Fuzzy was the bane of my grandmother’s existence.

He was a large hairy dog – a keeshond, I think – who belonged to the neighbors across the driveway and down a house or two.  Fuzzy had all of the native intelligence of a week-old donut, and was about as well socialized.

He barked.  Constantly. 

Yap yap yap yap yap yap yap yap yap yap yap.  Yap.  Yap yap yap yap yap yap yap yap yap.  Yap yap yap yap yap yap yap yap yap yap yap yap.  Yap yap.  Yap yap yap yap yap.


This was, it must be admitted, annoying.  That same family had a much bigger dog named Johnny – some kind of cross between a German Shepherd and a mastadon – and we all liked Johnny.  We kept rooting for him to eat Fuzzy someday, but it never happened.  Life is full of disappointments.

My grandmother was home during the day, so she got to listen to Fuzzy all day, and it just made her crazy.  She’d call that dog names that were so far beyond obscenity that they came out the other side into art.  I learned a lot about the power of language from my grandmother.

Right behind us, across the driveway and bordering onto Fuzzy’s property, was Mr. Anderson, a friendly white-haired man who was the chief of the local volunteer fire company for years and whose speech patterns retained the rhythms and sounds of his native Sweden.

“Fiffty dawllars anyboty shoot dat damn dog!” he’d shout from his back door.

Many was the time I saw my grandmother reaching for her checkbook to add to the pot.

I don’t remember whether we moved away first or Fuzzy did, but eventually it all got resolved.  To my knowledge Mr. Anderson never had to pay up.  He would have, though.  He was an honorable man that way.

Somewhere on our block this spring, someone bought a new dog.  They’ve probably named it Fuzzy.  It’s been out a lot this week.

And sometime this summer, I can just tell I am going to go to my back door and practice my Swedish accent.


Dr. Phil (Physics) said...

We had a two-tone blue (dark roof) 1964 Malibu Chevelle. Great car. My seat was left side rear. There were two sets of stitching where the fabric met the vinyl strip in the middle of the rear bench seat -- this was the DMZ between my side and Wendy's side. The glove compartment held this little green journal book my father recorded all gas and maintenance info, plus a bag of either Kraft Caramels or Fudgies, plus a round tin of hard fruit flavored candies.

My grandparents lived in a trailer park, so there was an off-street street, too. Good memories.

Dr. Phil

Katherine McKay said...

Ah, the '64 Malibu! It was the ideal car for someone who could never find the car keys (that would be me). You had only to lean on the ignition and that car fired right up. It could hold ten bags of groceries and two arm-wrestling sons with room to spare. I always figured anybody who would steal that car had to be harder up than we were then, and they were welcome to it.

John the Scientist said...

You reminded me of two quotes from "A Christmas Story":

In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.

Now, I had heard that word at least ten times a day from my old man. He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master.

David said...

Those quotes just about killed me when I saw that movie the first time. They made me miss my grandmother, yes they did. :)