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Avoiding the Mayor

Angela Townsend


his is why I don’t talk to you, Roy.

It’s not that you asked for my hair the first time you met me. This is admittedly an unconventional way to welcome your new downstairs neighbor, but I have long been a harbor for the odd. You asked that, should I ever lop my locks, I entrust the leavings to you. In the variegated landscape of my life, this was not even a top-20 moment of farce.

It’s not that you study the stickers on my Subaru. To festoon one’s chariot with public declarations is to invite commentary, so you’re only responding to my public service announcements. Yes, Vassar. Yes, really. Yes, “Love God and Love People.” Yes, that is simple and difficult. Yes, WXPN is the finest radio station north of the Mason-Dixon line. Your blueberry-pie eyes glisten with spirits, with hints that we are kindred spirits.

It’s not that you smoke ceaselessly from above, dropping fireballs that burn holes on my balcony. You have been here over forty years, and your habits are as old as your fixation on Florida. “Did you hear that someone got shot in Miami?” you yell down the stairs. “Did you hear about the bad apples on Daytona Beach? Do you like the Tampa Bay Rays? Do you have an Amazon Fire Stick?”

It’s not that you clamor for my kindness, then cover it in Mod Podge and craft grotesque ornaments. “You got the diabetes, right? Does that mean you can’t have much sex? That’s what my gal told me. But I can’t have sex because of my prostrate anyway.”

It’s not that you and your “prostrate” and the gallon jug of amber liquid that you tote back and forth across the parking lot are perpetually prostrate, brimming with tears that are not tears, craving in all directions.

It’s not that the schizophrenic woman downstairs, the one who liked me, the one who was removed three months after I moved in, told me with clarion confidence that you were “a spy, like Nixon.”

It’s not that you fancy yourself the mayor of our languid condos, alert and akimbo on the third floor in your orange-striped shirts. When you are out of your cups, you miss nothing, which is a certain comfort. You invent atrocities—car theft at Building 2, unsavory characters gathering like a storm. But I have learned to separate the manticores from the manatees, the loneliness from the late-breaking news.

It’s not that you feed the tame squirrels, dozens strong and daunted by neither human nor Honda nor hairy old mayor. I would never tell you this, but your squirrel care is my favorite thing about you. The execution is as odd as your limestoned face—one day a pyramid of vegan hot dogs, the next a bucket of pretzel nuggets—but your intention is admirable. Besides, I have long been a harbor for the odd.

But my waves churn when you come my way, Roy.

As a creature who fancies herself a collage of compassion and calico, I have guilt over this. Breakers and rollers of regret crash over me every time I scurry inside, pretending not to see you up there. You want to talk about Florida. You want to talk about Wheel of Fortune. You want to spin your wheels until you hear your baggy voice truly heard by other ears.

I want to be here for you.

But I live here, and you lean in, and I don’t feel at home.

It’s that you tell me tirelessly that we are doomed, a brittle John the Baptist who has long stopped looking for the One to come. Society is in free fall. There will be tornadoes tonight, and we will lose power for days. We are getting older, even me, and someday I will get sick, real sick, and at the end of each day we are all alone. Soon none of us will be able to afford spinach. Did I hear that Florida will probably snap off like a Slim Jim and sink into the sea?

I’ve spent a lifetime building my dinghy, Roy. I have heard the dark rumors, seen the sea maps that go black at the edge of the abyss. I have spent salty decades installing deck prisms, so even the deep downstairs has light. I have spied out hope’s coves. The anchor holds. I cannot hold my peace when you throw fireballs at the sails.

I will throw you life preservers and rafts. I will gaze up at you with all the grace my eyes can muster. I will thank God for your secret heart and ask God to ease your roiling.

Maybe I am too self-protective. Maybe the day will come when I feel so much at home, not even a sodden eighty-year-old who wants my hair can stunt my selflessness. Maybe the squirrels will tell me gentle truths about you, and my harbor will open. But sometimes, Roy, I just can’t talk to you.


Angela Townsend