Monday, May 12, 2008

joe mooney (part 1)

THERE IS A KIND OF COLD THAT EXISTS IN THE MIDWEST. I don’t believe that it exists elsewhere. That’s not to say it doesn’t get cold elsewhere--I know that it does. But I am from Wisconsin, and if you are also from Wisconsin, then you will know precisely what I am talking about. The rest of you have probably visited Door County, or you’ve been to a party in Madison, or you have a cousin in Fond du Lac, so you won’t know it precisely, but you’ll be able to imagine it.

First, you stand in your living room and you can see the cold. It makes everything look clearer, like the drive home from the eye doctor on the day you got contact lenses. But it’s a little scary. It presses its nose against the bay window and watches you wrap your scarf around your neck with mittened hands. As you step outside, it finds any uncovered skin. It crawls through the space between your mitten and your coat sleeve. It clings to the hairs in your nose when you breathe it in. It bites your ear. I do not associate this kind of cold with snow, but rather with ice. Snow cold is softer. Ice cold is harsh. Snow cold pushes you around. Ice cold slaps you in the face. And while this kind of cold is most prevalent during the winter months, it sometimes continues on into March, and occasionally into April. Sometimes this kind of cold sticks around for Easter, and on Easters when the ice cold comes to visit, I think of Joe Mooney.

Joe Mooney was a fat man who didn’t seem to mind, and he lived three doors down from me in a blue A-frame. I was in his house only once, but the house itself was pleasant enough. There were empty beer bottles here and there--he was a bachelor after all--but it was mostly well-kept. The only thing that really stood out to me was the pineapples. They were all over the wallpaper, and I think there were pineapple-shaped soaps in the bathroom. On the kitchen counter was a pineapple cookie jar filled with Double Stuf Oreos. Other than the pineapples, Joe Mooney’s house was unremarkable.

Unremarkable. The word is a fitting descriptor not only of Joe Mooney’s house but of the man himself. He was the kind of neighbor that is easy to ignore, a quality I appreciated. I moved into my brick ranch on Beckman Avenue in the spring of 1993. Four years later, I was deeply familiar with the habits and eccentricities of my neighbors, but the same could hardly be said of my acquaintances with the people themselves. I knew that the fellow in 444 mowed his lawn at 7 a.m. every Sunday, but I couldn’t have told you his name. I knew that the kids across the street were named Emma and Jason--as in, “Jason, leave Emma alone!”--but for all I knew, they could have been anywhere from five to fourteen. I knew that Elaine, the single mother on the corner, had a butterfly tattoo on her lower back, but to this day I couldn’t tell you why she’s single. I was an observer on Beckman Avenue, and I preferred it that way--still do. I am a loner by nature and by choice. I am active in my church, friendly with my co-workers, and close with all three of my brothers, but on my own time, I am happiest frying a steak and washing it down with a Sierra Nevada while I sit on the porch listening to the Brewers. I suppose that I too am unremarkable.

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