9 - Chic with Cane at the Plum Street Pub, New Brunswick

My bandmate leaned in and whispered, “You know, they are calling you ‘the hot chic with the cane’”. He was referring to the members of a Midwestern noise band on the bill we were also playing. My mouth twisted. “Oh,” I said. I thought, “Ugh!” and “Great!” simultaneously.

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Good Night in Philadelphia

A cup of tea after good night's sleep on the morning of our first hard frost of 2009, November 11, 2009, Sourland Mountain

When we lived in Philadelphia and New York, we turned on a fan every night before retiring. In the summer we faced the fan towards the bed. In winter, we faced the fan away. It hardly helped to cool off a first floor Queens apartment or a third floor walk up in Philly.

It did help deaden the noise. Somewhat.

The sprawling family cackles on their porch all night. A fight between two lovers. A woman on the roof of the porch, wears a t-shirt and underwear, shakes a brush at the man standing in the middle of the street. "Get back here, you p***y!" she yells. A fight amongst the entire clan. A child yells, "Grandma, don't!" Folding chairs are thrown across the porch. Hair extensions on the sidewalk. Grandma, in her black burka, gestures like a opera singer in the street.

Other neighbors have pitbulls and dreary eyes with red circles below. Cocaine? Heroin? They play video games and electronic music through an immense sound system, including subwoofers. Not even foam ear plugs deaden the sound - actually a rumbling feeling. We bang on the door at 2 AM. "Turn it down. I have to work. I'm a teacher." "OK. Here's my number. Call if it's a problem again." He offers his hand to shake, and I shake his hand off because he holds on too long. We call the next night, 2 AM. No answer. Call again. I hear him scream. He picks up and calmly says "Hello?" "Can you turn it down?"

There's an animal scream from the street below. We wake with constricted hearts and crawl to the window. "Get back," he pushes me from the window. For me, duck means look. I come forward again. "Get back. It's our downstairs neighbor beating a woman. He has her against our van." I call 911, and we listen to the animal fighting. 911 is a good invention, but who the hell wants to speak louder when you are afraid your downstairs neighbor will scale the porch and beat you, too?

There's an animal wail from the street below. A kitten is mewing from the wheel well of our neighbor's car. We shine a flashlight behind the tire and try to coax him with food. We tire of hunching by the car, blacktop is imprinted on our knees and palms. We call an animal shelter. "Can't do it. Private property." "It's on the street." "Nope, it's up in the car. Private property. Talk to the vehicle's owner." We are awoken hourly by the cat. Mid-morning we observe a shirtless man is prodding the wheel well with a curtain rod. "Yep. Heard it all night," he slurs.