KENT GROSSWILER

The Good Neighbor

“What Is for Dinner Tonight?” — Sabrina Farley

It’s been a weird month, an even weirder week, and the fact that I overslept caused me to wake up way past the standard discomfort of my caffeine withdrawal. So the fact that my espresso machine chose this particular moment to be intentionally extra difficult has me on the verge of losing my shit. That’s right. I did say intentional, as in I’m pretty sure it’s acting this way on purpose. I don’t think that used to be the case. The Cuisinart EM-200 Programmable 15-Bar Espresso Maker made a damn fine, hassle-free, double shot upon purchase, which is saying a lot because I have a snobby palette. It wasn’t café quality, but it was a great little home machine for my budget and was as consistent and predictable as the sun coming up and going back down later in the day. That is, until about a month ago, when it started to malfunction occasionally. “No cause for alarm,” I thought. Stuff wears out and I’ve worked this thing pretty hard for a solid three years. When it dies I’ll just buy another.

Problem is, I’m endlessly curious and damn sure obsessive. This has been an asset for many of my creative pursuits but is now on the verge of costing me my sanity. The fierce wheel spinning I engage in when it comes to the volley of clicks and buzzes this thing emits before finally dispensing with my black gold liquid fix doesn’t fall within the bailiwick of assets. I’m a drummer. I know rhythms. About a month ago, I started noticing these little bouts of noises had certain patterns to them and these patterns weren’t always the same. I told my girlfriend, Donna, about all of this and asked her what she thought. Her response was, “You’re an an idiot,” so I asked my conspiracy theorist friend Franky who suggested maybe I get a Morse code book. Look, I know I do some idiotic shit sometimes, but I’m not an idiot. I’m self-aware enough to know how to ask the right questions to the right people to get the answers I want. I just need someone to properly cosign for me to do what I want, which in this case equals obsessing over my espresso machine being up to some type of treachery.

Learning Morse code was pretty easy. It was just quarter notes, half notes, and rests to me. What wasn’t easy was reading the first couple of deciphered messages: “Fuck you, human,” and “I’m going to kill your carbon-based ass.” After a week of those kinds of missives, it started clicking and beeping the lyrics to a Katy Perry song. I was really troubled by that. I shared my updates with Donna, who laughed and said, “How in the hell do you know the lyrics to ‘Teenage Dream’? You’re hilarious. Wait until Jo Anne”—Donna’s little sister—“hears about this.” Having sworn allegiance to Motorhead and Thin Lizzy from pretty much birth, I can see why she found this so funny.

“It’s a fucking catchy song,” I yelled from the porch as she was leaving for work that particular day. Needless to say, the possibility of home appliances hatching sinister plots, an irregular caffeine intake, an unsupportive girlfriend, and the possible compromise of my strict Hessian street cred all had me feeling edgy a good deal of the time. And then the house next door that’s been vacant for the better part of last year saw someone finally move in, and my girlfriend thought it would be nice if I took over a plate of cookies she’d baked because, well because it would be neighborly, I guess.

“Seriously? Don’t send me over there. That guy looks unhinged.”

“And you haven’t showered all week, so why don’t you get yourself cleaned up so you make a good impression?” She pretty much settled it with that one.

I’d barely knocked at the door before it flew open, and I found myself staring at a man about my height but built more like a rugby player. He was wearing a powder blue velour Adidas track suit. He had slicked back dark hair with gray streaks on either side and a chest length black beard also with two grey streaks, the hair and beard equivalent of his track pants and jacket. A thick rope chain necklace with a softball-size panther head pendant topped off his sartorial ensemble. I was trying to process it all when he offered his greeting, “What the fuck’s cracking, Kemosabe?”

“My girlfriend baked these cookies. We wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood.”

“That right? Well get the fuck in here then, Boss. I just finished blending me up a hard and dirty rocket shake which oughta compliment the fuck outta them bad boys. Come on. Get the fuck in here, neighbor.”

I followed him in. He hadn’t unpacked much. Aside from a couch, a coffee table, and a blender on the counter, the rest of the décor was piles of various sized boxes. “I’m really looking forward to see what you do with the place.” I wasn’t lying. Based on his outfit, it was sure to be spectacular. He was emptying the contents of the blender into two large mugs, each emblazoned with an image of Andre the Giant, when I had to ask, “What’s in a dirty rocket shake?”

“This is a hard and dirty rocket shake, Kemosabe,” he said, handing me the mug. “Ice cream, coffee grounds, and Hennessy. Come on and fire some of this in ya, pardner. I gotta say, I certainly appreciate neighbors being neighborly. I’d really hate to have to get in any fights. You know what I’m saying. Come on, boy, and dig up into some of this.” The shake was good and I was more than a little appreciative to get some hassle-free caffeine in my system, regardless of means. Somehow, he’d already managed to finish several of the cookies around all his talking. “Your old lady baked these? Not too shabby. She’s muy caliente, pardner. Makes a fella wanna fuck, if you know what I mean.”

“Excuse me? You know I don’t appre—“

He cut me off. “Look here, Boss. I’m paying you a compliment. Her too. You for your taste in women and her for her God-given beauty. You didn’t already forget what the fuck I said about being neighborly, now did ya, pardner? Lighten up a little, Boss. What do say we fire up a couple fucking Cubans?” He opened up the coffee table’s drawer and pulled out a couple cigars. So we lit them up, drank our shakes, ate cookies, and talked for a bit. When the conversation rolled around to what he did for a living, he jumped up and said, “I’m on the verge of going famous, motherfucker,” and began dancing in some wild kung fu-type style, occasionally kicking up over my head. He effortlessly finished with a backflip, which ended with him doing the splits on the floor. While I was trying to process this burly man’s flexibility, he interrupted with a Ric Flair-styled “Wooooo!” He then jumped back up into another split, cheerleader style, narrowly missing putting his head through the ceiling fan. If all of this wasn’t weird enough, he was singing the entire time. The song sounded very familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until the chorus. It was Motorhead’s “Love Me Like a Reptile” done in a raunchy R. Kelly style. Now I would’ve liked to say this guy was an absolute crackpot, but I make the majority of my living playing music, and I had to admit he was extremely talented.

“Impressive. I love Motorhead.”

“That’s great, Kemosabe, but it’s time for my nap. If you’re free later, come on back over. We’ll cut shit up. Tell your old lady thanks for the cookies.”

I went back over later, and we cut shit up, which basically just means hang out. We cut shit up until the sun started peeking. That’s why I overslept.

So there I was, in front of my espresso machine, whose clicks and buzzes were now taking on a greater complexity. “You need to go outside and adjust a knob by the meter,” it Morse coded to me. “I’m not getting enough juice.”

Now if I were better rested and less desperate, I would’ve known there was no knob, and if there was, I’m pretty sure adjusting anything on an electrical meter is illegal. No sooner did I get out the back door before I heard it shut and lock behind me, followed by the sound of high-powered vacuum seals shutting. I panicked because I thought I was going to suffocate in deep space like the astronaut in that Kubrick movie. I was holding my breath and starting to get dizzy and hallucinate that a barista was making me a cappuccino. This tipped me off that the vacuum seal sound was the evil bastard machine’s fucking latte steam wand. Now I was really pissed.

I went out to the garage to get a crowbar to jimmy open the kitchen window and climb inside. The espresso machine was clicking and buzzing like it was having a seizure as I got in front of it and raised the crowbar high. I was just about ready to bring it down, when I heard my neighbor scream, “Drop, pardner!” I complied and heard a series of explosions. I don’t know how long I was on the floor, but eventually I got up, ears ringing, and there was my neighbor, still in his track-suit ensemble, holding a Mossberg 500 Cruiser pistol-grip pump shotgun. The Cuisinart EM-200 Programmable 15-Bar Espresso Maker had made its last threat. Its future involved a broom, dustpan, and trashcan.

“Sorry I shot up your kitchen, Kemosabe, but I had a sixth sense tell me I needed to get over here, that drastic neighborly actions were needed. I had an espresso machine pull that same shit with me once. Had to learn the hard way, you just can’t always trust a Cuisinart. Tell you what, I gotta sidecar on my chopper. Let’s take a ride down to the coffee shop. It’s on me.”

I’ve never been one to ride in sidecars, but sometimes it’s best to quit fighting that difficult swim upstream and to just let the current take you wherever it wants to go. So that’s what I did, with one demand: “Only if you got one of those helmets with a spike on top.”

“Fuck yeah, I do,” he volleyed back. I’ve never been less surprised.