There were a million or more nos. There was no drinking, no cursing, no smoking, no drugs, no weapons, no stealing, no cheating, no sex, no thinking about sex, no reading about sex, no loud, satanic music, no littering, loitering or lingering. Yet the one dire thing that got the raised metal warning sign soldered to the school overpass was spitting.
Now that I think about it, maybe putting that sign up was some sort of psychological ploy to get us to spit in place of all those other nos. Because as soon as the sign went up, we stopped plotting how to get away with drinking, cursing, smoking and cheating and we concentrated on spitting. Some days we would pool our money together and buy some of that gum that turns your saliva colors and then we’d spit rainbows onto the street below. The Lofton Brothers preferred to just spit on the sign itself. Big, phlegmmy loogies that landed on the metal with a thud and took five hours to drip their way down to the pavement.
I was really a lot happier before the Lofton brothers moved here from the city. I was perfectly content to believe that I was showing the proper amount of teen angst and rebellion by scrawling a vulgar word or two on the school wall with chalk. We didn’t have much to rebel against to begin with. We kind of shuffled through life, our days scheduled with school, religion, sports, music homework. It was a good kind of shuffling, not an assembly line, bored to death kind of thing. We smiled a lot. We liked our parents. We were decent students and ok athletes.
The Lofton brothers were crazy trouble and it was just crappy luck on my part that they chose to hang out with (follow around, annoy, tease, manipulate) my particular group of friends. When I shyly mentioned this to my guidance counselor (I was chosen as the one who would address the problems of the Lofton brothers to an authority figure), she just wagged her finger at me and said “stay away from those boys or they will lead you blind.” She didn’t tell me what that phrase meant or how the hell I was supposed to stay away from them when it was them who was following us. In a lot of ways after that, we just felt resigned to having them hang around and maybe our apathy sent off the wrong signals and they thought we had finally accepted them.
The Lofton house was behind my house and from my bedroom I could look right into the their living room. The Loftons had a sliding glass door with no curtains or blinds and I spent a lot of late afternoons watching Mr. and Mrs. Lofton fight and then make up. She’d throw something at him, he’d hit her in the head with the back of his hand and they’d rumble around the living room a bit, shouting and throwing whatever was in reach and when their anger was spent they would drop onto the couch and paw at each other with their hands and tongues.
Sometimes I looked over there at night, too, but it made me sad. A lot of times it would just be Craig and Steve in the living room, flipping channels and eating cereal out of the box. I felt sorry for them. The very thing they hated about us - our families - was the thing that made me sad about them.
The Christmas after the Loftons moved in, I got binoculars for my big present. My parents thought I was interested in birds. I suppose that was my fault. Every time they asked my why I was spending so much time staring out of my bedroom window, I would tell them I was studying the various species of birds that lived in our yard. That they believed me speaks volumes about my parents naivete. I could have gotten away with so much more than I cared to get involved in.
As soon as we were done opening presents, I ran upstairs to my room. I wanted to try out my binoculars and I knew by now that Mr. and Mrs. Lofton did the bulk of their nasty fighting in the morning. I drew the curtains back a bit and hesitantly took up my perch by the window.
Holy shit. Those things were powerful. I didn’t expect to be able to see the lines under Mrs. Lofton’s eyes or the dust piled thick on their bookshelves. It made me feel like a creep, like one of those guys they send letters home from school about. Dear Parents, Please be advised that a creepy guy in a gold Nissan has been driving around staring at your children. Please remind them that there is no talking to strangers. And no spitting on school grounds, by the way.
I knew I was being creepy (I hadn’t yet discovered the word voyeuristic at that age), but the daily fights between the Loftons had become my sole source of entertainment. My video games were gathering dust while I watched my neighbors do some sort of ritualistic dance of the deranged every morning and ever night. I learned some quality insults and new curses from watching them but, more than that, I learned how to appreciate my mom and dad’s dorkiness. Dorky was certainly better than drunken, angry and dirty.
I had just opened the window and got myself settled on the ledge that Christmas morning when they started. Thankful as always for the broken living room window - not to mention the close proximity of our house - that allowed me (and all the neighbors) to hear every word, I waited for the yelling.
Mrs. Lofton was wearing a towel around her hair and a thin, red bathrobe that hung down just above her knees. She kept it closed by folding her arms in front of her. I made a bet with myself as to whether she was wearing anything underneath. The good side of my conscience had ten dollars on at least a bra and underwear. She was staring down Mr. Lofton, who sitting on the couch, eating bacon and eggs out of a frying pan. He was scooping them up with a spatula and shoveling them in his mouth. I tried to imagine my father doing that and couldn’t.
Mrs. Lofton whipped the towel off her head and shook out her hair like a dog. Mr. Lofton wiped little drops of hair rain off his face.
Mrs. Lofton said something I didn’t hear. He replied. Then the voices got loud enough for me to enjoy.
I quit my job.
You fucking what your what? Mrs. L. had the worse mouth of the two.
I quit my job.
Why on earth did you do that?
It was meaningless?
Oh Jesus Christ, Jack, now you’re going to get all “meaning of life” on me? Please, pull yourself together already.
I adjusted the binoculars because I knew something good was coming. Man, I could see the spittle on his mouth! And then he threw the spatula at his wife. Bits of dried egg flew off the flat edge. I watched the trajectory of the egg bits with fascination. They arced and hovered for a second before sprinkling down like greasy rain in Mrs. Lofton’s freshly shampooed hair. The spatula landed with a few clangs and a bang on the wooden floor.
I hate you, Jack.
Mr. Lofton gave a small nod in the direction of the hallway and his wife turned around. Steve and Craig were standing there, wide eyed and visibly upset.
They couldn't have been suprised, I thought. This went on every day, nearly seven days a week. Of course they knew. Or maybe I just thought they knew. Maybe they didn’t hear the fights every morning. Maybe they didn’t see the slapping and kicking. Maybe I shouldn’t have been sitting by my bedroom window on Christmas morning watching Steve and Craig Lofton crying and begging their parents to stop fighting, even if just for this day.
All the text herein is copyright © 2004 Michele Catalano. All rights reserved.