Fulbright riffs, 1991 — day 27, Tuesday June 25th

… and rest. I wrote home before breakfast while the previous days’ experiences remained fresh in the mind. It’s a less focussed day at work, not sure of what to do or where to go next. Dan Morgenstern drops by to compare notes about last night’s Chesky reception. He says that he’d seen me there but didn’t want to interrupt my conversation with the “Japanese woman”. I thought she was Dutch!

I head back to Maplewood a little earlier than usual and buy a striped bass on special offer for supper. I overtake the neighbour from across the street, Robert (Bob) Heffley pushing his child Matthew along Burnet Steet in a buggy. He invites me over for a beer and when his wife Diana hears what I’m going to cook for supper she suggests I bring it over so she can cook it for me, Chinese fashion. So I fetch the sea-bass from the fridge and we share it as a starter with some chicken and pasta for main, with plenty of beer from the Heffley fridge. Bob’s very friendly: he used a librarian and happy in the job but they told him he was being too helpful! He became a broker instead, but he seems too nice. Their neighbours, Ben (trombonist Ben) and his wife Barbara call in to drop off their very young son, Sam, for the Heffleys to baby sit. Ben looks worn out, as if he’d been playing the previous night, so an exciting night out in prospect for Barbara!

Bob, Diana and Matthew Heffley — their Christmas 1991 photo

The Burnet Street neighbours do appear skilled at creating problems for themselves. Next door on the right-hand side to the Heffleys, the daughter is ten and in a state of pre-teen anxiety. On the left is World War 3. The husband came home one day to find his wife in bed with the roof repairer. The husband’s not been seen since. Meanwhile a succession of boyfriends has appeared, each one progressively worse behaved. Wolfie, Rowland’s neighbour has also mentioned these boyfriends, describing the latest one as a three-tours-in-Vietnam veteran and “three sandwiches short of a picnic”. He shouts at the children constantly and they in turn scream and fight all day. Bob is regularly calling the police out to the house. The anxiety clearly shows on Bob’s face as he tells me all this but Diana, true to her Chinese roots, displays little or no emotion.

Back across the street at No. 61 a domestic crisis of our own is blossoming. I enter through the front porch into the sitting room to find it filled with junk. Kyle, Rowland’s younger son, is bringing all his stuff home after being thrown out by Rowland’s ex-wife Margaret who has finally had enough of Kyle’s twice-weekly beer parties for fifty mates. I don’t think he plans to stay long but he continued to make a song and dance about everything until around midnight. A liberal education is a good thing, as long as it teaches you that other people inhabit this planet. Bob’s line on the two Benet boys was that they were always making a noise out front of the house.

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