Friday, January 18, 2008

mystery by the front gate

How long has it been here?

What I mean by it is a cash drawer, in pieces, scattered in among my neighbor’s terraced foliage. In among the half-dead ferns, bamboo, sawgrass, and calla lilies. Plainly visible as you walk down the stairs.

Could it have been there the day I first found the two key rings right inside our gate? Each of the rings held a bounty of keys. I pictured a whole room full of filing cabinets. The first key ring I spotted had a yellow plastic kangaroo hooked to it. It made the keys seem unimportant.

A yellow plastic kangaroo. A toy.

That was perhaps a month ago. The keys were buried under the last leaves of fall, wet and clumpy behind the gate leading out to the sidewalk. I just barely noticed the first key ring when Jon and I were leaving on our walk to Twin Peaks. I found the second key ring when we came back home.

I looked for lost or missing keys on Craiglist for a couple of days right before Christmas. Looked and looked. Every day I did a search and dutifully went through the listings. People do lose their keys in some pretty unlikely places, but usually they’re car keys or house keys, not two rings full of keys that look like they open file cabinets.

How much escapes our notice when we pass by, just inches away?

The pennies were the next thing that caught my eye. They’ve been there for a couple of weeks. Just pennies. Fewer than ten of them, but more than five.

I feel silly picking up pennies, even though deep down I believe them to be lucky. My grandfather would always pick up coins like that. Always. He’d press them into my palm when I was a little kid and say, “Hang onto these. They’re lucky.”

We’d spot them in the parking lot, crossing the street, in the courtyard of the apartment building where my grandparents lived in Torrance. On the courtyard's tiny putting green, marking where a golf ball had been lifted off the close-cropped grass.

I didn’t pick up any of the pennies on my stairs, but I noticed them every time I walked by them, day after day. I hoped I wasn’t accumulating bad luck by NOT picking them up.

“Pennies.” I’d explain if someone was with me. “Pennies. See! Someone somewhere still uses cash. See! See!”

I thought someone had flung the pennies out of their pocket in a kind of adolescent display of bravado. I remember boys doing that to impress girls: they’d get change for our tab at a restaurant. Then, when we were walking out the door, they’d fling the coins onto the hot pavement. Pennies and nickels would hit the ground with small metallic chings and go rolling away.

Not exactly a grand gesture.

But I could imagine someone walking by our front steps and doing just that—hurling the change over the wall and onto the stairs. It wouldn’t be that satisfying though. Any noise the coins made would’ve been muffled by the wet leaves.

I didn’t notice the cash drawer until today. Mark and I were walking down the stairs and I spotted a metal case in the plants.

“People are soooo fucking rude!” I said to Mark, mistaking the change drawer’s metal case for a PC chassis. “I can’t believe they dumped this here.”

Who’d have thought that computers would become such everyday commodities that people’d chuck them out of their cars into someone’s front yard? Who knew? Who knew I’d end up taking them as a personal affront?

I started to flip the thing over to see whether there were any insides to it when I noticed the telltale lock. Most computers don’t have locks. Oh, maybe sometimes they do, but not the computers that people dispose of on the sidewalks of our neighborhood.

The sidewalk in front of our house is, in fact, a dumping ground for all sorts of things that nobody wants: old stained futons (eewww), small appliances (I’m not the only one who gets frustrated with Signature Gourmet coffee makers), hole-y socks (holy socks, Batman!), and countless other items. Items too large to stuff in the brown Sunset Scavenger toters and too useless to give away on Craigslist. People bring this shit to our sidewalk and walk away from it, possibly under cover of the night.

“Oh. That refrigerator? Never seen it before in my life.”

There’s real dog shit too, but that’s another story. I suspect the dogs actually crap there: no-one just brings dog shit to our front yard. At least if they do, it’s still inside the dog at the time.

More investigation reveals that not only is there the shell of the cash drawer in the plants; there’s also the telltale black tray, the one that used to be full of fresh crisp twenties, tens, fives, ones, and coins.

And pennies. Did I say pennies? Lucky pennies.

I didn’t notice anyone running a lemonade stand on the sidewalk in front of our house: Lemonade! Free wireless! Spankings! You’d need a cash register for that, to run a thriving sidewalk business.

The pennies are still there. They've been there for at least two weeks. The two key rings are gone from where I put them on the wall after I didn’t find any ads for them in Craigslist. I feel vaguely clueless.

Has that cash drawer been there for a whole month?

Or has someone been running some kind of crime syndicate from our front stairs? It makes me feel weird to think that this spot—not visible from our windows and hidden from the street—is just the sort of shelter someone would use to disassemble the bits of cash register, to parcel out the loot from a robbery.

There aren’t many businesses on the part of the street where we live. Just a comic book store and Bill’s, the corner store where you can buy milk, newspapers, Anchor Steam, small frozen pizzas, and all the other ordinary things that a corner store carries, only older. Bill is actually Nabil, a large Egyptian man, very nice, very free with information, who I’m certain would have told us if he’d been robbed.

It's a mystery, this discarded cash drawer, a bona fide mystery.

Creepy. I walk up and down these stairs at night, in the dark. With my groceries and without my ladylike handgun.

Yet it’s annoying and banal too. It’s people—once again—throwing stuff they don’t want into Evert’s garden. It’s bad enough that the recent cold spell has eviscerated all of the Gunnera and the winds have toppled his stand of Papyrus.

Are pennies still good luck if they’re stolen?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finding a cash drawer? I lost a suet bird feeder - suet, green metal cage, bright yellow string - gone. Damn coyotes. If you find it down there, please let me know.

8:24 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

No bird feeder, but thanks to Evert's diligence, there's more to the story. He learned that the cash drawer belongs to Always Tan, the tanning salon down the street. Perhaps the fellow who reviewed his Boyzillian Wax this way: DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES GET YOUR BALLS WAXED BY PABLO!!!!! was sufficiently irritated (or at least chafed) that he kicked their cash register all the way up Castro Street.

But I doubt it.

Somehow I think there was something more sinister afoot.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous download free tax forms said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Clearly there's a new trend in blogspam afoot.

I quote a portion (about 10 percent) of the comment spam that I just deleted (sans its mysterious links):

"black mold exposureblack mold symptoms of exposurewrought iron garden gatesiron garden gates find them herefine thin hair hairstylessearch hair styles for fine thin hairnight vision binocularsbuy night vision binocularslipitor reactionslipitor allergic reactionsluxury beach resort in the philippines"

Gotta say, nothing poetic about it.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Words like 'luck' and 'cash' seem to be an attractive nuisance. The comment I just deleted linked to a poker site.

4:06 PM  

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