[By guest writer Ben Kauffman, author of The Weekly Meat]
Wilson's car is unmistakable. It's a 15-year-old matte-black Jetta with a paint-to-Bondo ratio of roughly 2:1.
The kids know it by sight. We know when Wilson is out, and when he is probably home. He has not been home in over two months.
I should say that we don't exactly live in a neighborhood where folks use "winter" as a verb — as in, "I find the snow positively abhorrent, so I winter down in Florida." Rather, we live in an area in which the nattering "bum" on the street may well be tenured at Harvard or MIT.
I should also say that though we are friendly and neighborly with Wilson, we're more acquaintances than friends. He's easygoing, and we stop and cross the street to chat when we run into him; share gardening tips. When we were away for a week last year, he is the one who told us of the near fire catastrophe outside our place (a transformer blew up, showering sparks down on a bag of dry leaves, which promptly lit, etc.). He is point of a fascination to the kids (young E-O pronounces his name "Oh-sun" and has gone through stages of asking what we think he's doing roughly every six and a half minutes), and a curiosity to AKL and me. But he didn't mention anything about going away. And now it's been a while, and we're both curiouser and concerned.
We've never asked, so we don't know much of Wilson's story. What he does, how old he is (somewhere between 30 and 50, but who knows where), where he's from. He has a bit of an accent, and looks — as handfuls of our neighbors do — like he might come from the islands.
I admit that worrying he might have died in Port au Prince is a bit of a melodramatic stretch. After all, he couldn't have driven there. Yet, like Jimmy Stewart, I can't help but think that something is up, and particular thoughts of Haiti have crossed my mind. His window shades haven't moved the entire time. And it's just my egocentric nature to assume that he would have told us of any long-term plans if he'd known them in advance.
And yet, I also wonder how well any of us really know our neighbors. I'm not big on local TV news (I tend to mockingly refer to it as my wife's "car crash and fire show"), but I do often think of the stock interview with the neighbors after local domestic tragedies and the like. There's something both poignant and perfunctory about the "they really just kept to themselves" and the "I never would have thought he was capable of something like that"s.
He could be dead and buried. Could be sick or in treatment. Could be training for bad things in the Hindu Kush. Who can say? But we're curious — anxious even — to know. While these things tend to be harmless and easily explained, I wonder sometimes what I would say about Wilson — or any of our neighbors — if interviewed by the local car crash and fire show. And I hope that tomorrow I wake up and kiss my kids and eat breakfast and when I walk outside to go to work, I know — know — that all is right in the world, because what I am looking at is a 15-year-old dinged-up Jetta with a bad paint job parked directly across the street, Wilson happily puttering around in his front yard.