Monday, December 29, 2008

The Triplets of Bayview

This morning, sitting on our balcony I witnessed one of the most amazing sites I have ever seen. In the spirit of story telling, I thought I would share. Happy Holidays.

As I splashed my mug with a refill of black soot coffee, hinted with honey, vanilla and hazelnut left over remnants Christmas cheer, I heard the normal bumbling grumbling of morning sounds. Doors swing in and out, foot steps echoing through the courtyard of our building, whispers and dog collar jingles intermittently muting through the open windows. It is December in Miami, and the air is perfectly correct. We keep our windows open and let the ocean breeze fill our space as constant, soothing refreshment. Open to the world, the sounds of life and morning stirs tend to float in and out, abrupt clangs of gates slamming, subtle coos of the mourning doves. At times, it is a circus of sounds dancing around the room, strangely peaceful and tranquil despite the jerky bangs of the occasional trash truck. Still, sometimes it is nice to plop down at our patio table and watch the world make it certain sounds. And so, this morning, I ventured out and observed.

Our building is near the end of a cul de sac banking the edge of our clear but littered canal. It is nice place for people to make the ever allusive turn around, making our street a strange hodgepodge of visitors. From our fourth floor nest, I watched the groggy dog walkers, pajamaed and slumber and spry joggers, fit and pristine. I saw the lurking bikers swaying slowly up the street, peering into windows, admiring my neighbor's personal belongings and the utility workers sleeping away quietly in the cab of their truck. As I looked east, I was struck by the pure blue that painted the morning sky. Not a single wisp of white even peeked the palette, crisp and essential. The staggered building short and tall, tall and short lined the horizon with their eggshell beiges and worn pastelly pinks. Admiring the view and swimming in the simplicity of my new day's begin, I sipped my coffee. Just as I went set my heavy mug back into its place marked with the dribbled ring of coffee stain beginning to form on the scratchy polished steel table top, a crashing surge of ramble came pouring down through the walls. Like someone had decided to move all of the furniture in their apartment in one lazy shove across a concrete floor, the rumbling, screeching heave vibrated through our whole apartment, quaking the concrete shelf of our balcony. Just as suddenly the grumble came to a halt, a slight shadow peeked down from the balcony above, and I realized that the triplets of Bayview were up to something bizarre.

You see, for as long as I have lived here, our upstairs neighbors have intrigued me. They are three Argentine sisters, living together like the Triplets of Belleville. I have never known their names, only their characters. We always address each other with lots of smiles and waves and “Como estas?”'s Perhaps we exchange a laugh over a half told joke in broken spanglish riding up the elevator, unsure if we are laughing at the same thing. The sisters are an elderly trio, all petite and slightly pear. The oldest is more stern than the rest, face weary and less vibrant than the rest. Her hair, blond, dulled with reds and grays, is stringing straight, nicely combed and held down tightly with an old black headband. She always wears solemn, dark colors, navies and blacks, highlighted with white blouses neatly buttoned, framing the sight of her dangling glasses. The youngest tends to venture out only with her older sister. She carries the same stiffness, but she is usually more jovial in her smiles and hellos. Her hair in pomegranate red shimmering hard against the contrast of her mod black glasses, round heavy rim, firmly set on her slight nose. Her more youthful presence is most often adorned with more vivid, but equally as stoic, colors, burgundy reds, heavy blues, and dark pine scented greens. The eldest and the youngest do most of the shopping and are the most common sighting of the sisters. I will see them chatting away as the retrieve their various wares from the bodegas and drugstores, walking lightly down the street. They are always pleasantly cordial, just hinting at the more airy beings hidden behind the precautions, keeping to themselves after our silly exchanges start to run short of words. However, the middle child, true to her calling, usually travels alone. Scattered and vibrant she bounces along with a perpetual smile. Sometimes she's in heavy plaids with her simple red hair in curls. Other days, her blue sweater is covered in blue and orange stripes with knitted sea horses and crabs dancing along the parallel lines. Every time I see her she is donned in rebellious patterns and subtle whimsy. Ofttimes, when I am sitting upon my observation stoop, she will wave from the street with joyful swats and a cheery smile. If I meet her at the door, she is always gracious and outspoken, as if a seeing an old friend after a long separation. My brushes with the triplets are always a joyful accent to the normal humdrums of condo living, starting my day with a smile or giving my return home an extra warmth. Of course, as with most neighborly crossings, our relationship is but a flicker in a sea of moments and amounts a nice pleasantry.

The truth is, I know very little of these ladies. Their world is the small fifth floor apartment along the bay exactly one apartment above us. Their plants line the courtyard balcony, overflowing from the apartment that is overflowing from the balcony. On nicer days, when the swell of summer humidity doesn't keep windows and doors shut, the whiffs of their cooking, churrasco and chimichuri swirls through the courtyard space, laden with garlic, vinegar and oil. I never hear a tv or a radio bellowing or whispering through cracked windows or dripping down through the walls. At night and early in the morning, Claudia and I sporadically hear what sounds like a very civil game of marbles, glass beads rolling across tile floors, bouncing, gently off one another. Like all apartment living, we catch the dulled crashes and bangs or three people living in a small space, but nothing that would ever give us any insight into the world of our sweet old neighbors. However lately, we have begun to hear more frequent, more distinct noises that have inspired Claudia and I to imagine the strangest of things.

Every day or so, I hear the clang of a wrench or a hammer banging against pipes. I hear the muffled hum of a jigsaw or a dremel tool. Sometimes it sounds that they are building. Sometimes it sounds as if they are moving out. We have spent many a night giggling at the possibilities. Perhaps they are a jug band tuning their makeshift scrapped guitars and fixing their trashcan ragtag drum sets. Perhaps they are superheroes moving through secret tunnels in the walls, scurry through the shadowy back alleys, aiding wayward drunken d├ębutantes from the life's less savory creations. Maybe they are aged tango dancers too tired to take on more than a few steps, their aged clasps leaking pearls that fall in disastrous clusters across the floor. Or maybe they just have many, many small repairs, a toilet that constantly sticks and a finicky old air conditioner that needs a good smack to get up and running. The scenarios were endless and always gave us a good snicker. Two days ago, however, the pangs and clangs and thumps became almost unbearable. At four in the morning, yesterday, they began drilling into piping, hammering away a some unknown assembly, as quietly as they could. By eight, I was ready to crawl from my bed and pay the triplets a visit, when the deep rumble of diesel trucks outside our window covered all sounds with the steady rhythm of mufflers and crankshafts drowning out the triplet's tinkering. Still throughout the day I continued to hear tinks and clanks and booms. I thought to myself that they must be having work done, hurricane shutters or handicap rails or kitchen repairs. By five o'clock the clatter had ceased and no sounds were heard until, just before falling asleep, Claudia and I heard the metallic dribble of ball bearings bouncing across the tiles, giving us both a quiet, sleep giggle as we drifted off.

And so that was how my night ended and this morning began. Coffee and sunshine, blue skies and a rested mind, as I sat on the balcony listening to startled chaos that moved over head. Curious, I jumped to my feet to see what exactly was causing the cool new shadow upon my morning brew. I leaned against the railing and just as I turned my head, to look up, I caught the shape of a tinfoiled colander, crinkled and shinny, slightly protruding from the frame of the balcony above. Before I could focus on the strange shape overhanging the balcony edge, another quaking grunt vibrated through the walls and pulled what appeared to be an airplane propeller back into the triplet's apartment. Again shaken, I pondered my position against the illusion of what I had just seen, and I slid back into my seat.

“Was that really a propeller that I just saw??” I thought to myself, considering that an airplane had never been created in our exhaustive list of possibilities. Too curious to sit still, I jumped back to the railing, leaning out, hoping to catch a peek of the source of this almost terrifying noise. As I strained my legs to steady my hold, a boom echoed from the mouth of their apartment and through the streets as what was clearly an engine was started, coughing and choking like cartoon. Terrified, I shrunk all the way back into the apartment trying to make sense of the clamor muffled through the ceiling, but the roar of the engine was loud and overpowering. Lost in the sheer madness of the situation, I stood there frozen.

“Should I go peek or should I go to their door? What is going on? Did they build an airplane in their apartment?”

Befuddled and confused, I stood there in the middle of our apartment, pictures rattling off the bookshelf. Specs of dust steadily falling from the ceiling. My abandoned coffee mug splashed its contents across the patio table. As I heard the engine throttle to high, I could feel this machine, what ever it was, moving back toward the courtyard entrance and stop. With a sudden creek of metal scraping across the floor, I heard what seemed to be the entire upstairs apartment sliding off into the street. As I followed the sound rushing toward the windows, I watched a clumsy winged barrel drop heavy into my view. Like a lumbering goose it swayed, bouncing sporadically as puffs of black smoke sputtered from its tale end. The plane, this hodgepodge of scraps, was the most curious sight I had ever seen, like triplets had raided their kitchen and welded all the pots and pans together with tinfoil, plastic wrap and solder. Its body was formed from several old oil barrels, pots and pans, rivetted together in random overlapping mosiac, painted think in shiny tar black. In the cockpit were three low seats covered in fabric like each sister had draped here favorite coat across the back of a chair. The front of vehicle was shiny and chromed with foil under the sun's glare as the big diesel engine spun the propeller made of wicker and wooden fan blades stacked in fours. From just below the cockpit, the exhaust spewed thick black, smoke smelling of garlic and basil. The wings were framed with a jointed skeleton which gave them the slightest ability to flap. They were covered three or four times over in white linens, sewed taught and covered in a tiedye waxy coat.

As the alated smoker dropped below my horizon, I saw the triplets, snuggled tightly inside the strange vessel, old aviator goggles strapped tightly to their faces as they cackled in pure joy, a single scarf fanning from their odd cockpit. The middle child sat in the front holding the yoke and steering the behemoth giggling with joy. The eldest sat behind her and cranked a lever to an fro, giving the wings their subtle flap, her face determined but lightened with sweet crack of smile. The youngest just laughed, holding a black iron skillet and a wood spoon high in the air clanging away like a child, her smile as big a the sun. As the putters eased into the even drone of a firm full throttled engine again, the ladies steered their chunky albatross to the right and then straight again. The plane began to actually take flight, ascending just inches above the buildings across the street. Steadily the wings, thick with piping and sheets, climbed, waddling from side to side. The triplets were screaming with excitement as they flew toward the sunrise, fading ever so slightly with each bobble. The bizarre silhouette danced against the blue morning sky like a cigar with wings as the lingering smoke trailed along scenting the air with the sweetness of chimichuri. After what seemed like twenty blocks or so, the plane began to to swing slowly to the right and headed south. The sound of street traffic began to smother the last grumblings of their little airplane and with a subtle dip behind a distant hotel, they were gone. Thunderstruck, I tried to gather myself, placing the picture frame back into is bookshelf nook. I retrieved my mug and filled it with another round and sat down to take in the entirety of this morning.

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