The Writers Voice
The World's Favourite Literary Website

About Time


Harry Buschman

From The Westlake Village Collection.

Howard Klass stuck out like a sore thumb in Westlake Village. I the first place he was a bachelor in a town where single, unattached males past a certain age were never seen. Widowers like me are rarely considered single, or even male for that matter, even though they wear their wedding rings until the end. But a single man of marriageable age is always under scrutiny in a town like ours.

I wouldn't have known his name was Howard Klass except for the basketball backstop. He had one delivered and he mounted it on the back wall of his garage, and quite by accident I happened to read his name on the empty carton he left at the curb. That was the first question that occurred to me; what was a single man of a certain age doing with a basketball backstop? The second question was his bull mastiff! A frightening animal! Nobody needs a dog like that. Howard exercised the dog by letting him run with his leash looped over the side view mirror of his convertible as he drove at a steady twenty miles an hour on the service road alongside Northern State Parkway.

The third thing was the Saab convertible itself. What kind of car is that? Everybody in town drove American cars like Hondas and Toyotas -- Howard Klass had to drive a Saab! Whoever heard of a country like Sweden up there in the Arctic Circle making convertibles in the first place?

The men of Westlake Village discussed Howard in hushed tones at the barber shop on retiree Friday and on Saturdays for the working men. Whatever the subject might be, it always seemed to drift back to the question of Howard Klass. He lived near me -- in fact his property shared a corner with mine, therefore I was bullied into monitoring his moves after dark and to check on the comings and goings of any visitors he might have.

There wasn't much to report. I turn in early and I get up early, therefore I was in bed during the hours of any clandestine activity he might have had. I couldn't imagine that anything Howard Klass might do during that time would be something I should lose sleep over in the first place. I looked over there every night just before I turned out my light and invariably I saw a light burning in what I thought must be Howard's bedroom. I assumed that he, too, was calling it a day, and like me, had decided to read in bed.

Tony Sargasso thought otherwise, "You don't know that. Maybe it ain't his bedroom, or if it is, maybe he's got women up there with him -- how many haircuts do I gotta get before you come up with somethin' .... ?"

The curiosity wasn't only confined to the men of Westlake Village, Mrs. Petrasek, a widow, and Clare Hardy, a widow of the grass variety cornered me almost daily in the street, both together and singly to ask me how my neighbor was.

"He's not my neighbor, Mrs. Petrasek .... he lives on the street behind me."

"We must be more neighborly, Mr. Buschman. I'm afraid you're not extending the hand of welcome as God says we should."

"No, Clare, really .... he lives on the street behind mine. I've never spoken to him .... really."

"We must be more cordial, we should welcome each and every new arrival to Westlake Village, the poor man must be lonely. I think I'll make him a cheesecake." Miss Hardy, from the size of her made more cheesecakes than she gave away. The little I knew of Howard Klass convinced me that he would not be interested in either Mrs. Petrasek or Clare Hardy and her cheesecakes. He did not appear to be the sort to surrender to neighborliness or bribery. I warned them both, separately and together, of the fearsome dog they would have to face if they knocked at his door.

He appeared to be on the sunny side of forty. He read a lot on weekends while stretched out in a plastic lawn chair under an apple tree in his rear yard with his monstrous bull mastiff chained to a stake that he hammered in the ground. He read from several books at once, making notes in them as he read, as though comparing the facts in one with the facts in the other. He would often seem puzzled and stare at the sky through the dappled green cover of the apple tree. When he did so, the dog, (whom I later learned he called Winston) would sit up alertly and stare into the apple tree as he did. He gave no parties and entertained no visitors.

Although it doesn't sound like it, I am not normally an inquisitive person. My interest in Howard Klass was provoked by the likes of Tony Sargasso, "Old" Dick Donahue, the lavender Mrs. Petrasek and the cheesecake lady. I am ashamed of myself now for what seems like an almost Gestapo like surveillance of a neighbor's privacy, but the prodding and constant questioning of these people persuaded me that Howard Klass was a man of mystery and required constant observation.

His work habits were erratic. He would commute later than most men, and not daily. He carried the thinnest attaché case I have ever seen, far too thin to carry his lunch in. It was obvious from the size of his trash bags that he did little eating at home. The food he threw away, I believe, is what the dog would not eat.

I fell back on religion as a final means of research into the mysterious Howard Klass, but that, too, proved unavailing. I looked for him vainly in Our Lady of Perpetual Hope, then later stood watch at St. Bartholomew Congregational, and Jesus Is Light, Pentecostal. On Friday evening I waited patiently at Temple Shalom -- he was neither a church nor a templegoer.

Throughout the late days of spring and early into August I exhausted every avenue of investigation I could think of. In addition to feeling ashamed of myself, I had developed a resentment toward Howard Klass that was born of frustration. I could pass on no significant intelligence to my neighbors. I had none to give. I would have disclosed my conjectures and suppositions gladly, but they would have none of that. They demanded hard evidence, and I had none.

On the Friday before Labor Day the mystery of Howard Klass was solved. I walked down to the deli to get the "Times" and on the way back I noticed that Howard had strung gaily colored balloons from the filigree molding of his porch. He was in the process of stretching a blue ribbon between the columns over the front steps. "WELCOME, Nattie, Chuck and Dave," it said. It was too much to
bear . . .

"Having a party?" I ventured.

He turned to me and smiled, "You bet, family gets here today. Family and furniture too." It was the first time I'd seen him up close, and he radiated a barely concealed private happiness that he seemed eager to share. "God," he went on,

"I've been alone here, just me and Winston, nearly two months now."

"Where's your family?"

"They're in Cleveland. I had to start this job at the "Times," so I came on ahead."

Things were beginning to make sense after all.

"You work for the "Times"?" I asked.

"That's right. You've got the Times there .... look in the sports section." I did so.
"See the article on the pennant race? .... byline's Howard Klass .... that's me."

"Pleased to meet you Howard, my name's Harry Buschman." I looked up at the banner.
"Chuck and Dave are the kids? -- how old are they?"

He reached in his back pocket for his wallet. "Chuck's ten and little Davy's eight." He pulled a picture out and said, "There they are, took this just before I left .... that's Nattie, my wife, in the middle."

Octogenarians are rarely at a loss for words, they've seen a lot, done a lot, and there isn't much the world has to offer that it hasn't offered them before. But I didn't expect it, Nattie was black and the two boys were brown and Howard, on the bottom step of his porch staring down at me was as white as I was.

"Nice family, Howard. I can see why you're anxious to have them with you again."

"Did I do well," I wondered? "Did I say the right thing?" How many times had Howard straddled this wall that separates us to make friends on both sides? In that short, short space of time I could see Tony Sargasso swallow hard and shake his head. I saw Mrs. Petrasek's frozen smile, and I wondered if Clare Hardy would take her cheesecake home with her.

"Drop over when they get here," he said. "It's not easy breaking into a new neighborhood."

"I will, I will, Howard -- it's a long weekend -- nice meeting you." I was uneasy and anxious to get away, and I'm sure it showed. "Take it easy," I reminded myself, "it's a new world, much wider than the narrow one you've lived in for the last eighty years. Look at the friends you've made here. There's Ramash on Lavender Street, Paoxing and his brother Rongli on Maple, Seymour on Oak Drive. Isn't it about time for Mr. and Mrs. Klass?"

©Harry Buschman 1998

Critique this work

Click on the book to leave a comment about this work

All Authors (hi-speed)    All Authors (dialup)    Children    Columnists    Contact    Drama    Fiction    Grammar    Guest Book    Home    Humour    Links    Narratives    Novels    Poems    Published Authors    Reviews    September 11    Short Stories    Teen Writings    Submission Guidelines

Be sure to have a look at our Discussion Forum today to see what's
happening on The World's Favourite Literary Website.