I slashed thorugh cardboard with my yellow box-cutter, the industrial model that includes extra blades for frequent -slasher convenience. We'd moved over the summer, and the empty boxes sat outside near the new recycling bins by the fence. The sun shone there in the afternoon, and I'd taken to slashing every afternoon. If you cut it, they will take it. If you don't, you must take it all away, which means putting it in your car. I cut it and made dandy piles that I later lashed together with twine, the better to appease the recycling pick-up guys. The third afternoon I began slashing and assembling my pile, I heard an unusual series of muffled noises. Neighbors on one side of us are music teachers, and their lessons can be easily overheard through open windows. The earlier, terrible, violin players earnestly scratch away, making sounds that are primitive, but noises that don't bother me as I once struggled with violin, and my compassion in that category is deep. The noises I heard weren't from an instrument, they sounded vaguely like a small dog barking. Small female dog? Small, female, pissed-off dog? I finished one box and walked to the patio area to get another. From there, I could hear better. It was coming from neighbors on the other side. I slashed and considered. It was a rhythmic sound, one that had numerous sounds that rose and fell continuously. A screen door banged open next door, and the sound rose. It was a woman's voice, she was pouring out her heart but she was not happy, she was royally pissed-off, and all I could think was "Wow, we have a neighbor with and eight octave range." The energy driving this outpouring never flagged, indeed it gathered speed, and I thought that perhaps it was Madame Butterfly in another language. I went inside and consulted my teenage daughter. "Did you hear that dog bark sound that is really a woman? Sounds like she's practicing opera." She regarded me with scarcely hidden disdain, a look I've come to accept as standard. "Opera? That's that mom yelling at her kids! She does it every afternoon. She's crazy. It's worse than the violin players." I went outside to consider the sounds coming from the neighbors whose newly-remodled two-story luxury home featured shoulder-high weeds where the front lawn would be. I'd heard that this was owned by a family of emmigres who had made a ton of money from tech stocks before the dotcom crash. I closed my eyes to hear better. Insolent Teenager was right; it was the voice--a deeply enraged, deeply wronged voice of an Asian woman that rose and fell and increased in volume and denisity as time went on. At that point, from behind, I heard a wholly different sound. A bird sound. A bird with laryngitis sound. A sound that made me laugh, because of its proximity to the Asian angry opera-singing ass-burning aria of angst. I went inside for a glass of water. "You were right," I said to Insolent Teenager. "That woman is red-hot pissed. But guess what the neghbors behind us have?" She shook her head, too cool to indicate interest. "They have a Pteradactyl! I'm not kidding."
That's how it came to be that we now judge the severity of weather by the frequency and volume of the Pteradactyl. As for the angry lady and her family, we don't kow too much as we never see any of them outside their house. All we can conclude is that they have very rich interior lives. If I lived in California and never went outside I'd scream bloody murder, too. It's all okay, though, because we're just renting this housing, as we call it. It's oddly liberating, like being back in college. You look at the calendar and say, hey, who cares, we'll be out of here in 15 months and the Pteradactyl and the Woman Next Door will still be screaming, competing for redemption from the burning sun. May the highest note win.