The Man Next Door


December 9th, 2011
Location: My bedroom
Time: 4:12 pm

I have a neighbor whom my roommate has dubbed Inspector Gadget.

I have no idea why.

But Inspector Gadget, well, he’s an enigma to me.

He’s a tall, lanky man.  His hair is a nondescript black, with just a dusting of gray. His eyes sink back into his skull, his nose protrudes, and his cheeks are hallowed out.  He wears his pants high on his waist, so that the bottoms always barely brush the tops of his brown leather oxfords.  His shirts bag on his slight frame and are always tucked into his high-waisted pants. I have only ever seen him in browns, blues, and greys.  He dresses like an old man too tired for this world of color and life. I would put his age at an early 40.

Every morning around 6, I wake to the sound of the Inspector clearing his throat.  Deep, resounding hawking noises fill the courtyard between the rows of lane houses. Seven or eight times he reaches deep within his chest and forces all manner of garbage past his lips.  Sometimes, if I’m lucky, he takes turns making these noises with a fellow cohabitator of the courtyard and I awake to the symphony of spit hitting the pavement and gravely, throat clearing exercises.

Mid-afternoons I can find the Inspector outside his house.  He sets up a rack that is about four feet high, triangular, and holds 4 large plastic bowls.  I usually find him washing these bowls at the sink positioned outside his kitchen. I don’t know what these bowls contain or what purpose they serve.  All I know is that the Inspector needs to clean them every day.  

The first time I saw the Inspector, he was seated on a chair in the middle of the courtyard.  A round mirror held in his left hand and a razor in his right.  He slowly stroked the razor down his face and stared intently at himself in the mirror.  He sat there shaving for nearly two hours.  And he did this the next day. And the next.  And every day after.  I’ve never seen the Inspector with so much as a 5 o’clock shadow.  After all, he is Chinese.

And so you’ve met my neighbor.  If you happen to visit me and see the Inspector sitting outside, don’t be too put off if he doesn’t respond to your ni hao.  He doesn’t like me either.