Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mr. Fong

The second neighbor Sal and I met in our house was this incredibly happy Vietnamese man next door.

He was always sitting on his front porch, tallboy in hand, cigarette hanging from his mouth, smiling and waving.

He didn't speak much English. He had maybe a half dozen phrases, things like "Nice day!" Then he would get this giant grin on his face and wave. He would say this whether it was 65 degrees with a fantastic breeze or if it were 105 degrees, no cloud cover, and 90% humidity.

Every Spring, his grass would grow to several feet and then he would appear in his sweat soaked red baseball cap with a weed whacker, cutting his lawn down like an adventurer with a machete in the jungle. To celebrate his adventure, yes, he would smoke a cigarette and drink a few tallboys.

We always seemed to suffer yard work on the same schedule. Every time I was out there, sweating, regretting having a yard, he was out there picking weeds and growing exotic gourds.

Every Sunday, his family would show up with a six pack of Heineken, and he would answer the door with a smile on his face.

I always wanted to meet him. Just sit on the porch, silent, drinking a tallboy with him, taking in the day and admiring the lawns we had just cut.

But alas, life got in the way. I spent two out of the three summers in my house, locked up with a broken leg. I worked a second job sometimes on the weekends the past two summers. And sometimes I was just too tired to try and chat him up.

And every spring I thought, maybe this was the summer we shared a Budweiser.

We had not seen him or his wife much this year. His family still diligently comes over every Sunday, but a landscaping service started showing up to take care of his lawn. (As a side note, they always showed up at the worst times, like when we were BBQing, and they always seem a little drunk.) I would still look up from the mower to see if maybe his red cap would make an appearance.

When our tree debacle happened, Sal and I asked if we could repair his yard. He hobbled to the front door and looked frail. He still smiled at us and although I'm not sure he understood much of what I said, but he still said, "yes, yes, yes" and shook my hand.

We noticed that medical supply vans were showing up lately, dropping off oxygen. We haven't seen him or his wife leave the house at all. His car went up for sale. These were all signs that his health was failing.

Today, I overheard his granddaughter talking with the landscaping crew, who were trying to collect their fee.

She said that he was in hospice and that they were sending him home Monday so that he could die in his own home. He is beyond any help.

Through another neighbor I found out that his name was Mr. Fong. I expect that sometime this week, I will see an ambulance show up to collect Mr. Fong's body.

I think I'm going to feel a bit sad for the potential silent bond we could've shared. Irritated at myself for not making the simple gesture of wandering over to his porch and popping a can open with him.

I think when I see it happen, I will walk to the store, buy a couple tallboys, and sit on my front porch in honor of Mr. Fong.

I think he would've wanted it that way.