Plop, plop, pl…
I got my first jungle gym when I was 6. Every morning, at 5:45 a.m., I ran outside and sat at the apex, watching the California sunrise.
Some people have a private place — maybe a nook or a playroom. But, at 5:45 a.m., I had my own private time.
Then Hank moved in.
He was a tan guy in his 30s and, every morning — some time before 5:45 a.m. — he would bring a muscular German Shepherd into his backyard and play fetch. By the time I took my place atop the jungle gym, a slobbery tennis ball was already plopping against the brick wall, which separated my yard from his. “Hey, dude,” he’d say every morning.
Occasionally, Hank would throw the ball especially hard, and his dog’s slimy saliva would propel into our yard, sticking in our pristine bermuda grass. He’d coolly give a wave and say, “Sorry, dude.”
So, eventually, I stopped waking up at 5:45 a.m.
Every morning, though, I could still hear the drenched tennis ball slapping dog spit all over our wall. Soon enough, though, the sound faded away.
After about a year passed, I forgot about Hank and his dog. The only thing I thought about was Christmas because, at school, I was introduced to Santa Claus, whom my Korean family failed to teach me about. So, for weeks, my goal was to get good presents, which pretty much meant Power Ranger action figures.
On Christmas day, I ran downstairs at 5:30 a.m., looking for presents — there were dozens of them. But the night before, Dad said I shouldn’t wake anyone up before sunrise. So I went outside and perched on my jungle gym, waiting for the sun. That’s when I heard it again.
But, this time, the tennis ball wasn’t hitting the ball with much velocity. It was almost like Hank was trying to keep the saliva on the ball. So I looked over the fence, looking for Hank — who would inevitably say, “Hey, dude” — but instead I saw a woman.
“Merry Christmas,” she whispered.
“You too,” I said.
She tossed the ball again, lightly against the wall. The German Shepherd reluctantly chased it, barely even trotting.
“Where is Hank?” I asked.
“I like to think he’s still sleeping.”
“Oh. Well, you should wake him up and open presents with him.”
“Well, we can’t… Something happened… umm. Yeah, it would be nice to open presents together.”
“Well I gotta go wake up my parents so I can open my presents,” I said in my annoying child voice. “Tell Hank I said Merry Christmas.”
I got good presents that year — a few awesome toys mixed in with dumb clothes.