A few doors down from the house I grew up in lived an old Russian man named Mr. Kozlov. He spoke very little English, lived alone, and had an enormous vegetable garden in his front yard. His house was set way back on the lot, all the way to the alley, so almost his entire yard was garden.
Mr. Kozlov wasn’t particularly friendly, never waved hello to the kids on bikes, and didn’t hand out Halloween candy. In retrospect, we probably just thought he wasn’t nice because he struggled with the language, and wasn’t all that up on silly American customs like trick-or-treating. Because none of us had ever gotten to know him personally, though, it wasn’t exactly big news when we found out that he died of a heart attack at the age of 87.
There really wouldn’t be much more of a story to tell about Mr. Kozlov if it hadn’t been for the total lack of respect for authority that defined my rowdy neighbors, the Foster kids. Apparently, not long after Mr. Kozlov had died, Solomon Foster was riding through the alley when he decided to try to open the side door to Mr. Kozlov’s house.
Surprisingly, it was unlocked. Word spread like wildfire throughout the Foster clan, and before long, Ruth, Sol, Aaron, and I were walking through a dead man’s house. I don’t even remember how long he had been dead – it was probably only a few months. His house smelled kind of like bread, but spicier.
We were shocked to find that all the utilities were still hooked up – we had electricity, heat, stove, everything. It was early summer, yet for some reason we decided to turn the heat up to 80 degrees. Maybe just because we could. We set up camp in his home, walking around barefoot and in shorts, sweating as we explored his house.
The basement was filled with shelf after shelf of cans, jars, and bottles of mysterious blobs preserved in liquid. Solomon claimed that Mr. Kozlov was a former Nazi, and that these jars contained the brains and organs of his victims.
“This is a human liver, I bet! Eat it – I dare you! Just open it and smell it!”
He shoved the jar at Ruth.
“Mr. Kozlov was Russian, not German, you dumb ass! And you eat it!”
When we weren’t daring each other to eat or drink some of the concoctions in the basement, we made field trips to the corner grocery store, pooling our allowances to stock the kitchen with barbeque potato chips, hot dogs, and ice cream sandwiches. It was like having our own summer home. Ruth brought paper plates and napkins from home, I brought a radio. We all danced to Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” as we gorged ourselves on hot dogs that had been boiled on a dead man’s stove.
“Ohhh didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I hear you cryin’…”
One day, just as we were packing up our things to go home, a man in a short-sleeved shirt and a tie walked in the side door. Stopped in our tracks, we all just stood there silently. I had no idea who this man was – family, realtor, lawyer, police? It didn’t seem like our place to ask.
“What the hell are you kids doing in here?! Do you know what breaking and entering is? That’s a felony!”
Without missing a beat, I wiped the potato chip crumbs off my lips, and in my widest eyed, sweetest girl voice said, “The door was open. Our cat was having kittens and she came in here. We just came in to find her.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet. Why don’t you show me where the kittens are?”
Fortunately, there actually was a stray cat in the house that just had kittens. We found her in the attic on one of our many explorations. I led the man upstairs to the kittens, and he seemed a bit disappointed that he hadn’t caught me in a lie. I just prayed that he hadn’t seen the pot full of hot dogs we had left on the stove.
After escorting us out, the man locked up the house, and our summer swingers’ pad was gone for good. The Fosters and I had many an adventure after this one, but I never recall a hot dog tasting as good as the ones we boiled on a dead man’s stove.
Filed under: Foster Files on August 13th, 2004