We live in a housing development. All the houses look pretty much the same. The yards are pretty much the same size. The driveways are all the same.
Most of us have little flags at the ends of our driveways announcing coming holidays, celebrating the season, proclaiming allegiance to our favorite sports team or any other thing our imaginations can come up with. Ours currently is the state flag of Maryland. We don’t live in Maryland, we live in North Carolina, but I am from Maryland and I have always thought the Maryland flag, with its unusual design, was one of the more interesting state flags. I have nothing against North Carolina’s flag, I just like Maryland’s more.
In our driveways are a lot of SUVs and minivans. I imagine there would have been more station wagons if more automobile manufacturers made wagons. When I was a kid, every other house had one of those big station wagons with the phony wood on the sides. No one believed it was real wood, especially not when it began to peel after a few years.
There’s the one guy who has neither a minivan nor an SUV. He has a brand-new Corvette. He doesn’t have any children or spouse, so I guess he only needs a car with two seats in it. He’s tall and good-looking with salt and pepper hair. He usually drives the Corvette with the voracity of a teenager. He’s probably divorced, immature, or both.
While we are on the subject of neighbors, we have a collection of such that I think we live more in a sitcom than a housing development. In order to protect the innocent, I may have changed a name or two here and there. I may not have, because a couple of folks found out I write a newspaper column and asked if I would put their name in the paper. I’ll let you figure out which names are real and which are not.
I will tell you that “Arnold from the house with the wagon wheel on the porch” is a real guy. He told me if I put his name in the paper he would have Duke, his Old English sheepdog, run a bombing run across my front lawn. I like Duke more than I like Arnold, and I keep a box of Snausages in an old milk box on the porch. I don’t really think Duke will be an issue.
My wife keeps complaining about Marianne, who lives two doors down. She mows the lawn with an unlit Virginia Slim plugged into her mouth and a set of vintage radio headphones on her head. You remember the kind. They were big and plastic with two antennas in a “V” coming out of them.
My wife isn’t anti-smoking, really. I think the issue is Marianne mows the lawn in a bikini that was probably purchased when Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Marianne was well into adulthood way back then and is probably borderline geriatric now. Marianne, I think, has the hots for The Spy.
The Spy isn’t what you think he would be. He actually is the one who knows less about the folks in the neighborhood than anyone else. Everything he does is clandestine. His hours are erratic and unpredictable.
Once in a while he will catch me outside and ask me to fetch his mail because he has to “travel for work” and he might be “somewhere that doesn’t have a phone.” For all we know, he’s a waiter on a cruise ship. Imagining he is someone deep undercover in the intelligence community is much more fun.
The Brennan Twins you will most certainly see in a police blotter some day. I can’t remember which is which, because they look alike. One is named Mike and the other is named Mark. I can never get Mike and Mark straight. It really doesn’t matter, because they are equally rotten.
Most of the neighborhood dogs bark at them because the kids have either teased the dogs repeatedly or simply because dogs sense pure evil. At 8 years old, they are an elementary school crime wave. I wonder if I can give Duke a Snausage to give the Brennan Twins a dose of their own medicine.
My daughter was taking the trash out one day and someone said something to her. She ran inside, screaming that a stranger talked to her. I was ready for a fight. I sat my daughter down and asked her for a description of the person. No one talks to my daughter that way and gets away with it.
Slowly but surely, her breath became less labored and more even. A look of relief filled her face.
“What did they say, Sweetheart?”
“They said…..they said…..’Good morning!’”
I explained to her that’s what people do here. Where we are from, folks barely gave each other the time of day. People here still cling to some social graces that have been long since forgotten elsewhere.
The folks who greeted my daughter have become good friends. We hold joint yard sales and share in holiday celebrations. Our kind neighbor is guiding our younger daughter through the travails of landing her first job. We wave and say hello every time we see each other. We telephone when we notice one of us has left our car lights on. We cross the street with cakes and pies and bottles of wine.
We lived in apartments for the longest time. We knew the names of our neighbors, but we didn’t know our neighbors. We are glad we have found our little house on our little street, in our little neighborhood in our little town. Every place has its Marianne and Spy. Every place has its Duke the dog.
And every place has its Arnold, who got his wish that his name would not appear once in this newspaper. I mentioned him twice. So there.
Baltimore native Joe Weaver is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he writes on the lighter side of family life.