Our house, in the middle of our street

 “Aside from the dead hookers in the trunk and a hatred for Canada, nothing’s up. Why do you ask?”

My guy furrowed his brow and gave me a sideways glance. Sometimes, he’s not quite sure when to take me seriously. And seeing as how half of that statement was actually true, I can’t say that I blame him.

Not that he hasn’t dished out a few head scratchers of his own, of course. He’s just more blatant about it. The other day in fact, while waiting in line at the bookstore, my guy gave me an amorous kiss and announced loudly, “You’re the best sister ever!”

We’ve grown accustomed to the odd looks and hasty retreats that seem to result from our public interactions; our sense of humor is something of an acquired taste.

Which is why we were shocked to see one of our neighbors approaching us with a smile not too long ago. Historically, the only thing we’ve exchanged with our neighbors has been ill will and nasty letters.

I suppose the cinderblock that lines the walls between residences in our townhome community has helped endear us to the neighborhood, at least in that it deadens the sound of our more raucous activities. And from a distance, we likely look like a completely ordinary couple: my guy always opens the car door for me, we collect the garbage cans from the curb promptly, and spend most nights grilling on our front driveway.

Up close we’re a bit more colorful; all it takes is one sniff of the murky green liquid in our glasses to figure that out. But the peppy little ball of curiosity making her way up our driveway that night seemed to have bigger interests than what was in our drinks.

“That sure smells good!” she called by way of greeting.

“My husband and I – we live two houses down – have a grill, but nothing we cook smells half as good as what you two do! And look at you, you’re both out here every night, right?”

The energy under her words intruded on the gentle buzz I was nursing. I’d been afraid our grill would act as a beacon to the neighbors, and this one looked like she wanted to set up camp on our driveway.

“What are you guys cooking? We should all really get together for a barbeque, don’t you think? When did you guys move in?”

My guy, infinitely more social than I am, answered her barrage of questions politely while I crept down from my perch. Presumption, even in the best spirit, has always triggered an internal alarm in me.

She burbled some more as I came forward, and extended her hand.

“I’m Sally,” she said. “It’s great to meet you! Isn’t this amazing weather? I’m so happy it’s finally warm. Do you guys play games at all? My husband just got one of those beanbag toss games. We’ll be bringing it out this weekend.”

I smiled and did my best to mind my manners despite a desperate urge to shoo her away like an annoying child. She was the first of any of our neighbors to attempt the getting-to-know-you game, and I didn’t want to burst her shiny bubble. I hated to become “those” neighbors so quickly, the ones whose house you eye when driving past, who you stare down as they take out the garbage, and whose path you avoid when going to the mailboxes.

Besides, I had a distant hope that maybe, assuming she could shut her mouth for several minutes, we could actually forge some sort of casual friendship.  She obviously wasn’t close girlfriend material, and knowing that her husband was the type to go out and buy beanbag games despite their lack of children made his character suspect, but at the least they could be pleasant enough to have a few drinks with on a lazy weekend afternoon.

It was the kind of Rockwell-like scenario I rather like, but tend to keep in the dark, along with my secret love of wind chimes and mandolines, but that every so often creeps out when I’m PMSing or feeling otherwise nostalgic.

There were plenty of days like that during summer when I was growing up, where an impromptu barbeque would bring all my wacky neighbors to the surface and I could sneak sips from their beers and suck the yolks out of devilled eggs.

In those days, my family was only one of several seriously deranged units on the block. My father’s penchant for blowing things up – hornet nests, buckets of grass clippings, squirrels – paled only in comparison to the diet drug-addicted woman across the street who once pounded on our front door and insisted that Satan was in her bedroom closet.

I can still remember her frantic calls to my mother from the front stoop.

“Hurry! Hurry! Pam, you have to come over and help me!! He’s in there!”

My mother kept the screen door firmly latched and tried to sort things out.

“Did you see him, Linda?” she asked.

“Oh yes! He’s awful and red and he’s after me!”

“And what did you do? Is anyone else home?”

“I screamed and ran out. I’m the only one home. Please, come help me!”

Why she figured my mom could exorcise Satan from her home is anyone’s guess, but it was the kind of challenge my mother was up for. She is, of course, the same woman who enjoyed sending me to parochial school with books about voodoo tucked into my bag, and would feign innocence when the school called home concerned about my moral well being. An exorcism was right up her alley.

So she grabbed a broom, told me to stay put, and marched across the street. I’m still not sure what the broom was for, maybe “sweeping” out the demon – or maybe it occurred to her that someone, Satan or otherwise, really was hanging around in the Fredericks’ bedroom and she wanted to have a makeshift weapon.

It seemed work. My mother entered the house, broom waving, and yelling, “Satan be gone!” and “I cast thee out!” She wasn’t an ordained minister by any stretch, but if Satan had been there at all, he made a hasty retreat back to hell, and Mrs. Frederick returned to some semblance of normal. The next day in summer art class, I made my mother a Certificate of Exorcism (side note: it’s best to not ask park district employees how to spell words like “exorcism”).

That memory surged through my head as our neighbor babbled about cookouts and potato salad, and had it not been for the terrific smile it put on my face, maybe Sally wouldn’t have been so encouraged to ask for my phone number.

I could see my guy’s eyes widen when she pulled out her cell phone to add my number to her contacts; he knows very well that I guard my phone number more closely than I do my bank account. But there was something wistful in me that night, something hopeful and oddly traditional, and against every better misanthropic instinct in my body, I heard myself offering Sally my number and saying I looked forward to hearing from her.

Nothing good can ever come from romanticizing a fake exorcism. Sally called three times the next day, and with each passing voice mail, urged me to call her back as soon as possible.

When I finally mustered the energy to answer her fourth call, I discovered her real impetus.

“So, I wanted to run something past you,” she said. “My husband and I have an amazing home business, and I wanted to offer you and your guy the opportunity to earn some extra money working from home like we do. You can be your own boss!”

Sally was understandably disappointed when I told her that my guy and I would sooner harvest our own organs than participate in any direct sales business.

I hung up the phone and shook my head. For all the sarcasm, tasteless jokes, and general debauchery that my guy and I subject the neighborhood to, we have never, ever stooped to faking a friendship to forge a pyramid scheme deal.

And if that makes us “those” neighbors, so be it.

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