Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mr. Rogers' Alternate Universe Neighborhood

I didn't come from a dysfunctional family. I came from a dysfunctional neighborhood. It was like one big, free-range mental institution. We didn't have block parties. We had fights--knock-down-drag-out fights. Sometimes guns were involved. The NRA would have been proud of our willlingness to exercise our Second Amendment rights. 

(NOTE: all blogs about The Neighborhood will have the names of those involved changed to protect the guilty parties. I'm not sure what the statute of limitations is on some of this stuff.) 

As to the matter of our lack of block parties: if we'd had block parties, we would have undoubtedly served Prozac and Paxil. Instead of games like pin the tail on the donkey, we'd have had pin the crime on the jackass or something equally offensive. 

When I was getting started as a writer. I wrote a story about a couple who lived up the street and submitted it to one of those "true confession" magazines. It earned me my first rejection letter. It was a very specific rejection: "Good writing, but there's no way these people could be real." 

The rest of the neighborhood offered signed, notarized affadavits, but I realized I had to stick to fiction. It was more believable. 

I remember the night all the fighting came to a head. The woman had had her eye on a new man in the neighborhood. She really had it bad for him. Never mind that she had a live-in boyfriend and he had a wife. Watching her watching him was like being a storm watcher. You just knew that tornado was coming, but you were so fascinated by the darn thing, you couldn't get out of the way fast enough. 

She'd had it with the live-in and decided to go out drinking. She asked me to go with her. That was my first mistake. I should have said no. But by this time, I just had to see what happend next. Curiosity isn't fatal for cats exclusively. 

What happened next was that Mr. Dreamboat showed up, the smitten neighbor left with him, and I found myself stranded at a redneck bar. Now, I can take care of myself in the kind of situations that arise in such surroundings, but I had no inclination to walk home, so I called another friend to come and get me. We went looking for the wayward gal, hoping to find her before her (by now) insignificant other discovered what she was up to. I'm still trying to remember if Patty ever went back to get the muffler she lost when she hopped the curb out near the truck port. 

We didn't find Sandy, but Dave (her live-in) did. At least he found out where she'd been and who she'd been with (with whom she'd been?). When Patty brought me home, she let me out at the end of our driveway and went up the street to turn around. As she was coming back, Dave stepped out of the shadows and confronted me, demanding to know if I'd seen Sandy. Patty saw Dave and stepped on the gas. 

"Thanks a lot!" I yelled after her. "Chicken!" 

"I went down to Jimmy's," Dave told me. "Got Barb out of bed. When she came to the door, I told her Jimmy was missing, Sandy was missing, and I was pretty sure they were together." 

"What did Barb say?" I asked, stalling while I tried to come up with a way to get rid of him. If only we'd been on the other side of the fence. Our watchgoose would have dealt with him posthaste.

"She said 'so what' and closed the door," he answered. "I'm guessing she went back to bed." 

"Probably. And that's what you should do, Dave," I told him. That wasn't likely, though. I knew he'd been drinking. His breath, well, it could have knocked Godzilla flat. 

Dave and Sandy got married a week later. Go figure. 

Then there was the Bizarro family--a divorcee, her three daughters and son. We were awakened every morning to the lilting melody of their morning dialogue: 

"Where's the coffee, M***** F*****?" 

"You ain't goin' nowhere, M***** F*****!" 

"Hey, M***** F*****, let the dog out!" 

One morning, Dad was mowing the lawn. When he stopped for a break, one of the women introduced herself to him. He looked at her, unable to hide his surprise. "That's your name?" he asked. "I thought it was M***** F*****. That's all I ever hear you call each other." 

My parents owned rental property in the same neighborhood. Dad was very effective at dealing with deadbeat tenants. He scared them so badly, they didn't wait for the eviction notice. He'd show up at their door with a heavy chain slung over one shoulder. (I never did figure out what that was for. Effect, maybe?) 

They didn't know his bark had always been worse than his bite. 

That bark came in handy when he realized the new tenant was a hooker. He and the rogue cop who lived across the street send her and three of her johns scattering one night. 

One of the johns, we later discovered, was wanted for a double murder across the river. Nice going, Dad. 

Next time, y'all....