I pretended to rake the front yard and tried my best to keep a straight face as they loaded up the Taurus wagon with their vacation essentials. They were almost finished moving in. Feeling as though I might explode with glee, I calmly walked into my house. I watched them unload the truck from the privacy of my own living room. I did a little dance around the room.
I felt that it was not only the proper thing to do, but also my duty to welcome them into the community with open arms. When they had finished and were taking a breather, I jogged across the street, two beers in hand. Mr. Johnson stood to greet me as I extended the beer to him along with a sincere smile.
“Welcome to the neighborhood. The name’s Pete, Pete Porschmidt. I live across the street.”
“Nice to meet you Pete. I’m Irving Johnson. Like the famous NBA player, except not famous and not black.”
I laughed at this. I don’t know why. It was obviously his standard get-to-know-you opening line. After a beer or two, I knew his whole story. He had married his high school sweetheart, had gone to college on a tennis scholarship, had no idea who he liked for the Oscars this year and had gotten this house for a steal because of the double murder. It was a triple murder, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him. He had three kids — two boys, Joe and Ben, and a girl. The girl was named Regina, and she was the oldest. She was home on vacation from Cal Tech, and I realized how much things had changed since I was in college. They certainly didn’t grow them like that when I was a youngster. Irving’s old lady, Stephanie, was quite a looker as well. She was the type of woman that ran around the neighborhood in bike pants in order to keep her “girlish figure.” A treat for old and young alike.
Everything seemed to be going swell with the new neighbors. Irving said that in his old neighborhood he used to always host a cookout for the entire street, and that he wanted to do the same here. No one seemed to mind. Everyone got their specific duties for the party. I was assigned potato salad, which was excellent because I’m a master. Don’t tell anyone, but it was a tablespoon of cayenne that did it.
It was about 11:30 a.m., so I put on my pants and headed for the gathering. I took a second to say hello to the guys out front taking a smoke break before they went in to eat again.
“You guys on seconds yet?” I asked as I shook all the necessary hands.
“More like thirds!” chimed Bruce Hornsby in his usual bear-like tones, then laughed his big bear-like laugh. I smiled, and started for the back yard.
“I better get this potato salad back there before you guys run out of room,” I said.
“Oh, we wouldn’t want to miss that! Be sure and save us all some!” Bruce said and puffed on his Chesterfield. I had always hated Bruce Hornsby, but I never knew why. I think that it was his constant niceness. Everyone in the community loved the guy, and he was always willing to help with anything, be it yard work, Christmas lights, even… God, I couldn’t stand this guy. Once in the Johnsons’ fabulous backyard, I found that the whole neighborhood had turned out to sample the spectacular feast we had been promised. The Millers were there and had brought their corn casserole. Mr. Blevins provided the Jell-O salad, and Ms. McMickens came through with the cheddar cheese and garlic rolls. Johnson’s daughter splashed around in the pool with her brothers and some of the other teens from the street. I tried not to stare, shoplifting glances when I could. I just stood there holding on to the salad, looking around at all the locals and despising them all. That is, until Irving came up to me.
“Glad you came, Pete! Better get started, the next batch won’t be done for at least 15 minutes!”
“Sure! What do you suggest I start with?”
“Anything! It’s all good. Just set your salad over on the table, and dig in!”
He nudged me with his elbow, winked and walked back over to the grill. That day I ate like I hadn’t eaten since the Navy. I gorged my self on pig and beef and potato salad and baked beans. As the attendance slowly dwindled, I continued to stuff myself and chat with Irving.
“You ever been married, Pete?” Irving asked as he offered me another beer.
“Yes and no, “ I started. “The state law says that you’re married by common law if you live together as a couple any longer than six months. I used to shack up with this stripper right when I got out of the joint. It was a sweet deal, but it couldn’t last. She loved me, I loved her sister… hey, I guess according to the law, I was married to her sister, too!” I started to laugh, and then noticed that Irving wasn’t. Then I realized that I had once again said too much.
“Well, I guess I said too much,” I said, and took a swig of the Coors Light.
“Not at all, buddy. As a matter of fact, I’ve done a little time myself.”
“I did six months for unpaid parking tickets. It was awful! I thought for sure the little lady was going to leave me.” I nodded. “What were you in for?”
“Getting caught,” he laughed. I loved that joke.
“Oh, I went up for selling counterfeit Pokemon cards two states over at the big monthly flea market. I got out on a lesser charge, though. The D.A. had a real hard on for me, but he couldn’t touch me so he tampered with the evidence. I did two years, and seven months probation.”
“Man! That’s wild!”
“I know,” I took another beer from the cooler, and looked around the yard at the mess.
“ I’ll be happy to help you clean all this up, Irv.”
“That’s not necessary.”
“Really, I can get my leaf blower…”
“I said no. It was my party, I’ll clean up.”
I wasn’t going to beg to clean up this guy’s yard. I halfway knew he wouldn’t let me help him anyway. Then it was silent. It was nice. I could get used to this: nice neighbors, nice food. It hadn’t been like this for a while. It was quiet, and it was good. That’s when Hornsby came up to us.
“I have to tell you, Irving. I have not had a meal this good since I left my mother’s house! Do not, I repeat, do not tell her I said that! ” Irving laughed, so I did too.
“ I won’t say a thing,” Irving said, and looked around as if someone might be listening.
“Neither will I,” I said, and chuckled. I hated Hornsby.
“Well, see you at work tomorrow, right?”
And Hornsby walked away.
They worked together. Hornsby had once again one-upped me. I had finally found a guy that I was willing to call “friend,” and Hornsby was already his friend. I politely excused myself, went to my house and down to the basement to work out on my punching wall.
Stories by J’Mel Davidson appear in every issue of Birmingham Weekly.
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