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welcome to my neighborhood
It was just a matter of minutes before she stripped down naked in front of our giggling, red faces. She knew what she was getting into but we were a little less sure. It usually starts the same way: she answers the door in her towel and with a little begging, she drops the towel and invites us in for juice and cookies. She lets us touch her boobies, and stare at that furry mystery at the top of her legs. Sitting across the room, it looked like a guinea pig curled up in her lap. Jay thought she was just hiding her thing, but I wasn't convinced. I sort of thought she might have something else going on there. Mom and Dad didn't know anything about Joanne, if they did, I'd probably get spanked and sent to my room. Jay's dad would've probably yelled at him, slapped him in his head a few times, then, filled his flower-shaped glass with that pink juice from the box in the garage fridge. He and Jay's mom would spend hours on the back porch sipping pink talking about paint colors, pie safes and something called Fess Q. Real boring type stuff.
When me and Jay weren't visiting Joanne, we were usually roaming around the azalea bushes in front of his house, wiffle-ball bats in hand, taking aim at the bumble bees hovering the red and white flowers. Jay's mom would come around the front of the house for a refill of pink, and find us beating the snot out of her bushes, little shredded dots of color lying like party confetti on our feet. "Stop destroying my flowers Jay!" Jay's mom would yell, and we'd slouch all sad back into the house to find something else to do.
Sometimes we'd play office. We'd cut little strips of paper into money and buy and sell each other things we gathered around the house: a vase, a few picture frames, some books. Other times we'd play kitchen, which, usually turned into drum session as we pounded on the collection of pots retrieved from the kitchen: Thriller, Beat It or maybe Billie Jean. When Jay's little sister was around we'd sometimes play doctor. We'd poke at her ears with pencils to check her hearing. We'd listen to her heartbeat to make sure it was ok. To be thorough, we'd have to pull her pants down to make sure that there were no problems. Each time, smooth as her Barbie dolls, no guinea pig. It always confused us, and we'd tell each other we needed to get a closer look next time we were at Joanne's.
Over at my house, we'd flop around a bit, like fish out of water, not really knowing what to do or what was safe. I'd punch Jay, he'd tackle me to the floor and dad would yell, "What the hell is going on up there, it sounds like you are coming through the damn roof!" or "I'm on the damn phone, quiet down!". Again, we'd put on our sad face, slump over, and tip-toe downstairs in search of a snack. Mom was usually tanning herself on her plastic beach chair on the back lawn and dad would be racing around answering phone calls or measuring and cutting molding or some type of long wood strips for some room. This was good because it gave us free run of the kitchen, but mom was sort of neurotic, a kind of snack-hoarder, so the Ding Dongs, Suzie Qs, Ho-Ho's, Oatmeal Creme Pies and Fudge Rounds were always in the locked cabinet in the dining room. We'd sneak around for a while, searching for the key. Sometimes we'd hit the jackpot, other times, we'd get scared and quit, thinking that Mom or Dad would walk in to check on Rufus and catch us snooping around.
After sneaking around my house looking for snacks, we'd get bored and wander over to Lou's yard. Actually, it was more of a mulch pile than a yard. Lou's parents were strange cause they didn't have a grassy lawn like everyone else in the cul-de-sac. My dad said Lou's parents are dumb and are making our house price go down. Instead of grass, they just had a fresh batch of mulch delivered every year, which, Rufus loved to dig around in. He did a lot of his pooping in their yard which angered Lou's dad. Every few days, I'd see him throwing turds over in our yard, his hand wrapped in a white Safeway bag, mumbling my Dad's favorite cuss words. Cusses, as far as I could tell, were the only thing they had in common. A few times my Dad said that Lou's Dad had a redneck which I was unaware of because every time I saw him, he was wearing a turtleneck. My Dad's neck wasn't red. It was dark brown from baking in the sun as he road his Harley around, the mufflers booming like thunder, angering neighborhood dogs.
Lou was one of the older kids in the cul-de-sac. He was about eleven years older than me, thirteen years older than Jay. He shaved his face with razors like my Dad and had armpits that smelled like onions. He left funny messages on his answering machine and would change them often. Jay and I would call up his house a couple times a week, when there were no cars in his driveway, to listen to the latest message.
"Leo (Lou's cat) has been abducted by aliens, so we are not in right now because we are out searching for...WAIT, WHAT WAS THAT....AHHHH!!!!!!, THE ALIENS, THEY'RE HERE TO GET US!!!....HELLLLLP!!!!" <beeeeeep>
Over at Lou's we'd find Lou standing next to a tree, picking at the bark, looking back and forth from the tree to my sister's bedroom window, her shadow indicating she was putting a shirt on. Other time's we'd find him, shovel in hand, digging up the grave of one of his dead cats. He'd be there, kneeling on the ground, picking through little clumps of fur and bones pretending to make the dead cat dance. It was pretty funny. Lou always had some kind of joke he was playing. A few years later, after all the other big kids in the neighborhood left for college, Jay got in trouble for showing his wiener to some boys down on the bike trail near the golf course. The police didn't find that joke very funny, and Lou had to go to jail for a while. Mom said jail is much worse than being grounded...no snacks at all and you have to poop in the open for everyone to see. Mom then asked me if Lou ever showed me his penis. "Nope, just his dead cats and playboys." Nothing in the playboys that we hadn't seen at Joanne's on a regular basis, but we didn't tell Mom about Joanne; she was our little secret.
On hot summer days when Jay's parents would get all perfumed up and head over to The Roger's house, two neighborhoods over, we'd have the most fun. Jay's dad, a box of pink in each hand, would nod us goodbye and tell us to "behave yourselves!" Jay's mom, her face painted up like a clown, would fire up her slow talk, "Ya'll be gud kids, enkay?" while carefully ducking into the Buick, making sure her big yellow curls didn't touch the roof. They were always leaving us there alone, so we had lots of great adventures. With them gone, we'd get down to real fun.
First we'd strip down to our undies. Then we'd drag the garden hose and the sprinkler into the garage. We'd turn it on low so the spray wouldn't touch the ceiling but would reach all corners of the concrete floor. After we got a lot of water flowing through the garage, we'd get a running start from the backyard, run through the back garage door and drop to our stomachs, sliding fast across the rushing water. As we slid out of the garage, we'd land in the driveway gravel which would usually bloody our hands and elbows up pretty good. It wasn't quite as fun as Water Country USA, but it held us over till the next visit.
Once the sliding got boring, we'd play circus. Jay's dad had a bunch of red containers on the shelves in the garage, and we'd usually pick the one marked "HEATER". Sometimes we'd grab the one marked "LAWNMOWER". We'd squirt the stinking liquid on the watery garage floor, then, throw a match in it till the flames started dancing high. Then, the "chosen one" would run at full speed and slide on his feet through the wall of flames. It was lots of fun and we'd often throw the M80's Lou gave us into the dying flames. POP! POP! The celebration was over. When Jay's parents returned later on that day, Jay's dad would get red-angry and slap Jay around for a while. "Why the hell is the garage soaking wet? What's that smell? What's on fire?" Jay's mom would give me a mad look and tell me I had to go home.
Rick lived down the hill from me and Jay. Rick's parents were divorced. Rick's dad came by pretty often to take him out for rides on his new dirtbike, four-wheeler or other motorized toy. He had RC cars that could go faster than our parent's car and a GI Joe collection that was a million times bigger than mine. Rick's dad must have really like Rick a lot. One person we knew Rick's dad didn't like was Rick's mom. He always calling her a "stupid bitch" and told us never to use the word "bitch" that it was ADULT LANGUAGE ONLY. As soon as he left, we would dance around the yard singing the bitch song while throwing rocks and the Simpson's cats. Everybody's parents hated the Simpson's cats. They had six of them, all different colors. The cats liked to sleep on top of cars. My parents and Jay's parents hated this because the cats would leave scratch marks in the paint. Dad used to put little trays of blue water out for the cats to drink after they got hot from lying in the sun. He said that after the cats drink the water, they won't want to sleep on cars no more.
When Rick wasn't out jumping hills on his dirt bike, me and Jay would stop by his house for BB gun wars. Of course, we had to wait until his mom wasn't home, which was often because she was constantly getting her hair done. BB gun wars were fun because I was an ace with the rifle, and I could run faster than everyone else. After snapping a couple squirrels, their furry gray bodies shaking hard, blood dripping from their noses, we'd say "GO!" The rules were you had to stay in Rick and Matthew's yard (Matthew lived next door to Rick. His mom was dead and his dad owned a pizza shop where he stayed all the time), and, if you got shot three times, you're out. I'd usually cover my head with a football helmet. Jay would grab a trashcan lid. Matthew thought he was quicker than BBs and usually didn't carry a shield. Joey (Matthew's younger brother) would put on layers of clothes and his batting helmet. Usually, everyone aimed at Matthew, and lodged little copper pellets beneath his bare skin. He'd yelp, when hit, then start crying after a minute or so saying we cheated or 'ganged up' on him or something. We'd then help him dig out the little chunks of copper from his stomach or forearm or where ever the pellet hit. After a couple minutes, the bloody red dot at the center would be surrounding by beautiful yellows, blues and purples and Matthew would parade around proudly with his new wound, drying his eyes with one hand, eating a Fla-Vor-Ice with the other.
Some days, we'd go down to the golf course and collect golf balls. We had to sneak around like ninjas though, because we were not allowed on the golf course. Most days we would dig through the woods on the side of the course, searching for little white balls. Every once in a while somebody would find the prized yellow ball or even orange ball. When we found balls with the red stripe, we would throw them at the ducks in the pond and pretend they were grenades going off. On days where we didn't find many balls, we would hide low in the bushes and wait for golfers to tee off. When their balls landed on the grass, we would run as fast as we could, grab the balls and run back to the neighborhood. Every now and then an old ranger would come speeding toward us in his cart calling us "little bastards". We'd run so fast that we would be completely out of breath when we made it back home. We usually sold our white balls to Mr. Jefferson or Mr. Claymore for twenty-five cents each. We never sold the yellow or orange balls because they were rare and valuable.
Bear mountain was a couple streets away from my cul-de-sac, behind the Claymore's house. It separated my neighborhood from Walnut Creek. Nobody ever saw any bears up there, but there were rumors that they were up there. Bear Mountain was covered with trees, and at the top was our fort. We spent hours carefully clearing the area around our fort, making sure the floor inside the fort was nice soft dirt with no twigs or branches. The walls of the fort were made from branches and logs piled up, some nailed to trees. Our walls were thick and inside we had a couple buckets where we would make stew and keep our trash. Our fort was the only place we would ever smoke. Jay took the cotton balls from his mom's bathroom. Rick brought his notebook paper, scissors and tape. Matthew snuck the matches from the fireplace. I was in charge of finding the driest, crispiest leaves. Rick would roll and tape paper tubes, Jay would jam a cotton ball in one end, and I would stuff crushed leaves in the other end. We'd make a whole pile of cigarettes and stored the extras in a crayon box. The ones we didn't store, we smoked. They made us cough really hard, but nothing beat the feeling of blowing smoke like a dragon.
Sunday mornings were the worst. No Joanne, no BB guns, no slip and slide. I'd have to put on ironed pants and my clip-on, comb my hair and squish in the car with my brother and sister. Everybody was in a bad mood, mom and dad too, and we sat quietly while dad complained about the traffic or the bird brain who needed lessons on how to drive his "goddamn car". At church, it was sit, stand, sit, stand, sit, stand for over an hour. I hated singing, but, if I didn't, my dad would give me this really mean look with tight lips. Once in a while we'd get to see a few naked babies being dunked in the water by the priest, so that was pretty fun. Sometimes he'd wipe ashes on our faces. Sometimes we'd tell him about when we kicked our sister or stole candy from the store. Most days though it was just an old man talking about Jesus, saying "holy this" and "holy that" and feeding people crackers and juice. The best time was when we would get ready to leave cause we would get lemonade and cookies in the commons.
Every once in a while on a Friday night, I'd go over to Alex's house. Alex was the fat kid in the neighborhood, so he didn't come outside very often. Everybody made fun of Alex, me too. But, I knew better than to make fun of Alex to his face cause Alex had the best collection of Nintendo games in the neighborhood. Also, he had the biggest collection of Garbage Pail Kids and he always gave me his duplicates. We would sit around for hours playing Mario or Zelda and Alex's mom would always feed us McDonalds or Burger King. I would never want to leave, and my mom would always have to call up Alex's mom to tell her to send me home. Mom didn't like that I ate so much McDonalds at Alex's house, so I would usually try to lie about it and feed my dinner piece by piece to Rufus who always kept my feet warm below the kitchen table. After dinner, I was usually allowed to go back outside as long as I stayed in the cul-de-sac. I'd run out of the house, over to Jay's, peek in his back window to see if he was done eating dinner. When he finished up, he'd always come out, round the side of the house where I'd be waiting. One last adventure before the sun was gone.
More often than not, days would end with one last visit back to Joanne's to see her guinea pig. Like every other time, she would invite us in, her towel would fall off and Jay and I would begin to investigate. She would tell us to touch her boobies, that it was OK and we didn't have to worry about our parents or getting in trouble. We'd touch, laugh, and our faces would go red as an apple. Some days, Joanne guinea pig was hard to see, and me and Jay would have difficulty describing it to each other. When this happened, we knew it was time to visit Lou and the playboys so that we could get a better picture of Joanne's mysteries.