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Next Door

The things we put up with to avoid falling out with our neighbors.

by Ryan Harris
Jul 20 2018, 2:00pm

Jason Arias

Some things will never change. With that, enjoy today's neighborly dispatch from the not-too-distant future. -the Ed

The cul-de-sac was just ahead. I could see my home situated comfortably left of center.

My car glided safely into the drive. Tom was washing his 2035 Audi—a TT coupe, if memory served me. I slid out of my Camaro and nodded.

"Afternoon, Tom," I said.

"Hey, neighbor," he replied with a cordial smile.

I took a gander at his driveway, craning my neck to look past the wash job. "What's with the boxes?"

He turned to look at the long wooden boxes by his garage door. "Oh, Linda and I finally decided to splurge on lead-lining the garage," Tom said.

"Well I'd certainly take that over spending Sundays in my HAZMAT Dickies," I said.

“Wait a minute,” I said, squinted, and took a closer look at his gas mask. It had a minute C.K. logo, silver, above the right eyepiece. "When did you get a Calvin Klein mask?" I knew he was trying to show off, but I also knew the model was nothing more than an Israeli 4A1 bought for pennies on the dollar by the fashion brand.

"Linda got it at the mall a few days ago,” he said with satisfaction. “I waited to whip it out this morning for my interview for partner."

"I hope you make it," I said.

"Well thanks, Greg," he said with toothy glee. "How's the geiger business?"

I leaned against my car, hands in my pockets, and let out a sigh. "It's going, I'll say that much. Waiting to hear back about the Sales Manager position," I said as a fresh plume of smoke billowed overhead from the direction of Dallas-Fort Worth in the distance. "That's job security for ya."

Tom just glanced at his feet. "I heard your company is making a sleek new geiger that’s built into a smartphone. “Any chance you'd want to throw your good ol' neighbor a discount?"

"Well that all depends, Tom. Maybe you talk to your guy about a discount on those lead liners?"

My neighbor looked away in thought and turned back to me. "I'll see what I can do."

His wife sauntered outside from their front door. She was donning a lavender Dana Tutu HAZMAT. Linda was always the flashy type.

"Sorry to interrupt guys." Linda walked over and kissed Tom on the cheek. "Honey, can you help me with dinner?" she asked her husband.

"I sure will, sweetness," Tom replied with genuine affection.

Linda faced me, eyes squinting in a grin behind her mask lenses. "Hello, Greg! How are you and Melanie? I feel like I hardly ever see you two." As if she ever made an effort. We rarely got invited to their fancy barbecues, but we sure could hear them, what with the outdoor air purifiers working overtime.

"Well, Melanie has been working out of town more often lately. Me, I've been working insanely long hours," I said.

She laid a gloved hand on my shoulder. "You two should come over this weekend. Tom and I will cook. I can get some real chicken for a change, not the faux breast."

"We'll do that. I sure wouldn't mind some actual poultry."

"Wonderful," she said, heading back to her front door. "Hurry in, honey, the beans are thawed out."

"Be right in," said Tom. "You heard the boss," he cracked, "time for me to get in the house." I knew it was time.

"Oh, check this out before you go in, Tom," I said, taking pains to sound casual. Reaching into the car, I pulled out a kelly green square of lawn grass.

"Wow," Tom said. Genuinely impressed. "Artificial Bermuda sod?"

A crooked smirk bent beneath my mask. "Not artificial," I said.

Even Calvin Klein couldn't veil his wide-eyed bewilderment. "Nano—lawn?"

"Sure is. Dayton Co.'s contribution to the resurgence of natural lawns. Resistant to radiation, chemicals, and everything in between. Landscapers are installing it tomorrow."

Tom bit his lip, eyeing his own lawn. It was an ochre-green on the verge of goldenrod. "Well, Greg, guess I'll have to-"

"Gotta go, Tom," I said. Flicking a wave, I nearly skipped to my front door.