A PARTY LINE
Some twenty years ago I decided to take the kids out to the woods in Idaho, not far from the often ferocious Salmon River. We rented a cozy cottage on the lake, not far from those raging waters. Upon arriving on an eerily quiet night, I made the unfortunate choice to pop “The River Wild” video into the VCR, (I am a sucker for anything starring Meryl Streep). If you have not seen this flick, it is about a woman from the east coast who takes her son and a guide to the Salmon River to learn to maneuver a raft on white water. Meanwhile, two armed stalkers lurk nearby in the trees, in search of victims with loot. Kevin Bacon plays one of the creepy bandits, and he plays it well.
About 45 minutes into the film I notice my five-year-old son quivering, his head beneath a pillow. Immediately I punched the “EXIT” button on the remote, leaving my seven-year-old daughter pouting.
“Why’d you turn off the movie, Mommy?” I like it!”
“It is much too scary for your baby brother, Cecil, I whispered, terrified myself.
“Let’s watch something a little more appropriate for a young mother with two small children alone in the deserted woods not far from the Salmon River.”
The dejected little girl popped in some Mary Kate and Ashley video while little boy slept and I reached for the phone. As soon as I lifted the receiver I heard a man’s voice, followed by a woman’s.
“I do NOT think you should come up here tonight, honey. It’s not a good idea”, the man insisted.
“Why not darling? I could be there in less than two hours. We could spend the entire night wrapped in each other’s arms. Think about it.”
It did not take me long to put it together that the man was in a dwelling just up the road from our rental, with the woman down in Boise itching to get up to the lake and her man.
“I do not want you driving that clunker of yours alone in the dark at this time of night—understand?”
“But Snookums, I have done that trip so many times I could drive it in my sleep!”
That is another point, dear; I don’t want you falling asleep at the wheel.”
By now I had grown bored with the monotonous chatter so softly hung up the phone and polished off my wine and nails.
Sadly, some pathetic people just can’t seem to take a hint.
And if the children weren’t with me, I would’ve taken a little drive up the road to uncover whether the man had company—or not…
Seems every house I have lived in since getting married, there have been several insane people dwelling on the street. I am talking lunatics. I seem to attract them.
From Manhattan to Tokyo to Bangkok to Houston to Dallas to here in Virginia, I have been forced to deal with difficult neighbors. But Joanne* next door takes the cake. I am sure she is a nice person down deep, but she comes across to most of the rest of us as certifiably crazy.
“Jo”, as her unbelievably patient and kind husband calls her, first came to my attention in August of 2000 when a nice neighbor on the other side of us hosted a backyard barbeque to welcome our family to the block. As my 14- year- old daughter and I stood nibbling some nuts, Jo approached to inquire—
“How old are you honey?” To which my daughter replied, “I am 14 and entering eighth grade.”
At which point Jo exclaimed, “Oh my!! You are going to have the worst year of your entire life! We moved when my daughter was your age and she was miserable!”
It only got worse. Several years later, my phone rang early one morning. It was Joanne calling to inform me she was coming over to discuss something important. “I want to see the whites of your eyes when I am talking to you, Nan”. I had absolutely no idea what I had done to warrant a 7 a.m. visit from a witch and was shaking in my boots, I mean, slippers.
I won’t bore you with all the gory details, but basically Jo was accusing our son, (who was away at college, by the way) of hitting a golf ball through one of her back windows. She claimed the repair cost them $800!
“That must be come window” I think I remarked. “But I am afraid my son was not in town at the time you claim the window was broken, plus he does not play golf in our backyard.”
Luckily, my husband came downstairs to back me up on my insistence that our son did not hit a golf ball from our backyard. Plus, the ball would have had to sail close to 200 feet, make a sharp left turn, then enter Jo’s upstairs, back window. I suggested perhaps the people who live BEHIND their house might be to blame. That family has four rowdy kids, all of whom play many sports, including golf.
Jo agreed she’d confront Mindy* to get to the bottom of the case of the broken $800 window.
Once Jo was safely out of sight, I locked our door, drew the blinds and called Mindy. When I explained that the witch next door was about to attack her, the mother of four rowdy rascals laughed out loud. “Ha ha ha ha ha;
Ralph shot that ball, I saw him!”
(Ralph is Mindy’s jock husband…)
p.s. Last time I ran into Jo on the bike path she jumped, barking at me.
“Why Nan Kilmer, I barely even recognize you, you look so good!”
Names have been changed as I have to live in this neighborhood.
We Kilmer kids learned to swim while still minnows skimming the shallow waters. As each of us turned ten we were expected to stroke across the Payette Lake in Idaho while on summer vacation, with Dad rowing along beside us in case we started to sink. All four of us are alive today though I am the only one still kicking.
Yes, I am in the throes of getting re-certified as a WATER SAFETY INSTRUCTOR. I was certified when I was young and spry, and put myself through college and grad school teaching little tykes not to drown, (when I wasn’t writing term papers for my peers who were too busy partying for research). Having always loved small children and being in the water, I now plan to resume my career as a swimming teacher. I already have a job offer at a nearby health club, which is a big plus–having work before I am even qualified. “Can’t beat that with a stick”, as they say in Texas.
No, getting a job is not my dilemma; rather, it’s getting this darn certificate. Our maniacal teacher Maxine* makes Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull seem angelic. Not only must we spend six (6) hours every Sunday in a stuffy classroom reading our Red Cross manuals, booklets, pamphlets and hand-outs (can you say redundancy?), we suffer another four (4) hours in the Aquatic Center’s chilly, smelly, over-chlorinated water. My teeth chatter at the mere thought of these torture sessions. There will be five (5) in all for a total of fifty (50) hours of sheer hell.
A saving grace is my classmates.* Most are twenty-something. Drew is a formidable athlete, having trained for Olympic swimming, Melinda, an anatomy genius/yoga instructor, Marie a brilliant, overachieving high school senior accepted to every top tier college she contacted, Monica, an M.I.T. grad/whiz closer to my age, and I–an aging, stay-at-home mom/housekeeper/blogger. To say I am intimidated hardly seems necessary.
If all goes as planned, and it might very well NOT, I will be awarded my WATER SAFETY INSTRUCTOR’S certificate later this month. If somehow lady luck and the lord are on my side, I intend to celebrate with a special dinner and drinks but no drugs. And I might never go in the water again, unless it’s for fly fishing or a warm bubble bath.
*Names have been changed to protect myself.