My neighborhood on the surface looks friendly. Nice enough homes with kids riding bicycles on tree-lined streets, the occasional yapping of a dog and the sound of someone yelling “fore’ from the nearby golf course. But, a bully lurked on our cul-de-sac. We were plagued with the Cruella De Vil of neighbors.
I got my first taste of Cruella as soon as our moving van pulled up. She “popped over” to say welcome to the neighborhood. There she was oozing faux friendliness and at the same time asking me if I could tell the driver of the moving van to relocate because she didn’t want to be looking out of her kitchen window at an 18 wheeler all day. I said I would see what I could do with a big cheerful “hey, I’m the new person on the block please like me smile” and then, of course, did nothing. As I got acclimated to our new neighborhood I heard tales of her bullying ways. Cruella didn’t look like your typical bully. She’s in her 50’s, petite with short hair sprinkled with gray and she dresses like a lady who golfs a lot at the country club. Cruella patrolled the neighborhood like she owned the place and the rest of us were lucky to be in her orbit.
I put up with her attitude – all of it. When she objected to how my son was mowing the grass I shrugged it off. Cruella wanted everyone in the neighborhood to mow their grass in a cross hatch pattern. “All the lawns must match,” she said to in a super chipper tone. I told her my family didn’t have the math or horticulture skills to figure out how to make that happen so we’d be taking a pass on being a part of the matching lawn brigade. She was consumed with her yard. It was perfect all right. But, it had enough chemicals on it to qualify as the epicenter of a cancer cluster.
When she objected to my Halloween decorations I just sucked it up and hoped she hop on her broom and ride, far, far, away. Cruella said they were “gaudy and unseemly.” That got her all excited so she went on a rant. My favorite quote from here was, “I don’t know how you celebrated Halloween in your former neighborhood, but here we try to keep excessive, well, I’m just going to have to say it, tacky out of our little piece of paradise.”
I even kept my mouth shut when she suggested to me how to place my trash cans on the curb. It wasn’t until she started leaving sticky notes on my door objecting to the way I sorted my recycling that I got a little ticked off. I hate sticky notes. My husband doesn’t even leave me sticky notes so she sure wasn’t to get away with it. It wasn’t just one sticky note either. She would leave multiple sticky notes. One for each offense. So, I would wake up in the morning to a front door covered in her monogrammed stickies
Her primary recycling objection was that some cereal boxes were being put in the trash and not in the recycling container. She also mentioned that from the looks of my trash I could be doing a better job of feeding my family. “I’m seeing signs of entirely too much processed food.” She scrawled on the sticky note adding, “That’s a death sentence.” Excuse me that my kids (and by my kids I mean me) like chocolate Lucky Charms. It really is magically delicious. She also questioned the nature of the magazines in our recycling bin. With the sticky note “Really wouldn’t have figured your family for flaming liberals.” Let’s see Time, Southern Living, Wired, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, my secret shame, Us magazine, have us flagged as liberals – go figure.
I shared my little invasion of privacy story with some of my older neighbors and they began to spout tales of bullying and what I considered down right harassment. These folks were my parent’s age. In fact, one man reminded me of my Dad and no one on my watch is going to get away messing with very, very senior citizens.
At first I started yanking her a chain just a teeny-weeny bit. If she wanted to go through my trash I was going to give her something to find. I went to a restaurant and talked them into giving me lots of empty whisky, vodka and scotch bottles. So many, that it filled a 60 gallon trash can, our wheelbarrow and our lawn fertilizer spreader. Then I bought, shall I say, a few “interesting” magazines including High Times, Cannabis Culture and N Magazine for “the discriminating nudist.” (All special ordered from Amazon.com so you can imagine what freaky mailing lists I’m now on.) I put those bad boys right on top of my paper recycling bin and fanned them out so you couldn’t miss them. Oh, she went into a tizzy alright. Cruella banged on by door and demanded that I ask for God’s forgiveness and wailed about my family bringing shame to the neighborhood. I acted all confused and asked what she was talking about which just set her off more. Excellent.
Over the winter Cruella got more demanding. If you didn’t shovel snow from your driveway (crosshatching pattern preferred) she’d be all up in your face. Two of our older neighbors were surprised with bills from snow removal crews she had called because she was tired of waiting for them to shovel their driveway. Well, they happened be out-of-town visiting family over the holiday so of course they’re not shoveling their driveways. That was the moment when I realized what I had to do. I would the liberate the neighbors from this menace. I would free the neighborhood. I’m a Texas girl after all and this lady needing a whole lot of Lone Star Justice raining down on her. I had a plan. A very good plan but I needed a team. This was going to be black ops all the way. Totally covert and if caught we would have to deny everything. I had two perfect operatives in mind. My children.
Sure, some people would think you shouldn’t pull your kids into a plan, that at the very least, is breaking some local code ordinances. But, this where I play the Super Hero card. Think of everything Batman and Robin did. The dynamic duo took the law into their own hands everyday. Robin is the “boy wonder” which means he still falls under “minor child” status. So, if it’s good enough for the Caped Crusader it’s surely good enough for me.
My first recruit was my son. Thirteen years old and with geek skills a plenty. This is the kid that for the first decade of his life my husband and I tried to find his “thing.” We tried sports from soccer to fencing (yes fencing), art, theatre, music. Nothing was a good match. Then when he was ten he hacked into our Bank of America account. We found out because he asked us, after seeing our meager bank balance, if we were poor. We said no, why do you ask? That’s when he got his laptop and showed us how he got into our account and pointed to the balance. My husband looked at me a little freaked out and I said, “Well, I guess he’s found his thing.”
Since that day we’ve established a three-way test he’s supposed to ask himself before he does anything on his computer. One: Is it legal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia? Two: Will it in any way keep you out of a top-tier college? Three: Is it for good not evil? My son harbors a dream that he was adopted and is really Steve Jobs love child. That fantasy started after someone (my sister) shared with him my less than stellar academic achievements. Long story short, my dad may have had to make a call to get me into college. Regardless of his disdain of my collegiate G.P.A. I knew I could get him to help me. I sat him down over a chocolate chip cookies and tossed my geek bait right at him. “Hey, sweetie,” I asked, “How would you take out a satellite and not get caught?”
He perked right up. “Military grade, broadcast or communications?”
I laughed and said,”Just a plain old dish like the neighbors have.”
“Oh,” he sighed, sounding very disappointed. “Well, the easiest way would be a magnetic accelerator cannon.”
Now, I’m thinking maybe the child really does need to spend much more time outside. I press on. “What is that? How does it work? How fast can you build it?” I ask.
He begins to not only explain, but to diagram out on paper how it would work. Way over my head and my pay grade I zone out. In layman’s terms he was going to take a bunch of fancy magnets, totally trick out a nerf gun and fire them into the satellite. The magnets would temporarily mess up the dish’s electromagnetic receiver field (whatever that means) but not irrevocably harm it. I explained to him my mission and he was all for it. I then gave him a code name: “My Retirement Fund” and said in tribute to Star Trek geeks everywhere, “Make it so Number One.”
Next up my daughter. She would have the most dangerous part of the mission. I would be sending my almost 9-year-old into the enemy camp. This girl can act, turn on the charm, is a little sneaky and can do a cart-wheel. All qualities I needed. Plus, she liked dogs, which was a must for this assignment. She was in immediately. Her code name: Dr. Doolittle.
My husband would be kept in the dark about the rest of the family’s black ops. The most compelling reason is that he’s a super goodie two shoes. Mr. Moral Compass would have a conniption fit. He was strictly on a need to know basis. I decided, as commander of the mission, he needed to know nothing. We practiced our mission roles for a couple of days, did surveillance, readied our supplies, and watched a couple of Mission Impossible movies to get pumped up. Then, on Super Bowl Sunday it was go time.
Cruella prided herself on throwing a huge Super Bowl party. Not just any Super Bowl, she explained to me, but an elegant “Super Bowl Soiree.” Yes, my family was invited. Shocking, I know. I think she wanted us there so she could show me how good, righteous Americans live. The soiree even had a dress code – Business Attire. Who wants to go to a Super Bowl in work clothes? Football needs to be watched in some kind of pant with either an elastic waist or at the very least a 30% lycra blend.
The word around the neighborhood was if you dared to skip her party she would unleash a year-long reign of holy terror on you. This is a Super Bowl party you would want to skip. It was alcohol free. Cruella was a teetotaler and no adult beverages were permitted inside her house. In addition, she embraced a vegetarian and gluten free lifestyle. It was football without brew, beef or chips. Now, that’s un-American. The only good thing about being in Casa Curella was that she had a T.V. so mammoth it probably affected the gravitational pull of the sun. My mission was a two parter: Take that party down and take it over.
We had to begin our assignment under the cover of darkness. My husband, clueless to the devastation that lay ahead, went on over to Curella’s house solo. I had told him the kids and I would come over later, maybe for the second quarter. As soon as he left we synchronized our cell phones. It was now T – 30 minutes. First, we had to get Dr. Dolittle ready and into position. Cruella was the owner of a seriously deranged poodle “Ollie North.” It was one angry barking machine. In the poodles defense she fed Ollie North only vegan kibble. I’m sure the dog’s brain was wasting away from a severe protein deficiency.
The first part of Dr. Dolittle’s mission was to infiltrate the house, subdue the dog so it wouldn’t give away our position and then give us the “all clear” to take down the satellite dish. To ensure Dr. Dolittle’s success I spayed her head to toe in bacon flavored Pam. Brushed “Uncle Jebs Hickory Flavored Liquid Smoke” through her hair and stuffed the pockets of her hoodie with Snausages. I was afraid I had over done it. The kid smelled so good I wanted to put some honey mustard on her and slap her between two slices of bread. I wiped away my drool, pre loaded her cell phone with the code GTG (good to go) so all she had to do was hit send, gave her a final warning about what to do if the dog got overly crazed upon smelling her beefy goodness (tuck, drop and roll) and out the door she went.
My son and I were ready to get into position. We were dressed in black and just because I thought it looked cool, had those cell phone head sets on. He had sprayed his Nerf N-Strike Raider Rapid Fire CS 35 Blaster turned magnetic accelerator cannon black and we both had painted the magnets that were going to be fired into the satellite dish brown so if found they would look like harmless acorns. Our job was to get into position, wait for the all clear and then fire. The problem was getting into position. We had to climb a tree to be at the right height to hit the dish. I was there to carry the ladder (also painted black) and assist in hoisting up the cannon. We waited on the edge of our property. Nervous, but excited. I whispered to my son, “Are you sure this is going to work?”
He, looked at me with disdain and whispered, “Mom, please don’t question my knowledge of accelerator ballistics when combined in tandem with magnetic fields.”
I’m guessing that was a huge geek put down. So, I shut up and waited for the text message that would send us on our way. Three minutes later we got what we’ve been waiting for. The letters GTG lit up my cell. We were mobile. Staying low to the ground we ran over to Cruella’s backyard. I set up the ladder and my son began to climb. I was right behind him with the cannon strapped over the back. My heart was racing. I checked for left arm pain to make sure it wasn’t the onset of a stroke or heart attack. Nope, just pure adrenaline. I could see the “soiree” going on though the windows at the back of Cruella’s house. For the love of Peter Graves, I hope no one sees us because it would be most difficult to explain what the hell we’re doing.
At last, “My Retirement Fund” got to the right branch and assumed a firing position. I handed him the cannon. Neighborhood Liberation was about to begin. He looked at me I gave him the signal, the University of Texas hook-em-horns sign. He aimed at the dish and released a torrent of magnets. Damn, I was proud of that boy. We waited, frozen in the tree to see if we had been successful in disabling the dish. I got my second text of the night – “bulls-eye.”
We attempted to stealthy climbed down from the tree but my son’s big foot stepped on my hand and there was moment of sheer horror when I thought the cannon was going airborne. I grabbed it. My middle-aged cat-like reflexes saved the day – meow. We were down. I strapped the cannon to my back, grabbed the ladder, covered up the indentations it made in the ground (I didn’t want any trace evidence left behind that could be pointed at us. Thank you C.S.I.) and we flew to the safety of our house.
It was Dr. Doolittle’s turn to begin part two of her assignment. The party is now in an uproar. No f’ing TV signal! No Superbowl! Oh my! This is when my daughter makes her move. She says in a very loud voice. “We could have the party at our house couldn’t we Daddy? Mommy just bought something called a pony keg. She told me it’s almost eight gallons of beer! “
As predicted, those thirsty, brew starved folks circled my husband like moths to a flame. I knew by this time he would have figured out I was up to something, but I counted on his Achilles heel – exceptionally good manners to pull this off. Unable to say no and sound rude, he did as expected and led the party to our house. I was ready. Before we left to fire the cannon I had preheated the oven and succulent, greasy pigs-in-a-blanket were warming up. I also got out the hard liquor. I went top of the line. All the booze was Costco’s private label – Kirkland. I had to act surprised when my husband came in the door with what had to be 40 plus party guests. “What’s going on?” I exclaimed. “Oh no, the TV went out at the party. What a shame. Sure, everybody make yourself at home. Why, yes I do have a pony keg in the garage. Let me get some chips and dip out and whip together a smoked meat platter.”
It took all of five minutes for my house to be transformed into Superbowl party central. Things were hopping. Unfortunately, my husband was giving me the death glare as he got out cups for the pony keg. He came over and whispered in me ear, “Half bath now.”
Opps, this was not part of my plan for him to confront me during the party. I met him in the half bath and he closed the door and said, “What did you do now and why is our daughter greasy and reeking of cured pork?”
I stalled, my speciality. “Listen,” I said, “I have been out making memories our children will remember for a lifetime. And about what I did – it is very long, complex story and I don’t have time to get into all the details with a house filled to the brim with guests. Please, I need to get back out there. I’m the hostess.”
He did his signature sigh and opened the door. My mission wasn’t done yet. One more task had yet to be accomplished for the neighborhood liberation to be complete. As everybody is having a grand time stuffing their faces and draining the pony keg I walk in front of the TV during a station i.d. and shout. “Wow, this has been so much fun. My family really feels a part of the neighborhood. Why don’t we make my house the Superbowl party headquarters every year!”
Cheers erupted. I make eye contact with my kids and wink at them. They nod back and smile. Mission Accomplished. Party Take Down and Take Over a complete success. I head into my kitchen and there’s Cruella waiting. She walks over to me, gets uncomfortably close and rasps, “ I know somehow that you engineered this.”
I offer her pig-in-a-blanket and whisper back, “Don’t mess with Texas.”
*Attention Snarky Friends, I have a brand new book out. It’s the second in the Snarky in the Suburbs series – Snarky in the Suburbs Trouble In Texas. You can buy it for your Kindle or in paperback on Amazon. It’s also available for the Nook or you can get it for your Kobo reader. Click on a link and give it a test read. I hope you like it! 🙂