Love Thy Neighbor, or at Least Give Them Nicknames You Can Remember

I don’t know any of my neighbors’ names.

I think that’s excusable when you’ve only lived next to them for three months.

My problem is that I’ve lived next to them for eight years.

It doesn’t inconvenience me.  I don’t talk to them.  The only time it comes up is when Staci — who does talk to them — is telling me a story.

“Doug said they haven’t had any offers on their house.”

“Who’s Doug?” I ask.

“Doug.  Our neighbor.”

“The fat guy whose wife doesn’t talk to him?”

“That’s Jim.  Doug is across the street.”

“Oh, the guy with all the crap on his lawn.”


Although she’d rather not, she always knows who I’m talking about.  There’s “the lady who got pissed about the fence”; “skinny Prius dude”; “beardy guy with the dog”; “the strange kid who walks around the block”; and “the heavyset woman.”

The “heavyset woman” is the only one that’s problematic.  There are two of them.  So when Staci says, “Which one?”, I have to either say “the one with the shed” or “the one with the dirt yard.”  Should the one with the shed ever let her yard go to pot or the one with the dirt yard buy a shed, I’ll be in trouble.  But until that day, it works.

There’s also the man I’ve affectionately termed “shithead.”  He’s the guy who parks his brand-new Mercedes in front of our house instead of his because his trees don’t offer his car enough shade.  So whenever we have guests, they can’t park in front of our house.   He also has the annoying habit of sitting in his car for hours after he’s parked it so he can talk to people on his Bluetooth.   The space under our trees is his home-away-from-home, the latter being just fifty feet from the former.

I thought about all of this today because I read an article on “earthquake block committees.”

In California, you’re supposed to form these committees with your neighbors.  The board of the committee is responsible for knowing the names of everyone on your block.  In the event of a devastating quake, each board member is charged with walking past a certain number of homes and calling out the name of the person who lives there.

I’m thinking of volunteering.  Not for any altruistic reasons.  Just because I think it would make for some interesting conversations as I walked past the houses on our block after a devastating quake.

“Anyone in there?”

“Yeah.  It’s me.  Doug.”

“Doug?  Hmm.  Not ringing a bell.  You the guy with all the crap on your lawn?”

“Yeah, I guess I kept some stuff on there.”

“Great.  Listen.  You seen the fat guy whose wife doesn’t talk to him?”


“If you say so.”

“If you mean Jim, he’s over there.  Near Kay.”

“Who’s Kay?”

“The woman who lives next door to Jim. ”

“The heavyset woman?”

“Are you talking about Karen or Kay?”

“Which one has the dirt yard?”



“Yeah.  Her boy is Dylan.”

“I don’t know a Dylan.”

“Tall kid.  Sixteen or so.”

“The strange one who walks around the block?”

“Yeah. That’s him.”

“Great.  I guess that’s everyone.”

“What about Stan?”

“Who’s Stan?” I say.

“The guy trapped in that Mercedes those trees just fell on.”

“Oh, you mean ‘shithead.’  Don’t worry about ‘shithead.'”

“Why not?”

“He likes it there.”

The Secret of a Long Marriage

Saw a sweet-looking old married couple in the grocery store.  Both of them looked to be in their eighties.

Every time I see couple that old, I stop and stare, amazed that two people can stay together that long.  I’m always curious as to their secret of marriage longevity, and wonder whether it would help in my marriage with Staci.  In this particular case, I could hear them talking.

“Should we get milk?” asked the old man.

“We have milk,” she said.

“More milk,” he said.

“We don’t live in the woods,” she said, “We can come back and get milk whenever we want.”

“Shut your mouth,” he replied, “Shut your mouth.”

I’ll have to try that line on Staci.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

8/29 UPDATE:

Experiment not going well.

Of Chairs, Smoking, and the California Bureau of Home Furnishing’s Battle Against Charles Darwin

A tag fell off the underside of my chair today.  Here is what it says:

“Notice:  This article is manufactured for use in public occupancies and meets the flammability requirements of California Bureau of Home Furnishings Technical Bulletin 133.  Care should be exercised near open flame or with burning cigarettes.”

I’m trying to figure out who this warning would help.

First off, the person would have to be lying on the floor. With his head under the chair.

And not on his stomach.  On his back.  Staring up at the underside of the chair.

Then he’d have to be on the verge of smoking.  Not already smoking, because that would be too late.  He’d have to be contemplating it.

Then he’d have to be able to read.  Not necessarily a given for a guy who spends his spare time with his head lodged under a desk chair.

Then there’s the biggest problem:  The warning doesn’t tell the person NOT to smoke.  It just says that “care should be exercised.”  That’s a lot of discretion to give to a guy who’s already made the decision to smoke with his head lodged under a desk chair.

I’m thinking someone at the California Bureau of Home Furnishings wasted a lot of his time trying to protect a guy that Darwinian law is trying push out of the gene pool.

I’m rooting for Darwin.

It’s All About the Benjamins

I went to an arcade in Lake Tahoe with my son Tom.  I only wanted to get five dollars in tokens, so I went to the front counter to get change for a twenty.

“Could I get a ten and two fives?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said.

Then she paused.  And held the twenty up to the light.

I know.  It’s part of her job.  But I had to wonder:

Would she have done this to the Pope?

So I opened my mouth.

“Do you have to do that?”

“Yep,” she answered in an annoyed tone, “Have to make sure it’s real.”

So she gave me the two fives and the ten.

Then I paused.

And held the ten up to the light.

She glared.

I smiled.  “Just have to make sure it’s real.”

I Have Developed the Cure for Traffic

Was caught in gridlock on Saturday.

The kind where you can cut the engine and picnic on the asphalt.

Sitting on the hood of my car in the lotus position, a shaft of sunlight shone down upon me from the heavens and gave unto me a revelation:

Make dumb people pull over.

Hello Nobel Prize.

You see, gridlock is all about time wastage.  And smart people’s time is more valuable than dumb people’s time.

Smart people 1) cure polio; 2) paint the Mona Lisa; and 3) put man on the moon.

Dumb people lose fingers in firecracker mishaps.

If dumb people are forced to pull over, smart people will cure more diseases and dumb people will keep more fingers.  That’s a win-win.

I know what you’re saying.

“Stephan, that’s a brilliant idea and I can see why you’re one of the smart people.  But how will we determine who has to pull over and who gets to pass?”


Big billboards on the highway with a simple reminder message to the dumb people:

“You Know Who You Are.”

Below the text will be a photo of the Stupids, a happy but mentally-deficient family of four who will be to this program what Smokey Bear is to the Forest Service.  And on each billboard, the Stupids will be having more fun than the last.  They eat cheese puffs.  They toss the football.  They put funny animals stickers on each others’ shirts.

That will be the only cost of the program.  The scattering of Nerf footballs and animal stickers along the highways.

And before you think I’m putting all the burden of gridlock on the dumb, consider this rule I’ll be imposing on the smart people who get to drive past the stupid people:

We have to wave.

It’s only right.  Not all roads are on broad open plains.  Some of these people will be hanging on to the edge of cliffs.  Some of them will be getting rained on.

So give them a wave.  Or a nod of the head.  Or throw them an occasional:  “God bless you, dumb people.”

And when they wave back, count their fingers.

Because of you, they’ve got them all.

Your Maintenance Light Is On

The maintenance light on my Honda Accord went on this morning.  It says, “B12.”

I looked up what “B12” means in my owner’s manual.  It says I have to get my tires rotated.

So each of my tires has to get moved to a new place on my car.  My front left tire will go to the back right.  My front right to the back left.

I’m thinking we should do this with relatives.

You will get mine.  I will get yours.

All the same rationales for tire rotation apply to relatives.

For example, tire rotation is necessary because some tires are forced to carrier heavier loads than others.  So are some families.

Tire rotation is necessary because otherwise the extra stress can cause your tire to fail prematurely.  So can some relatives.

This will even everything out.

Those of us who have beset by relatives that are big pains in the ass will be temporarily relieved.  Those of you with okay families will learn to appreciate what you had.

We will all wear evenly.

Hope you like my cousin Josh.

The Culinary Delight I Call My Keyboard

I am staring down at my Mac keyboard pondering what to write.  And I am distracted.

Distracted because the sides of the keyboard are clear.

And I can’t help noticing one thing:

There is more food under those keys than there is in my cupboard.

I suppose I should be disturbed.  But all I can think is that if there’s is widespread famine in this country, I could suck the Cheese-puff remnants out of my keyboard for days.

There is comfort in that.

Et tu, old man?

I don’t like to leave my house.  People are out there.

But yesterday I looked out my front window and saw a huge fallen tree branch lying on our lawn near the sidewalk.  I walked outside to see what tree it had broken off from.  I was not wearing shoes.

As I was standing there, an old man came walking down the sidewalk.  He was very frail and walked extremely slow.

I stepped off the sidewalk to let him pass.  I nodded hello.

He stopped and looked down at me feet.

“Do your feet hurt?” he asked.

I looked down at my bare feet that were now standing in the dirt so this elderly man could pass.  I thought it was touching that he cared enough to ask.

“I guess so,” I said.

He looked up at me and paused before replying.


I’m never leaving my house again.