Neighbors are like apple cider. When you first move in, they’re nice and sweet. That’s because they will want to borrow something someday, or ask you to take in the mail when they go on vacation, or baby sit in a pinch. They act friendly but they are really just checking you out.
After a while neighbors get fizzy and sour like cider that’s turned. I mean, was it my fault the dog preferred their lawn to ours? And how was I to know that their kids were allergic to the poison ivy? We just grew a little bit to keep trespassers away and it worked pretty well.
I speak of my neighbors in the past tense because we don’t have them anymore. Most every house in walking distance is empty and has been for months. They’ve all been foreclosed. The families piled their belongings in U-Hauls and tearfully said good bye. Looks like they’ll stay empty for some time since it takes an average of 18 months to process a foreclosure in our state. For Pete’s sake, they built the Empire State Building in 18 months in the middle of the Depression.
Some wiseacre news person decided our neighborhood, Mirage Manor, was the worst in the region for foreclosures and then some big deal web site made us the reddest of all the red areas on its national heat map of foreclosure disaster areas. Wasn’t long before news reporters came around to cover what one of them called the “Chernobyl of American real estate.” The worst was a young radio reporter who breathlessly described everything she saw into her microphone. She made our neighborhood sound like Berlin after World War II, complete with graffiti, boarded up doorways, broken windows and waist-high weeds. She called our home “ground zero in the foreclosure plague” and “an island of homeownership in a landscape of tears.” I mean, really.
So when she knocked at the door, my wife Felicity invited her in for coffee, and she proceeded to stick a microphone in Felicity’s face.
“Mrs. Guthrie, tell me what your neighbors were like?”
“It’s very sad,” she said. “I miss so many of them. I used to baby sit for the Johnsons next door and we all looked out for each other the way neighbors do, you know.”
“And it’s such a pity that now that they are renters they won’t get their mortgage interest deductions next year.” I chimed in.
The radio reporter looked a little annoyed and turned her mike at me. “Mr. Guthrie, what’s it like having no neighbors?”
“Well, like everything else in life, it has its plusses and minuses,” I began. “It’s sure a lot quieter and now I can always park in front of the house, so I took down my “Anthrax Quarantine!! Park at Your Own Risk” sign. People don’t bother with our neighborhood any more. They don’t come to the door to pray for us and ask us to join their church. We save money on Halloween candy. And I haven’t run over a tricycle in months. Minuses? Well, I guess the biggest thing I miss is not having anyone to borrow tools from, which is actually not such a big deal. All our ex-neighbors left in such a hurry that I guess I forgot to return a bunch of stuff. I’m pretty well stocked for the duration.”
She decided to give me another chance to say something she could use. “Mr. Guthrie, perhaps you can tell us why you think you and your wife are the only homeowners to survive in this neighborhood?”
“Sure, that’s easy. You see, we’re both expert homeowners.”
The reporter looked amused. “Expert homeowners? What makes you an expert?”
“Well, for one thing, at this point our mortgage guy-his name is Earnest S. Crowe-knows he’d lose big time if he even thought about foreclosing on us. And we know that he knows what we know. See, we’re deeper underwater than the Titanic because we refinanced every chance we could in the good old days. When values sank, our lender ended up with all the risk. Homes in Mirage Manor are pretty much worthless. I mean, who wants to live in a place they call the Chernobyl of American real estate? If they were to foreclose on us, they would just add to their losses. Nor would it make any sense to make an example of us. There’s no one left around here who would notice. That’s how an expert homeowner would analyze the situation,” I said.
“What Homer forgot to mention is that the real reason we still own our home is that we pay the mortgage on time,” said Felicity. I frowned.
“I see,” said the reporter, who decided she’d had enough of us.
She only used a little bit of the interview, what Felicity said about our neighbors. Which is probably just as well. I’m hoping that I won’t have to give back the tools I borrowed.