When we moved to our neighborhood 10 years ago, many of the Old Guard were still around, including the couple across the street. They were God-fearing, country-loving, gun-toting Americans. They liked just about everyone, provided that they were white, heterosexual and didn’t talk with any kind of funny accent.
One real estate transaction at a time our inner-ring suburb has given over to a New Order — gay couples, artists and musicians, alternative lifestyle families, and what some would call the fringe element of society. Oh, there are normal families, too, but no one pays attention to them.
My first meeting with one of our Old Guard neighbors was when the woman of the house across the street hauled herself onto my porch, leaned on the doorbell and then craned her neck through the doorway to get a look-see inside while asking: “So, that guy that lived in your house, was he a queer or what?”
I told her that it was nice to meet her, what was her name by the way? I said I was sorry I must have overlooked the paperwork at the closing that addressed the former owner’s sexual identity.
“How much you pay for this place? You might as well tell me, I’m gonna look it up in the paper anyway.”
Clearly, we were off to a good start.
Over the next few years, the only time I heard from her (other than when she needed me to sign for a package or collect her mail) was when she had some juicy observation about the goings-on in my house.
“Those contractors you hired? They ain’t getting paid by the hour are they? ‘Cause they sit around a lot when you’re not home.” She whispered to me as we passed each other in the bread aisle at the local grocery store.
“Does your husband work? Seems like he’s home most days.” She said under her breath after a hasty grab-and- thanks for taking in her mail.
One day I told her I didn’t like the anti-gay slurs she was using around my daughter, who was in elementary school at the time. I’ll never know if calling her out on the trash talk or her declining health stopped her from ever speaking to me again, but that was the end of our odd little relationship. She died last year. The house now stands empty.
Since the big house has a large deck, a pool and a pool house, it attracts a lot of house hunters. But it also seems to spit them out as fast as it draws them in. I was curious about this. One morning last fall, I saw a woman I’d just met a few weeks earlier leaving the house after a walk-through. I called out her name and invited her over for coffee. Not only did she give me the details on the house (in need of major renovation) and the family (unwilling to negotiate a sale price), but she also unwittingly opened a Pandora’s Box.
My new friend has no idea her house hunting adventure released my inner spy. My new hobby is to watch each walk-through and open house I happen to catch. I look to see who’s interested. I make note of details. I time their visits. (The average time is five minutes before the house hunters flee.) I say it’s because I’d like a young family to move in.
The other day, as I stood in the shadows of our living room, I delivered a play-by-play to my husband:
“They’ve been in there for more than five minutes. They are either dead or they like it.”
“Oh my god. She touched, no, she stroked, the mailbox. I wonder if that’s a good sign? ”
“I think they are sisters. No, wait, I think they are partners.”
Naturally my husband is worried. We’ve been here 10 years. Are we now the Old Guard? Maybe my late neighbor’s spirit flew out of her body and lodged in mine while I was asleep.
Is it so bad that I keep binoculars in the kitchen? That my ears perk up at the sound of car doors slamming?
He issued a warning the other day when he fond me crouched behind the curtains, peering out at a young couple entering the house.
“If you start wearing muumuus and ordering from QVC, I may have to divorce you.”