keeping up with the joneses

It was a beautiful day in Atlanta.  The skies were blue, the air was warm, and the windows in my house were wide open!  If they hadn’t been open, I may not have heard the voices carrying over the wind.  At first I thought I was imagining it.  I even looked at my dogs to see if they were talking to me.  They weren’t.  So I stepped out the side door to investigate.  That’s when I saw the smoke.

The neighbors across the street, (let’s call them the Joneses) were sending up smoke signals from their back yard.  I stood on the driveway as giant plumes of whitish gray smoke billowed into the sky and I listened as the sound of their laughter filled the air.  If I didn’t know any better I might have suspected they were into ritual sacrifices back there, dancing naked around the fire with a goat on a spit or something.  But, I did know better, and the truth is, out of all the neighbors on my street, they are in a very select few that I actually like.

I sort of wished I was back there throwing giant limbs onto the fire along with them, you know, burning things in effigy (a personal favorite of mine.)  Instead, I urged my husband to build a fire pit in our yard so that we could set fire to things too.  I wanted to watch things burn.  Like steaks maybe.  I haven’t had a good steak in a really long time.  My husband is convinced that cows are the root of all evil and we should not support their existence by eating them.  That may be a gross exaggeration of what he actually said, but when I’m hungry I tend to be cranky. (Not to mention the fact that he’s standing over my shoulder as I write this.)

My husband has his work cut out for him if he is going to build a fire pit as grand as the one at the Jones’s house—their backyard is the envy of the block—so it’s a good thing we’re good friends.  I can actually get the inside scoop on how it was done.  It’s no surprise that I “borrow” many of her decorating ideas.  I tell her flat out when I’m going to play copycat.  I’m certain she doesn’t mind—she’s good about that—and I’m sure she has borrowed many of my ideas too.  I just haven’t figured out which ones yet. 

Because of her unmatched expertise at throwing a party, Mrs. Jones is the unofficial leader of our neighborhood book club (and if they’re reading this, it should be said that I like everyone in the book club.) Mrs. Jones takes book club very seriously.  She is an extremely picky reader.  That is one reason I let her read my book, “To Katie, With Love”.  I knew she would be honest in her critique.  Lucky for me, she loves it!  Of course, her taste in books is typically more serious than my little romantic comedy.  Mrs. Jones went through a phase where she was only reading books about the Holocaust.  And so the book club read a book set during the Holocaust.  When we went to her house for our meeting, her coffee table was littered with several serious books set in that time period.  She got so involved that she began to think of herself as a Holocaust survivor.  She was drawing the Star of David in the fog on her shower door until her husband told her she was freaking him out and she had to stop.  She finally got the hint when her best friend/gardener left a chalk swastika on a rock in her flower bed.  The man has an unusual sense of humor, and if you ask me, somewhat of an undefined orientation…if you know what I mean.  I’ve decided that an in-ee or an out-ee doesn’t always refer to a belly button! 

Mrs. Jones’s next obsession was the civil rights movement. 

The book club has already read two novels depicting race relations in the late sixties. Mrs. Jones became so entrenched in the struggles outlined in the books that she tried to hug a large black woman working in the Waffle House, just as a sign of solidarity.  I’m sure the lady looked at this tiny blonde haired blue-eyed woman and thought she was crazy, talking about being sisters and all that.  So now she’s looking for a march to go on.  She may be a few decades too late, but if she can find one, I have no doubt she will be carrying a sign promising that “we shall overcome.”

I wonder if I should be worried that my choice for book club was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  It was a fun twist on the Jane Austen original, but if Mrs. Jones gets too wrapped up in that story, I may need to wear make-up on the weekends too.  Otherwise she may mistake me for dead, and try to lop of my head with her katana.

Lucky for me, our next topic is India. 

I fully expect her to start cooking curried goat and jasmine rice and dressing in a sari with a red dot on her forehead.  Some people might assume she was making fun, but I know Mrs. Jones, and she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body.  Imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery!

My husband has told me that if she does make curried goat, he’ll be having dinner over there that night.  Now that he doesn’t eat beef anymore, I’m starting to worry about my dogs.  We all know he doesn’t love them, so if any of them turn up missing, I will be searching the fire pit for bones.

Until the next time…I will be hiding my copy of Twilight from Mrs. Jones!

Copyright © 2000-2018, Erica Lucke Dean. All rights reserved. Any retranscription or reproduction is prohibited and illegal.
Posted on February 21, 2010 .