Smashing Pumpkins

Good neighbors are hard to find. My wife and I lived in three different neighborhoods during our years in Madison, WI. Our first home was a rental, and my father-in-law was the landlord. Guess how many payments I missed? At the time, we made so little money that we couldn’t afford to look at houses, let alone buy one. Since my wife was the only one of his four kids that didn’t own a home, out of pity more than anything else, he bought a small house in Madison and let us live there. We met a couple of wonderful neighbors that helped us out and became lifelong friends.

When we had the resources to build our first home, we moved into a newer, more sophisticated neighborhood, and by sophisticated I mean boring. Strangely, the neighbors were not as nice as the beautiful houses they lived in. During the years we lived there, I don’t think any of them ever came out of their homes! There was no backyard bantering, no neighborhood picnics, no pickup basketball games, no borrowing cups of sugar. They all remained weirdly isolated. Garage doors went up, cars drove in and out, garage doors went down – that kind of neighborhood.

We built a second home in a different neighborhood a few years later and finally hit the good neighbor motherlode. This is how it happened:

While in college, our daughter had studied abroad for a semester. When she returned home in July, she asked if she could host a Welcome Home party for her high school and college friends. And by host, what she meant was that we would provide the house, buy all the food and beverages, make and serve said food and beverages and clean up afterwards. My wife said, “That sounds like a great idea! Dad will take care of everything!” Late Friday afternoon, carloads of our daughter’s freeloading friends started arriving.

We were no strangers to hosting large gatherings, and this party turned out to be a memorable one, not all for the right reasons. The kids played pool and other games, listened to music, ate and drank, talked and laughed and had a grand ol’ time. As the evening progressed, my daughter planted some Tiki torches in the backyard, hauled 30 or 40 folding chairs outside and set them in a circle around our fire pit. As the neighborhood quieted down for the evening, the volume in our basement and backyard increased.

I checked in periodically and finally checked out well past midnight, trying to adhere to one of my adulting principles: ‘Nothing good ever happens after 2:00 a.m.’ I went to bed with a pillow over my head as the party raged on…and on…and on. The prime instigator shall remain nameless.

I finally fell asleep but woke up at 5:00 a.m. to use the bathroom. The party was still in full swing. I went back to bed and woke up again at 8:30 to an eerie silence. I got up, got dressed and went downstairs. As I walked down into the basement I had to step over several motionless carcasses on the floor. Then I saw the damages.

There were muddy footprints all over the basement carpet, going to and from the sliding double doors, which were unlocked, of course. The back of one section of our $7,000 black leather sofa was broken. As one of my daughter’s knuckle-dragging friends later explained, “I thought it was a recliner!” One of the speakers next to the TV had been knocked backward into the wall leaving a jagged 8” hole in the drywall. I walked outside. The cover to the hot tub was off and the bottom was covered with two inches of mud. There were discarded shoes and socks everywhere. I looked up at the lawn and saw the Tiki torches had burned out and some had toppled over. There were empty beer cans everywhere.

I could feel my face getting hot and steam starting to rise. Instead of rousting my daughter and her comatose friends, I decided to vent by going on a bike ride. I went back upstairs, got on my biking gear and headed out the door. I’m not making this up. As I rode down the driveway, I noticed a young couple standing on the front steps of the house next door. The house was for sale, and they were there with a realtor to look at the property. The guy stood on the front steps and surveyed the carnage in the backyard. Then he saw me on my tri-bike heading out for a ride. Come to find out later, beers and bikes were two of his favorite things. He looked at me with a smile on his face and yelled, “Hey, buddy! I’m your new neighbor!” I’m not sure if they even looked at the inside of the house. He had seen everything necessary to confirm that this was the right place to live! They bought the house that day, moved in a week later, and we all became the best of friends!

It was a neighborhood match made in heaven. We were at each other’s houses all the time, sometimes invited…sometimes not…didn’t matter. They came to our family gatherings; we went to theirs. We mowed grass simultaneously in the summertime and shoveled snow together in the wintertime. We borrowed from each other and gave to each other. We watched games and drank wine and had coffee and went running and rode bikes together. We listened to music and went to concerts together. The highlight of each year, however, was the night after Halloween when my neighbor and his son would sneak over late at night with all the pumpkins they had on their front stoop and smash them all over our driveway. In the morning, I’d go out with a big garbage can and a shovel, scrape the guts off the driveway and pick up all the broken pieces of pumpkin shells. All the while, I’d have a big smile on my face while I reflected on how lucky we were to have neighbors like them!

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