The first thing I was wrong about was this: We live in Mayberry.
I know now that we do not.
As I town-crier-ed the disturbing news of this vile, vicious vehicular affront to the familial fabric of our happy, humble hamlet, I discovered that … well … there are way more assholes out there than I thought.
No matter who I told my tale to, that person responded with an even more jaw-dropping story of an even more horrendous neighbor.
Like the friend a few blocks up whose neighbor snuck into a nearby yard to poison a tree that he didn’t like.
Or my church friend whose neighbor stole his lawnmower and then rolled it out in front of his house and tried to sell it.
Or my yoga friend whose neighbor began trimming her bushes while she had guests over, all of them sitting outside, next to the bushes.
Or our piano teacher whose neighbor stormed out of her house and screamed at the teacher when the teacher’s baby daughter touched a rock in the neighbor’s yard. (The neighbor has since put up outdoor cameras.)
Or the mom across town who has to distract her kids from their neighbor’s gigantic picture window through which they can see his gigantic flat-screen on which, all day long, he watches porn.
“I’m sick of looking at the unfinished house next door with the giant blue tarp as the roof on the effing front porch. It’s been seven years,” lamented my mom friend Denise as we rehashed Notegate two days later. She’d attended the cookie party. In fact, she was an eyewitness, standing right by the car when the note was discovered.
As far as the identity of the culprit was concerned, Denise shared my suspicions. When you live in a town where everyone knows just about everyone on everyone’s street, you can instantly drum up a solid suspect list. We used a simple formula to narrow it down: With x being the location of the parked car and y being the sight lines to that location from every window of my house, we cross-referenced those variables with the bits of gossip about my neighbors that we’d heard around town over the past 10 years and then, finally, subtracted the 13 glasses of cranberry-and-rum punch we’d collectively consumed on the night in question. We were almost sure we’d kind of isolated a somewhat likely perp.
“Do you have a plan?” Denise asked.
“A plan?” I responded coyly, as if I hadn’t spent the past two days plotting various acts of revenge. “Well … I was thinking of writing a note back.”
“A note back?”
“Yeah. I’d explain what happened, then I’d put a copy in everyone’s mailbox … ”
“Wow,” Denise interrupted.
“What? You think that’s bad?” I asked, suddenly paranoid, wondering for just a split second: Was it you, Denise? Was it YOU?
“Nooooo,” she said, and by the look on her face, I thought for sure she was about to erupt in a maniacal Mwahahaha! “That … is … brilliant! At times like this, you can never go wrong with a little public shaming.”
Public shaming. It had such a neighborly ring to it. And it would so totally work. Because if there was one thing I knew for sure, it was this: If I found a note like that in our mailbox, I would knock down elderly people and trample baby birds in my frantic sprint to find a phone, call the letter-writer, and clear our family’s good name. My plan was foolproof: The family that did not call us was—boom!—guilty as the day they … put a nasty note on the car of someone who was visiting our house!
I poured a hot cup of coffee, sat down at my computer, and typed up a letter explaining exactly what had happened. I read it over. Then I promptly deleted it, telling myself it just wasn’t worth it.
To be perfectly honest, I felt a bit scared. I knew very well that neighborly confrontation was rarely neighborly. A good friend of mine still can’t bear to talk about the afternoon two summers ago when she hosted a small family-only birthday party for her three-year-old son in their backyard. When her neighbor noticed the balloons and the filled kiddie pool next door and realized that neither she nor her children had been invited, she put up a two-foot-high plastic fence that she hammered, on the spot, into the grass between their properties. Then she ordered her husband to inflate four giant moonbounces (which, oddly, they owned) in their backyard while she invited all of the other neighbor kids over to bounce, serenaded by Metallica, which played on the highest setting from speakers aimed directly into my friend’s yard.
“I mean … it was … my son … he didn’t … I just … can’t.” That is what my friend mumbles whenever she thinks about that day or hears “Enter Sandman.” She and her neighbors have yet to reconcile.
I certainly didn’t want World War Westmont. But I also couldn’t let it go, especially after I ran into Denise the next morning.
“Did you do it?” she asked.
“It’s been three days now,” she pointed out. “After today, I think you have to let it go. I’m pretty sure there’s a three-day rule about these things.”
“You’re right. And what if I don’t say anything, and they do it again? What if next time, the visitor is, like, my mom?”
“Or, like, Joe Flacco?”
“Right! What if it’s Joe Flacco?”
I marched straight home and typed out exactly what had happened. Then I got personal:
Thad and I were quite sad to discover that whoever it was who had an issue with our guest’s park-job didn’t feel comfortable just letting us know. We’ve all lived here a long time, and we’ve always felt grateful at how respectful we’ve always been of each other. And helpful. And friendly. Every single person on this street has at one time or another been in our home. So, in the future, please … please … do not hesitate to address something like this with us directly and we will be happy to take care of it.