It was as though we had stepped foot into an idyllic Norman Rockwellesque painting depicting a romanticized vision of what we had imagined hip suburban life would be. Maybe, it was the crispness of the air or the tumbling fall leaves swirling in a perfectly choreographed fluid dance that had enticed us. Or, perhaps it was the combination of the glossy sheen and newly renovated smell of the house that allowed us to believe that this could be our home. If I am to be completely honest, the predominant catalysts for pulling the trigger on giving up my left arm and my husband’s manhood to afford the overpriced home, were the euphoria from realizing we finally had reached the light at the end of the “living at home with my parents” tunnel, married with my pregnancy hormone-fueled desperation to find a place to bring our baby home when we eventually would be ushered unceremoniously out of the hospital once the ankle biter would be born. Now, beholden to a mortgage more than to my husband, our new large and spacious pied-a-terre was tricked out with every tantalizing and enticing accoutrement over which any “MLS is my porn” addict would salivate: a rain shower in the Carrera-marbled master ensuite, a large modern chef’s kitchen and a fifty foot wide lot in a land of partitioned grass that had been reduced to twenty-five footers with one to two million dollar plus price tags. We signed, sealed and delivered out agreement of purchase and sale and down payment to the keeper of escrow and set about decamping as swiftly as the wind and movers could transport us from my childhood bedroom to our new palace. Boxes unpacked, furniture placement perfected, we settled into our kingdom only to have the polish of the environs of our abode lose its sheen faster than we could have ever anticipated.
“Brrring!” trilled the phone a few weeks after our big move.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Is this Mrs. A?” the voice queried.
“No, she and her husband do not live here anymore. We bought the house from them and moved in several weeks ago,” I replied.
“Do you know where they are? Do you have their new number?” the voice pressed.
“Who may I ask is calling?” I queried.
“I am Alex from the Debt Recovery Center. Mr. and Mrs. A owe our clients quite a bit of money and we are trying to track them down to recover it,” he informed me.
“I’m sorry, but I have no idea where they moved, but please remove our phone number and address from your files as the As do not live here anymore,” I instructed.
“Thank you very much for your time. I will make note of it,” Alex advised prior to ending the call.
Two years have passed since the time of that memorial call and the demand letters in my mailbox and angry voicemail messages from Alex and his band of creditors have failed to stop flowing notwithstanding our sharing with them an email address for Mr. A that we had managed to track down through the neighbourhood’s underground nanny network.
This first list of our ship veering off course exposed us to the skeletons that lurked superficially beneath the surface living in our neighbours’ financially precarious master walk-in closets. House rich and life poor was something we soon learned was the mantra written in invisible ink on the welcome mat on many a house porch of our neighbours. We discovered that our little microcosm was inhabited by three groups of families: those who could afford to live in the area by virtue of their earned incomes; those who stretched themselves financially like Gumby to buy in; and those whose parents were financially buoying their kids’ houses of cards by giving them their down payments, paying their mortgage payments, paying for vacations, and in some cases having bought them their homes outright. Quickly, I was awoken to the realization that in buying our home, unwittingly I was returned to a non-nostalgic high school era dystopia populated with too many people with a variety of personality disorders from my shared ethnic background with whom I mingled as a camper and eventually met at university. In order words, Jewish American (read: Canadian) Princes and Princesses. This was no Wisteria Lane on which my house was situated, but rather we were housed in my come-to-life nightmare version of the horror flick “Hostel.”
“How are you enjoying the area?” Mrs. X, my neighbour called out to me in her Chihuahua-like nasal voice characteristic of many women in the community one day when I was on a walk six months after we had moved in.
“Great, thanks,” I offered tentatively, as I pushed my pram cocooning my baby as fast I as I could towards my house. How I wished it could have cocooned me too.
“So how many strollers do you have?” Mrs. X queried aggressively running after me.
“Excuse me?” I replied off-guard.
“Well, I’ve seen your purple Stokke and your Snap ‘N Go, but this Bugaboo Bee is new,” Mrs. X advised.
“I didn’t realize that you had such a keen and watchful eye keeping track of the number of strollers I owned,” I replied to no reaction. “I have one for every day of the week, just like my underwear.”
“Really?” Mrs. X asked as her eyeballs bulged out of her head, not noting my sarcastic tone. As if on cue, my parents’ car pulled into my driveway, providing me with a perfect exit strategy from this grating conversation. Retreating from being behind enemy lines, I quickly veered my pram on to my property hoping that Mrs. X. would not trespass upon my sacrosanct land.
“Oh, you were really kidding about the number of strollers. But, why are your parents driving your car?” Mrs. X chortled chasing me after I had refused to be further engaged by her incessant prattling. “Hi there! I am your daughter’s neighbour.”
“Nice to meet you,” my mother returned as she tried to squeeze out of her car as Mrs. X blocked her way.
“I was just asking your daughter why you and your husband are driving her car,” Mrs. X explained to my mother.
Shooting me a quizzical look, I had no choice but to answer the riddle of the Sphinx hoping that in doing so I would free both myself and my parents from her clutches.
“It’s my parents car. I don’t know why you thought it was mine,” I replied.
“Well it’s been in your driveway for several months,” Mrs. X explained.
“My parents had asked us to drive it for them for personal reasons,” I advised.
“Oh, so you only have one car,” Mrs. X stated with a sense of satisfaction like that of a cat having swallowed a canary. “What were the reasons?”
“The reasons were first, you’re a nosy bitch and second, mind your own fucking business. Now get off my lawn!” I ordered.
After that run-in, I came to know that my day would never be complete without an undesirable chitchat with one of my many warm and friendly neighbours. Two of my other neighbours, whom I like to refer to respectively as Jealous-of-my-Jewelry-Dee and Lipo-Dee-Bum, were constantly engaged in a competition of one-upsmanship in their never-ending game of keeping up with the Jonesbergs, which was endemic to the neighbourhood and they were always entreating me to join. The raison d’etre for Jealous-of-my-Jewelry-Dee and Lipo-Dee-Bum, neither of whom were gainfully employed and left such manual labour to their nebbish husbands who were once coveted by many a princess-y girl in high school, was solely to outdo each other and then combine efforts to gang up on any other woman who dared to outdo them, whether she was trying to or not.
“Hey you,” Jealous-of-my-Jewelry-Dee and Lipo-Dee-Bum called out in unison when they spotted me pushing my daughter on the swing at the park.
“Hi Ladies,” I muttered.
“Your daughter is so cute!” Lipo-Dee-Bum advised. “My nanny tells me how at every music class the teacher fawns all over her. You must be so proud that she is so popular already.”
“My nanny tries to get the teacher to notice my daughter, but yours shines like such a bright little star that its hard for him to take notice of mine,” Jealous-of-my-Jewelry-Dee stated with envy.
Ignoring their trap, I continued to push my daughter on the swing. How wonderful it was to watch her, as she laughed blissfully unaware of the social spider web in which I found myself tangled, and one that eventually she too would inevitably be caught.
“So have you enrolled your daughter in nursery school yet?” Jealous-of-my-Jewelry-Dee asked.
“No, she is only a few months old,” I replied.
“Oh no, then you are already behind the eight ball!” Jealous-of-my-Jewelry-Dee chimed gleefully. “You have to sign up at St. Xavier’s when you are trying to conceive. It is the only acceptable school to send your child to in the area. Didn’t anyone tell you that?”
“I have had my child’s name on that list since before my three failed in-vitro surrogacy attempts,” Lipo-Dee-Bum stated.
“St. Xavier’s, isn’t that the church with all of the Jews in the basement?” I asked.
“That is not very funny. Churches hid Jews during the Holocaust, so you should be grateful,” Jealous-of-my-Jewelry-Dee scolded as though I had forgotten my Jewish heritage. “Well, you won’t have to worry about your daughter going there anyway because it is too late to get her in now.”
“Too bad! Now we’ll never know if my daughter will outshine both of yours in school just like she does in music class. In any event, my daughter will be going to the Toronto French School, just like her mama did, being a legacy and all,” I said pulling my daughter from the swing and heading to the slide before either snake could reply.
This encounter was typical. If I was not having one wannabe MILF lord over my head that they can afford live-in nanny help twenty-four hours a day seven days a week, when we were planning only on sending our kid to daycare when I returned to the place that shall not be named, also known as work, then it was having another boast about how they will go to the cottage (conveniently leaving out the part that it is owned by their in-laws) every weekend in the summer, when we will frequent only the local public pool. However, to date, Mrs. X remained the title-holder of having thrust upon me the most obnoxious conversation that I had to endure. After having both invited herself into my home and taken a self-initiated tour, she preceded to tell me that by choosing to send my daughter to my alma matter, I was denying my daughter a terrific education at our local public school, where she was sending her kids, as she waved her garish six carat diamond ring in my face. For the record, the local public school supported by my property tax dollars, is populated by kids bussed in from the wrong side of the tracks because no one in the area wants to send their kids there because the test scores are so low and the building is falling apart. Only those who had maxed themselves out on buying two million plus dollar homes and carrying one point five million dollar mortgages, or those with grandparents refusing to pay for private school, were forced to send their kids to our local piece of public crap. Those people in the neighbourhood who made substantial livings and others who had opted for less expensive (and less expansive) homes did enroll their kids in private schools, so as to avoid having their children’s post-secondary matriculation options limited. I suppose Mrs. X had come to the decision to send her kids to public school after reconciling her Sophie’s choice dilemma: either hawk the skating rink on her finger on Craigslist to pay for private education, or keep the sparkler and seal her kids’ fates as future gold-digging “Mrs.” degree hunters because they were unlikely to climb far up the educational food chain.
The husbands were no better than their wives. Being the ones who were the major or sole breadwinners of the family, with their receding hairlines and paunchy bellies, they looked upon their wives with disdain and resentment wondering where their salad days of being sought after by a glut of women had gone. Notwithstanding their wives constant primping, stair-climbing and social climbing efforts, the vacuous and vapid women failed to hold their hubbies’ attention. In attending a Bar Mitzvah for my cousin in the local public school’s gymnasium, out of which the area Chabad operated, my husband learned from the Rabbi that not only did we live in a land of smoke and mirrors, but one that existed in a time warp. That of the 1970s to be exact. As it turned out, not only were our neighbours great pretenders at playing house, but they excelled at swinging over the thin red line of infidelity.
“So will we be seeing you at services?” the Rabbi asked us.
“We are not religious people,” my husband advised.
“We mostly prescribe to the Shul of Christopher Hitchens,” I stated.
“That’s fine,” the Rabbi exclaimed. “We have many, many members here who are secular, but have become supportive congregants as a result of seeking my marital counsel. We offer great couples counseling.”
“Um, thanks, but our marriage is quite solid,” my husband stated.
“Um, thanks, but our marriage is quite solid,” my husband stated.
“Maybe for now, but sooner or later you will be going to one of these key parties, and…” the Rabbi whispered.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“You know that your neighbours throw key parties and go home with each other’s spouses,” the Rabbi explained to our dumbfounded expressions.
“Are you serious?” my husband laughed.
“It’s like they’re still fucking campers switching boyfriends and girlfriends every month, except that now they have nicer cabins paid for by their mommies and daddies!” I cried.
“Please mind your language, this is a sanctuary of God,” the Rabbi chastised.
“Excuse me, Rabbi, but this is nothing more than a sanctuary of stinky jockstraps and athlete’s foot,” I stated, as I ushered my husband to the buffet table away from Rabbi Dr. Ruth.
The visual allure of the neighbourhood initially was dazzling, but woefully bereft of any substance. Our trustafarian and self-made neighbours alike were nothing more than materialistic, competitive, insecure and jealous “adults” still living out their adolescence. Incentivized by discovering that we lived in Swingtown, we were ready to eat the apple and be expelled from this hedonistic Garden of Eden. Our house sold within a blink of putting it on the market, faster than we could say “we only drive a Subaru,” and we got out of dodge before we could be transformed into pod people. No matter how bad the curry smell wafting through the air of our new neighbourhood gets, or how many times my husband is asked by the lovely ladies of the night living a few doors over if he wants to become the area’s local pimp, we would never return to the old shtetl.
© 2013 Naomi Elana Zener. All rights reserved.