I come from a pretty traditional upbringing. Mom and dad. Brother and sister. Dogs. That sort of thing. I also grew up in suburbia, so I understand the ways and mores, the secret passwords and handshakes and all of that. It’s just been awhile.
I’ve made an effort to re-acclimate myself. I’ve been friendly to everyone. I’ve introduced myself around and have tried to remember everyone’s name (not my strong suite). I wave. I make small talk.
I kinda fucked it up the first day we were here though.
The movers were hauling stuff into our house. Movers are hard workers. Mover and roofers are two jobs which, insofar as I can tell, are performed by men of superhuman endurance. Our townhouse is three stories and the stairs are straight up and down. Walking up to the third floor is like climbing a mountain to meet the Dali Lama. You need a Sherpa and an oxygen mask. I can’t imagine climbing to the third floor carrying a dresser. Yet they were doing it, and fast. These guys were tough.
Anyway, the movers were moving stuff. I was supervising, mostly just pointing and holding up fingers to indicate what went to which floor, as their English wasn’t great and Mr. Switzer’s Spanish class was a long time ago for me. I remember how to say “where is the bathroom” and “how much for your sister” but not much else.
I had just raised three fingers and shrugged in apology when a little girl and a little boy started yelling at me. They were across the street, on the sidewalk. They were riding scooters, which I was soon to learn is the de rigueur mode of transportation for anyone under the age of 13 in the neighborhood. Where they once had bikes, now every little kid has a scooter. At any given moment, our street looks like a performance of The Wild One by an all midget theater company. Packs of kids on scooters, armed with Nerf guns, perform a never ending string of drive by attacks on each other. It’s very exciting.
“Hey, mister,” yelled the boy. “Heeeeeey!”
“Hey guys,” I replied. Kids like me. Mostly because of my sterling repartee.
“If we do a trick,” said the boy, “will you give us a dollar?”
“What?” I said. “No.”
“Oh, come on!” the boy whined.
“Why would I give you a dollar?”
“Because we’ll do a trick,” he said. “It’ll be cool and you’ll watch and then pay us.”
“No,” I said, “I conceptually understand the idea of you putting on a performance and the audience paying for it, it just seems more likely that you’ll do some trick, fall down and then hurt yourselves.”
“No, no, no,” the boy assured me. The girl, who I assumed was his sister, stood silently behind him. “That will never happen. We’re really good.”
“I don’t really want to see a trick,” I said.
“Okay,” the boy said. “We’ll do a trick and then you’ll give us a quarter.”
We were negotiating.
“You want me to pay you to do this thing that I don’t have any interest in seeing you do?”
“Your dad is a lawyer, isn’t he?”
“Fine,” I said. “Do a trick. Do. Not. Fall. Down. And. Get. Hurt. Don’t. “
“Yeaaah!” said the boy. Then he stood there as his sister sprung into action. She raced her scooter down the street.
“What, are you her agent?” I asked.
“I don’t know what that means,” said the boy. “So…yes?”
I stood on the sidewalk on one side of the street . William Morris junior stood on the other side of the street. The little girl on the scooter turned and raced towards us, right down the middle of the road.
“What’s she going to do?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” the boy said, “nobody has ever given us any money before.”
Her long, blonde ponytail flowed behind her. Her right foot kicked frantically, building up more and more speed. Her pink helmet gleamed in the sunlight. For no apparent reason she flipped over the handlebars and skidded across the pavement.
“Well,” I said. “Fuck.”
I had been a suburbanite for all of a few hours and my first interaction with my new neighbors was going to bring one of them the mangled body of their daughter.
“Hello,” I would say. “I paid your kids to hurt themselves. It’s nice to meet you.”
She didn’t cry at first. She sat in the street holding her knee. I strolled casually over. I didn’t run. I didn’t want anyone who might be looking out their windows to associate me in any direct way with any bleeding that might be happening. Just a guy out for a stroll who happened upon the scene of this little accident.
“You okay?” I asked, looking down at her.
“I’m fine,” she said. This was going to be okay. Then she took her hand away, revealing a pretty good strawberry on her knee. It trickled blood. She saw the blood and started to cry. Damnit.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Beth,” she said.
“Well, I’m going to call you Evel Knevel,” I said. “He was famous for doing stunts on motorcycles, a lot of them not a whole lot more successful than the one you just did.”
“Okay,” she sniffled.
I turned around to ask her brother where they lived, but he had disappeared.
“Okay Evel,” I said. “Let’s get you home.”
We found her house. We found her mom, who was pretty understanding, all things considered. I introduced myself, we had a laugh about all the things kids get up to, and everyone ended up happy.
I left out the part about the money. I still owe someone a quarter.