Welcome to the neighborhood

The sirens from the fire department spooled up in the distance. The firehouse is barely more than a mile away. If we listened close enough, we would’ve heard the firefighters squeaking into their boots.

“Here they come,” I said and watched the black smoke pour out of my house. Within the next five minutes, every semi-conscious resident of my neighborhood would watch the fire engine scream toward the house at the top of the hill.

A few weeks had passed since the Willis family had made a spectacle of itself. It was well past time to do something incredibly stupid.

* * *

We don’t make fantastic first impressions. My kids are actually used to set noise ordinance standards. My wife is pathologically paranoid and thinks most strangers are, in fact, distant relatives of Ted Bundy. I…well, if you read this blog very often, you know I have a lot of issues. I’m lucky to put on pants when I leave the house (when I actually work up the courage to…you know…leave the house).

It’s been ten months since we left our last neighborhood, a place where we didn’t make the best first impression. We threw giant, loud Bacchanals. We hosted late night poker games. We owned a dog that bit more than she barked.

When we moved, we made a vow: “We’re older. We’re wiser. We’re more mature. Oh, and that dog is dead now. It’s time to be responsible neighbors.”

So, we moved into a nice, respectable neighborhood and promptly made a name for ourselves.

* * *

“Honey, that new Willis guy is running barefoot down the street. I think he has a jar of peanut butter in his hand.”

“What is that big thing in his other hand?”

“I think it’s a bone. My God! Could it really be a bone?”

“And why is he screaming?”

That was the discussion I imagined our new neighbors having as they looked out their window that night.

In fact, it was a femur. From a cow. I’d slathered it in peanut butter and carried it above my head as I ran screaming down the street.

Big Girl Dog had escaped for the third time in two weeks and it was on me to find a way to make a 38-year-old barefoot body catch a year-old yellow lab with a head of steam.

So, yeah, I grabbed a giant cow bone and started running with it. What would you do?

Clouds over Mt. Willis (courtesy Tim Whims)

No one has overtly attacked us in the new neighborhood. There was the old man who accused our dog of making a morning deposit on his lawn, but—in this limited case—our dog had an alibi, and old people can’t be held responsible for being confused.

With that understood, only a couple of families have gone out of their way to welcome us to the neighborhood. I can’t say I blame anybody, really.

You know, after the thing with the cops.

* * *

The police officer from Greer stood at the back of my car and pressed his thumb into the back quarter panel. From my spot in the diver’s seat, I sighed and looked to see if any of the neighbors were watching.

If you don’t already know, cops—especially those who think things might soon go bad—put a fingerprint on cars they stop. The idea is, if things get ugly and a guy like, say, me escapes after hurting an officer, that print could tie me to the cop. You know, for the future trial and subsequent lifetime incarceration.

So, that’s how my day was going.

I would really (really) like it if I could blame this on an overzealous or quota-filling police officer. I can’t, however, because the guy never even turned on his lights.

Half an hour earlier, my kid’s school had gone on lockdown after local police spotted a burglary suspect running barefoot away from the scene of the crime (and before you make the logical jump here, there actually is no connection to the scene with the cow femur—just one very stupid coincidence).

Because I’m a Willis and I had a free ten minutes, I decided to go have a look. Or, put another way, I decided to go do what I spent ten years telling my TV viewers not to do: I went and got in the cops’ way.

After checking out the manhunt scene, I decided to head back home. I tried to find a shortcut, and almost turned down a dead end road. Quickly, I pulled the nose of my car back onto the main road—just in time for the cop to see me pulling a move that made it look way too much like I was avoiding him.

I could take you through the whole story—seeing the officer speed up behind me, watching him call my plates in to dispatch, driving slowly and predicting how he would follow me through the next three turns—but it would take too long. Point is, after the third turn, I just pulled over so I could stop wasting the poor guy’s time.

So, the fingerprint, the careful walk up to my window, the listening to my really stupid explanation for what I was doing, which essentially boiled down to, “Listen, I’m a Willis, and we do this kind of thing, and I know I’m wasting your time, and I’m stupid.”

Five minutes later, the cop was handing me back my ID. “Who did you used to work for?” he asked.

“Um…Channel 4,” I said.

“That’s right,” he said. Which was code for, “I thought you were smarter than this.”

When I walked back in the house five minutes later, my wife looked at my face and said, “What did you do?”

Because, you know, she never does anything stupid.

* * *

The firefighters—yes the ones discussed above—came to our house because my wife accidentally spilled grease inside our oven. The resulting smoke set off the fire alarm, which notified the alarm company, which notified the nice (and, hell, sorta sexy, right?) firefighters down the street. When the alarm company called to see if we were okay, my wife let it go to voicemail. I still haven’t received a good explanation for that.

But, hey, it was Valentines Day, and it was a fun little story. The neighbors got a show out of it, nothing got hurt, and the kids got to see a real live fire truck in action. As long as it didn’t happen again, our neighbors would probably forget it before Easter.

* * *

There used to be this place in Jackson, Mississippi called Iron Horse Grill. They served a great stuffed catfish that my wife really dug. Because I’m the type of guy who forgets about his wife letting alarm company calls go to voicemail, I decided to make said catfish after my return from Brazil. I put my skillet on the burner, turned it on, and started chopping spinach.

I’m sure the discussion I was having with my wife was really interesting, but I couldn’t tell you what it was that distracted me from the fact the burner was turned up too high, the skillet sat on it for too long, and it was way too damned hot to handle the two tablespoons of butter I tossed into it five minutes before I heard the fire engines spooling up down the street. It had been eight days since the firefighters’ last call to Mt. Willis.

The neighbors didn’t come out to watch this time. The kids had already seen a fire truck in action. So, it was just my wife and the sexy firefighter on the front steps. She invited him in where I was forced to nod politely before going back to work on the spinach.

But as he started to walk away, I called, “Hey! If you ever have a fundraiser, feel free to stop here first.”

I didn’t have to say it, but, hell, it seemed like the neighborly thing to do.