If something like this never happened to you, good.
Barbara calls our cul de sac in Naples The Dead Zone. That’s because, with two notable exceptions our neighbors are either out of town most of the time, or families have inherited the property and are trying to sell it, or the residents are in town, but only so to speak. Or, they have finally succumbed to the facts of life, and are set up for the last lap of their run in the very posh assisted-living operation waiting patiently at one end of our development.
Such an atmosphere can be depressing, but for us it also has an important upside. We like our privacy, our peace and quiet, and we have had both since moving in. Then the villa two doors away sold. I introduced myself to the wife one afternoon. With flame-red hair and blazing porcelain caps, she came off as bouncy and appealing. New blood, I thought. Much needed here in The Dead Zone.
And then the New Blood spread its wings. Or so I thought.
--The new people.
--On the other side of the Duffys. I just don’t get it. They’re all of them sitting together on the same pool deck. They can’t be more than a few feet apart, but they’re screaming. Barking at each other. Howling.
--Oh, come on. You always exaggerate.
--Please come outside, just for a minute. I need you to hear it.
--Listen to them.
--There are two privacy walls between us and them. I count two men, two women.
--It’s like… Is it cultural? Maybe they’re all deaf.
--No, I think you were right the first time. They’re from New Jersey. Italians. Are all of us, from wherever we hail from, complete stereotypes? Am I George Babbitt or Don Knotts, whoever represents the slow-witted bumblers from the prairie? Are you and I the whitebread, plain vanilla Smiths from Plainville? I can’t believe it, but maybe so. Maybe everyone from California is fruit-and-nuts crazy, looking shellacked from cosmetic surgery, mainlining bean curd and herbal tea like the -----s. Or southerners being southern, the west Texans in their hats and boots, all sucking on longnecks. The barber next to the guy who strings tennis racquets, he’s from Texas. All day, he’s standing up cutting hair in snakeskin cowboy boots. Can you imagine how uncomfortable that must be? No matter. He may be reduced to cutting hair here in Naples, but he’s a Texan. All day, cutting in his boots. And he never takes his cowboy hat off.
--Listen—My God, that’s really awful. It’s like they’re on something.
--Gin would be my guess. I confess it can make even Whitebread Barry pretty jovial.
--But not a banshee, not a crazy person. Listen… Both the men and the women. Is it some kind of competition? It really sounds to me as though they’re seeing who can shout the loudest… No, I’m sorry, nothing in this life can be that funny.
--Thank you for coming out to hear it.
--What can we do?
--Not much. People that oblivious to their new neighbors are obviously not going to know what you’re talking about if you speak to them. They’d just be insulted. Besides, what are you going to say? “Excuse me, I know you’re Italian, and from New Jersey, and I’m sure it’s sometimes necessary to speak up if you’re going to be heard in a large family, but you’re making me and my wife crazy.” No, there’s no point in talking to them.
--You’re right, of course. You can’t tell adults… Jesus, listen to that—you can’t tell senior citizens they sound worse than a pool full of grandchildren.
--We’ll have to do research. We’ll log their comings and goings, keep track of when they’re on the lanai.
--What if they live on theirs the way we do?
--Don’t say that.
--Weather permitting, we’re out here every night. We have happy hour, we eat here, read in the evening. God.
--Yes, it’s possible the quality of life just took a serious hit. We’ll have to wait and see before calling our own Jersey boys.
--You mean Tony, Christopher, Paulie Walnuts and so forth.
--Damn. What was one thing just an hour ago now appears to be something altogether different. And far worse. And do you know what? They’ll probably turn out to likable, friendly. Even neighborly. But who cares? An affable hyena is still a hyena.
POSTSCRIPT: Yes, we went to Threat Level Red pretty fast, and not without reason. But it turned out I was wrong about the new neighbor from Jersey, and Barbara right about deafness. Hugely relieved, we realized the following day that the banshee effect had come from guests visiting at a different house. One occupied by a man so deaf he can’t hear himself. Or can, but only after listening to what he’s saying three or more times.
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