As is so often the case, I had very different plans for this week’s piece. But then life happened and the subject matter abruptly changed. I can pinpoint for you the exact moment that it did. Earlier this week I was retrieving my garbage cans from the curb in front of my house. I noticed my new next door neighbor doing the same so I smiled, waved and gave the standard rhetorical; “how ya doin?” He gave me a half-hearted nod with a cold, awkward expression and quickly turned away. It seemed a little odd so like always, I immediately started hyper analyzing the situation. By the time I was back inside my house, I was laughing out loud thinking of the likely possibility and decided it would be this week’s column. Now this one will bounce around just a bit to properly set the stage, so try to follow along.

We’re all pretty much painfully aware of my living situation. There’s me, my three daughters, my pregnant wife, and our 20 pound (also female) cat whom I believe to be mentally challenged. My son lives in another state because he can. I haven’t stood up to pee in about 5 years, I’m just slowly drowning in the estrogen ocean. The point being, with a house full of children, we seldom have visitors. When we do, they are relatives who are there solely to visit the children, and they don’t stay long. That having been said, it’s not at all uncommon for us to go a full two months with only three different vehicles ever appearing in my driveway. In fact, that is pretty much the norm. There’s my car, my wife’s car, and my sister in law’s car when she comes over a couple of times a week to watch the girls between my going to work and my wife getting home from work. We’ve been in this house for over six years, and that’s the way it’s been for most of the time.

The house next door to me in that time was strictly a vacation home and was only occupied about 6 weekends per year. That is what I call the perfect neighbor. Well that house recently sold and over the past month or so the new folks have been moving in. I saw them unloading a truck early on in the process as I walked to my car. I waved, said; “how ya doin? Welcome to the neighborhood.” Then I got in my car and left. I thought that was sufficient. They seemed like a nice enough couple in their early to mid 70’s so our age bracket was significantly different. I’ve seen the cars they drive and I have a pretty good idea what they paid for that house that may or may not be a second home, so we are in WAY different tax brackets. We won’t be spending Sunday brunch together, taking turns hosting book club meetings and wine dinners, or getting together weekly to play bridge. In fact, other than being caucasian and living on the same street we really have nothing in common.

I have no vendetta, but I’m short on time, a bit of a prick, and not accepting applications for new friends. For about 60 hours a week, I stand behind a bar and I HAVE to have a personality. I have no choice. It’s how I make my living, so I can be charming, witty, friendly, and happy. I can be nice to anyone for an hour or so for a price. But when I’m off the clock, truth be told, I’m not a big fan of the human species. In fact, when I’m off, I’d prefer not to see or interact with any unless they carry my DNA. It’s nothing personal so don’t read into it, but 30-plus years of service industry would leave Mother Teresa a bit jaded.

Now back to the point of my story. I gave up on being cool about five years and three kids ago. Hence I’ve been driving a minivan ever since. My wife was still clinging to hip just a bit. Being pregnant again, she recently came to grips with the fact that she’s run out of seats in her Jeep Grand Cherokee. So she took the plunge and we bought her a minivan as well and traded in her Jeep. If you’re keeping count, we’re up to four different vehicles in my driveway since the nice new folks moved in.

The following week, my sister in law showed up to watch our girls in her boyfriend’s Jeep. Her car was in the shop, so we’re up to five vehicles. The following weekend, my sister came to visit the girls since two of them just recently celebrated their birthdays. Vehicle number six as the neighbors are still moving in. Now we’re to the part where my lifelong string of perpetual bad luck starts to come into play.

We had my wife’s Chrysler Town & Country for almost a full two weeks before it began stalling out on her. We hadn’t even made the first payment and it was back at the dealer only to find that the main computer which runs everything electronic in the vehicle was fried. Obviously, they replaced it, but in the meantime they provided my wife with a rental car while they worked on her van. Vehicle number seven was a Volkswagen Jetta with New York tags.

This is also about the same time that it got really freakin’ hot out which is when I discovered the air condition in my house was fried as well. It got up to 104 degrees in my house. Not exactly conducive to life with a woman who is nearly 7 months pregnant. I called someone to come and check it out and vehicles number eight and nine were two different unmarked work vans without windows. I would find out before they left that a part would need to be ordered and it would be awhile until the AC was fixed. Awesome! I got home from work that night at 3:00 a.m. and it was 94 degrees inside my house. If you happen to own stock in a company that makes oscillating fans, you’re welcome.

While the HVAC guys were at my house, not helping me at all, the Terminix guy showed up to do our quarterly bug treatment around my house. At least vehicle number 10 had a company name and logo on the side.

Keeping with the theme of my luck, you may remember that terrible storm late last Saturday night. If you were still awake around the time I drive home from work, you definitely would have heard it. Anyway, I hydroplaned, slammed into the guardrail and wrecked my van. I limped it the last mile to my house and parked it in the driveway. I would find out later that I did $4000.00 worth of damage and got a concussion from the incident, and yup, you guessed it, I broke another rib (on the left side of course).

Monday morning, vehicle number 11 was a tow truck coming to retrieve my latest mess. Shortly thereafter the Enterprise guy pulled into my driveway with my rental car. Vehicle number 12 was another Volkswagen Jetta, only this one had Pennsylvania tags. I came out and talked to the gentleman briefly and explained that me, him, and my three daughters were not going to fit in this car so I’d have to call later for other arrangements. The same guy came back later that afternoon in a Jeep Patriot with New Jersey tags. Yup, lucky number 13 vehicle in my driveway is my rental car for awhile.

So as I’m retrieving my garbage cans and trying to decipher my new neighbors less than cordial greeting, it occurred to me that just in the time it’s taken them to move in they’ve witnessed 13 different vehicles with tags from 5 different states in and out of my driveway. It’s looked like the freakin Manheim car auction for the past month and now these folks must think I’m running a meth lab or a crack house. Like I don’t have enough problems! I guess I might have to take over a fruit basket or something.

Thanks for playing along. Until next week, Syd Nichols