My street has always been filled with kids running amok. Hardly a summer day goes by without a ball of some sort bouncing off my car or a living room window. Game patterns cover the street in pastel colored chalk, and backyard hoses are stretched to the limit, aimed for passers-by. Winter days calm down a bit, with snowballs being the weapons of choice. Sleds and saucers put the old folks at risk. In the bitter cold, refuge is sought at a number of houses. I pray to be last on the list, hoping my constant harping and purposeful intimidation throughout the summer is a memorable deterrent.
Our neighbor across the street has an interesting relationship with the kids. Norma is a cross between a referee and a doting grandmother. Each summer she opens her garage for a clubhouse, subject to certain rules. Night time movies are shown to the street urchins, complete with popcorn and juice. A trip to the zoo occurs each spring, and this year a “kid’s community garden” was organized in one corner of her own perfectly kept floral showcase.
The little guy is fascinated with Norma, and has successfully wormed his way into her heart. He stopped asking her out on dates a few years ago. They had a heart-to-heart on her front steps, and after a day or two of heartache, the little guy decided that he liked her macaroni and cheese better than the idea of a girlfriend.
Norma occasionally watches another youngster named Robert. It’s a given that when Robert is here for a few days, the phone will ring at some point, and an invitation will be extended to the little guy for dinner at “Mamma Mia’s”. Chaos ensues and the search is on for the appropriate attire. Bribes are not needed for a quick shower, but threats concerning good manners abound. The little guy struts across the street looking like a little man (with a cowlick).
When we see Norma the next day waving us over in animated excitement, we know something memorable has happened. A conversation began at Mamma Mia’s when the little guy asked nonchalantly who the “boss” of the street was. Norma thought for a moment and replied, “Well, I am, of course.”
Robert and the little guy seemed okay with her answer. After slurping a few more strings of spaghetti, the little guy asked, “Who’s going to be the boss when you die?”
Norma is a pro at fielding zingers, but I think even this one took her by surprise. She remained pensive and finally said, “Your aunt.”
As I understand it, Robert’s eyes suddenly bugged out of his head and he may have dropped his fork. The little guy, filled with sympathy for Robert’s obvious distress, looked into his spaghetti and said, “Oh, boy, are we in trouble.”
Luckily for the street urchins, the torch will remain across the street for quite some time to come. The wide brimmed straw hat that appears in the garden each spring will resurface in a few short months. Diablo Drive will once again be covered in pastel messages and chalk game boards, and Norma’s movie theater/clubhouse will reopen. Leftover macaroni and cheese with the little guy’s name on it will hold a place of honor in the refrigerator, right next to the garden fresh beets and potato bread. The phone will ring.