Just read the fucking tea leaves, guys, I’m thinking as I drive past my clueless guy-neighbors hunkered together over on San Juan, like cave dwellers gaga over mankind’s first fire, every one of them marveling over some lucky sumbitch’s cherry-new leviathan RAM 2500 pickemup truck, with 5.7-liter HEMI®, V8 dual Variable Valve Timing engine packs, 383 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 400 lb-ft of torque at 4,000, the monster all pimped out with dazzling custom chrome wheels, a grill that could suck in a whale, and a hard candy apple finish, flawless as a baby’s ass.

For a wonder, they don’t notice me thrashing by, my ancient Benz making its horrible farm-machine sounds. Every one of those guys is a shade tree mechanic who would give his left nut to get his black oily paws on my ride, envisioning lucrative work well into 2012 when the world will end anyway, as we Jesus-lovin’ souls know. Usually when I come choking past them, huge black plumes pooting out the tailpipe, those same fellas will bite their hands with thwarted desire, make whimpering noises, and feverishly wave me towards one garage or another. Not today. Every man-jack there is too absorbed with the pickemup’s steam-cleaned innards.

No time for me.

Not a one of them even glances up as my car horks past. Dumbasses, I think to myself. It’s as plain as God and the angels can make it. Signs and portents, guys. Drag your wild asses away from the shiny truck, look around, and you’ll spot a bad moon arising with your very own eyeballs. If you have a collective brain, you’ll all wind up humming Creedence Clearwater the rest of the day and into the fearful night, even if you’re not an old granola like me.

Lately I’d been hyper-aware and jittery my own self. I knew our deeply strange neighborhood could have its very marrow sucked out by lifeless assholes like these new neighbors, who are slowly oozing in. Most of them were home right then, sodding the yard, constructing fancy-shmancy privacy fences, notifying the cops every six minutes and otherwise believing they were improving the shit out of everything in their sight-lines.

At first, I thought I was wrong to have misgivings about my ratty neighborhood, and for thinking we were about to be outsmarted by a bunch of asswipe corporate gypsies. These cube-farmers swept down here like Visigoths, all the way from bleakest Plano. Probably thought our grubby little Casa ‘nam was  another cheap-ass bedroom suburb, like that bare and blasted sinkhole they’d just escaped. I didn’t believe these arrivistas could ever appreciate our own special tangy dope-tinged flavor, but they sure as shit loved the way we’re ten minutes from downtown, fifteen minutes from White Rock Lake, while still butt to butt against more famous hipstery enclaves. Also the way Albertson’s has suddenly begun stocking goose pate.

But I’d also begun to feel a bit guilty for my sneery view of the newcomers. So lately I’ve tried to overlook the sight of tiny exotic dogs shitting on my grass and, more bizarrely the owner picking up its bitty crap carefully with vinyl-gloved fingers. I was more inured to Destiny, an ominously named mastiff the size of a Smart Car, who’s a sociopathic trespasser who has wandered through my yard almost daily, looking both resplendent and cartoony in her huge spiked collar, hoping to eat my cats and depositing her monster logs as an afterthought.

But now, when I spotted a bug-sized dog trot by and watched an anxious owner jerk the bug’s leash while clutching his dog-shit supplies, I dutifully reminded myself, C’mon, don’t get your panties in a bunchIt’s a weird little dog is all. Delusionally, I believed we could still be our rotten snaggle-toothed familiar selves, especially one particular morning when I noticed my neighbor’s tree was newly torn out by its roots and mashed across the sidewalk, struck dead by a lawless car.

The tree, good-sized and one of a tidy set planted in a windbreak near the sidewalk, lay splintered under a car, and was clearly deader than John Quincy Adams. The outlaw car itself was a generic late model Toyota, about the same sheen and color of mayonnaise. It tilted uncertainly atop the tree-corpse and, as is customary here, both had been abandoned at the scene by the doer. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about, I thought happily, trundling off to get my coffee and a pack of American Spirits, ready to grab a chair and comfortably snoop from my dining room window.

I knew the drill. The neighbors would emerge from the house, cursing loudly, punch in 911, and after, say, an hour or so, cops would arrive without the misery lights, listen to the bitter tale of sorrow from a slightly open window in the cruiser, shake their heads and drive off. Or maybe they’d leave a postcard first, noting that another sexual predator had moved nearby, and then take off. There’s usually room for a little variation in the neighborhood, but it’s minimal. The car and the tree would lie in a big wedded mash for a longish while, with midnight scavengers carrying off useful auto-parts and then finally, someone with energy, spirit, and no job would go fuckit and lurch out with a chain saw and haul off the remaining moldering tree crap.

Instead, by the time I returned, there was yellow crime tape (!) up around the tree and car, a bunch of orange cones set up, the street blocked off, and a very buff lady cop monitoring the situation. Somehow she’d found the miscreant: one of our standard truant and overall rotten 14 year-olds, his cap turned sideways, his skinny ass poking out of his jams. She kept a firm clutch on him too, until his bewildered mom showed up, furious and confused over being called off The Job for…what exactly? His hung-out narrow l’il ass? The stolen car? His six month truancy? Please.

And then, suddenly, they were both packed in the back of the cruiser, staring out the back window like abducted horror-movie people, and efficiently hauled away. Within fifteen minutes more, two City trucks showed up, dragged off the car and loaded up the tree, while the rest of us stood on our lumpy cracked sidewalks and gaped like we’d never in our lives seen the goddamn City Services In Action. Which we hadn’t.

Shit. I thought. There was so much turning to goo before my very eyes. There was the Ugly Little House on San Lorenzo. For years the boy and I drove past it, me ignoring it, the boy cursing the guy for violating our largely ignored zoning, while the owner, a guy with a hairy back, dressed in the local standard, a tenement t-shirt and Dickey work pants, moodily machined parts in hisportecochere, a big oil blob spreading around his feet.

His little shit-box just sold for $189K, I discovered.

And then, shortly after that I saw a sign in a yard. Not one comfortably advertising foreclosure, or pitbull pups for sale. It said Yard of the Month.

We’re circling the drain, I thought. Right down the crapper we go.

Tell me I’m wrong.

***

Featured image by Callum Black [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons