My neighborhood used to be so quiet you could hear a brick drop. It used to be free from unwholesome influences. Children could play in the street. All that was before something strange happened to the quaint little house next door, and now everyone is up in arms over the sudden change in life on Willowtree Lane.

It started with just a single Harley-Davidson: his. Then came a second: hers. These iron horses neighed loudly every morning at 6, awakening anyone within three blocks still in dreamland. This daily clamor was bothersome yet tolerable. But then the real transformation came.

Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, the epitome of bourgeois respectability and chief organizers of Willowtree’s Fourth of July barbecues, began to dress differently. Leather jackets, fringed leather jackets, appeared on these faithful attendees of PTA meetings.

Fingers began scratching heads.

Then one bright and sunny day Mrs. Wilson was in her front garden. She was wearing a tank-top, and that’s when I noticed the humongous, the audacious, the almost horrifying Big Blue Shoulder Tattoo. Then Mr. Wilson came out, and I noticed his mustache and sideburns had mysteriously joined.

I’ll admit it: I spread the word like wildfire.

“I swear I kid you not,” I said. “And he was wearing a hoop earring, too. Like some kind of suburban pirate.”

“Whatever does it all mean?” asked Mrs. Smith from up the street.

“Do you supposed it could have an impact on real estate prices?” wondered Mr. Peabody.

Other neighbors expressed feelings of incredulity and dismay, saying “the Wilsons had always been such nice people.”

On the other hand, 16-year-old Jimmy Johnson thought it was cool and hoped there’d be a domino effect.

But when bikers started showing up for Sunday morning cruises, Willowtree Lane began to panic. Was our precious neighborhood, brimming with white fences and white bread, suddenly being threatened by insalubrious influences? What could be next? To us it seemed only a step to nude pool parties with heavy metal bands. Our ideal lifestyle on Willowtree Lane was about to be chopped down, and our own residents carried the hatchets!

We felt betrayed. It wasn’t exactly that we were condemning the Wilsons, since they’d been friends for many years. We just couldn’t understand this sudden transformation of two fortysomoethings, an insurance salesman and dental assistant, into  thrill-seeking iconoclasts. What did it signify?

Now far be it from us non-judgmental folks to tell other people how to live their lives. People should have complete freedom to express themselves however they want. One just expects that the self-expression will be at least somewhat in keeping with previous modes of self-expression; in a word, consistent. Consistency is how Willowtree Lane insulates itself.

Time passed, and to our suprise nothing wicked happened. The Wilsons simply wore leather and rode motorcycles with their friends. I had to admit feeling somewhat disappointed.

Then it struck me why the Wilsons’ fringe had so ruffled our feathers. They could very well be going through a mid-life crisis. They could be seeking escape from the dull 9-to-5 existence that had led them to believe they were born to be mild. They could be shunning the shackles of prosaic suburban life, anxious for new thrills and untasted fruits. But none of this was really the point, and we the subdued and phlegmatic of Willowtree Lane would never know why the Wilsons had changed because we were afraid to ask. We continued to greet them in the same way we always had, and pretended we hadn’t noticed anything different.

No, the point was that something unexpected had unsettled the surface tranquility of Fortress Humdrum suburbia. Something new and different had arrived. Like an earthquake it jolted us, and like a strange light in the sky it went unexplained. Mystery had triumphed over the predictable, and mystery is unsettling. If the Wilsons hadn’t succeeded in shaking up their own lives, they could at least enjoy the satisfaction of shaking up ours.

From the Argus-Courier, circa 1996.

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