The Mopermans were chosen Cloverdale’s best neighbors in a recent competition sponsored by Piggly Wiggly, home of the Bargain Pen, where you’ll find the best value our volume purchasing can provide (Management realizes the Bargain Pen prices may not seem to be a bargain at all. Management reminds you that the price you pay is the discounted price plus a percentage of the shipping charges to bring in extra food for the Bargain Pen, not to mention the surcharge for winter travel and the fuel add on charge our distributors pass on to us to compensate for a steady and measurable increase in the price of crude oil. What it all comes down to is OPEC. OPEC is responsible for the Bargain Pen's failure to live up to its name. The Management apologies).
“Nominate Your Good Neighbor for Cloverdale’s Best Neighbor Contest”, read a banner hung across check out stands 1 through 5. In smaller print it said the winning family got 60 seconds to romp through the Day Old / Passed Sell By Date Bins to gather as much food as they can carry.
One month ago 56 year old Stormy Tscheddar and his misunderstood wife Tolla stood in line at Check Stand 4 to purchase two Stansbury Meat Loaf TV Dinners, two bottles of Diet D Cola and a package of Mother’s Cookies for their supper. They read the banner as they waited and discussed the good and bad qualities of their neighbors on Windy Lane.
Tolla spoke first, “How about the Wilsons?”
“Their dog, that little yapper?” grumbled Stormy as he read the ingredients off the Mother’s cookies nutritional label. His new bifocals gave him trouble. He struggled to find that sweet spot on the lenses to bring the fine print into focus. The constant up and down moving of his head as he changed the alignment between his eyes and the lenses brought some in the store to think he had a nervous disorder. Tolla couldn’t understand why every time Stormy tried to read something her friends would stop and affectionately squeeze her arm as they passed with their shopping carts.
Stormy's annoying head bobbing became such a distraction Tolla couldn't concentrate on the task at hand. She snatched the bag of Mother's Cookies out of her husband’s hands and found what he was looking for. “Each cookie is 60 calories,” she said as she put the bag back into the shopping cart. Stormy snorted. He was on a special diet and had a limited number of calories he could eat each day. Stormy and the doctor disagreed on the meaning of the number. The doctor insisted it was a limit. Stormy thought it was negotiable depending on his nutritional needs for the day.
“What about the Middleton’s three houses down?” Stormy said thinking he’d stumbled on the village’s perfect neighbors.
“No, you’re not home when they come by to push those religious magazine. They’re polite but its not easy to get them to understand I was saved hears ago when I accepted Jesus.” Stormy nodded. He’d forgotten the Middleton's religious zeal.
Tolla continued, “As for you, I told them you sold your soul to the devil in 1968 when you bargained for that precious Mustang convertible.”
“That I did........That I did,” Stormy smiled as he remembered that day in the park while walking his dog.
They were coming up next in line when they saw the solution to the Good Neighbor Contest problem. The store's sliding glass doors opened and the three Moperman children walked in within one arm’s length of each other. They were lock stepped in their strides. Their faces demonstrated an unattachment to the natural and spiritual world.
“The Moperman’s,” both Stormy and Tolla spoke in unison.
The Moperman family lived in a weird multilevel split level on one half acre of land on Windy Lane. They really were perfect neighbors. Their yard was was immaculate. Their lawn cut to perfection. Every Saturday the family spent time together scrubbing the siding and bricks of their home and washing windows. They made no noise. If the children were outside they played quietly, usually in a huddle. Never a peep. Their dog was even unnaturally quiet, the result of an operation his vocal chords.
You spoke to Mopermans once, after that you never tried again because they made it perfectly clear using clear body language that they weren't interested in small talk. They were more inclined to exchange polite nods with you on the street or across fences. If Stormy and Tolla had to pick one thing against nominating this odd family it would be the peculiar smell that sometimes originated from their property on warm, stagnate days.
“Cash, check or charge,” the pimpled teenager asked at the end of the check out.
“Charge,” Stormy said as he swiped his card.
“May we have a Good Neighbor nomination form,” Tolla asked. The cashier pulled a three page form from under her cash drawer. Tolla filled it out while Stormy searched for the ‘Credit‘ button on the machine’s keypad.
“Damn glasses,” he mumbled. The cashier gave Tolla a sympathetic look. Tolla smiled thinking the girl was bit dimwitted.
“Well, I put them in the contest,” Tolla said as they strolled their purchases into the parking lot. Stormy didn’t answer. Tolla turned to see that Stormy had disappeared. She stopped and scanned the parking lot. She found him off in the distance walking away from their car and toward a busy road. He was preoccupied with the cash register receipt. He couldn't quite bring the numbers into focus. He was sure he had been overcharged for the Diet D Colas.
“I’m sorry Tolla,” a friend said as she stopped to squeeze her arm on her way into the store.
“Stormy!” Tolla shouted. “Get Over Here!” Tolla shouted bringing everyone in the parking lot to a standstill.
That night Tolla and Stormy watched Cloverdale Weekend Television's production of "What's in Your Garden" while they enjoyed their TV dinners. Both were sound asleep before the show ended. The dog's barking finally woke them around midnight.
Soon another day would dawn and Stormy and Tolla would make another trip to the Piggly Wiggly.
And so the sun sets on another day in the Confederacy of Dunces. A cool breeze brings the smell of rain and steaks on a nearby grill. Somewhere a dog is barking. A perfect evening evolves from the departing light of day. Time slows as it passes through our village on the edge of forever.