When the fat family moved, I became the old man of my cul-de-sac. Fifteen years prior, I’d been the new kid on the block, a buzz-cut bounder in my late twenties with a flashy BMW and a willingness to check every box on my builder’s option list. Eighty-eight homes in the subdivision and mine was the last to go up, sold at the highest price in arrogant defiance of my father’s rule-of-thumb that you should always own the cheapest house on your block for resale’s sake. But as the years flew by and I dutifully followed Thoreau’s decree to be what he called “new wine in the old bottle”, my neighbors drifted off in dribs and drabs. The recession of 2008 blew many of them away, short-selling if they were lucky and enduring foreclosure if they weren’t. Then one day I looked around and I realized that I was surrounded by strangers a decade or more younger than I was, raising children on tight budgets and carefully washing their pre-owned Toyotas on Saturday. They staged parties and cookouts to which I was pointedly not invited. Seemingly overnight, I’d become the “horsey people” from Updike’s Couples, the staid holdouts to whom the social rhythms and beating hearts of the hood were a complete and utter mystery.
Perhaps it’s not accurate to say “the fat family”. Not because they weren’t fat. They were spectacularly, gloriously fat. The husband and wife were both pink and plump from wrist to cankle like prime pigs when I moved in though they were scarcely any older than I was. They had a daughter who cleared two hundred pounds before she cleared the age of ten. Around that time the husband lost his job and had to take a temporary gig as a Wal-Mart greeter. Not surprisingly, the wife packed his bags for him shortly afterwards and it became just her and the daughter. She didn’t seem to age; you don’t really get wrinkles if every inch of your skin is under a Nissan GT-R’s worth of boost pressure. By the time the daughter was a teenager I couldn’t tell them apart. They even dressed the same, in a style I nicknamed Country Kitchen. Periodically, the husband would stop by for visitation, levering his sad big body out of his Saturn Ion in such a manner as to effectively broadcast his misery to all and sundry inside Neptune’s orbit. Sometimes he would have to wait until his ex-wife shooed-out her date from the previous night. Yes, she had boyfriends. It must be amazing to be a woman. If I go three days without using conditioner on my hair I can feel my visibility to the fairer sex evaporate like fog on a sunny Ohio morning but this chick had ’em lined up like Cedar Point’s Millennium Force despite not being able to fit in the seats of said roller coaster or, indeed, any other roller coaster I’ve ever seen.
The fat family’s house was purchased by an upwardly-mobile young couple whose every aspect seemed calculated to both raise my envy and irritate my pride. She was Generic Corporate Blonde, pantsuited but trim and muscular in the mandatory fashion for director-level advancement, steering a Prius in distracted fashion, early to work and late to return. He was a dark-haired version of the fellow who plays Jamie Lannister on GoT, striding out to his brand-new 528i every morning in a manner that indicated his eagerness to take on the world and beat it. No kids, no parties, no raised voices, not a hair out of place. Ah, but there was trouble in paradise.