Won’t you be my neighbor?

I realize I am fully capable of calling the police. But the reassuring thing about a standoff between Preppy and Anita is that you’re dealing with one clearly sane person, and one madwoman swatting at imaginary bats. But when it’s just her and me, you’ve got two crazy people who hear voices. I just manage to make an honest living at it.

So while waiting for the police, I put on one of Preppy’s sweater vests. Nothing gives you credibility quite like a sweater vest. Have you ever seen a junkie on “COPS” wearing one? No. Because people don’t think about layering when they’re all hopped up on goofballs.

Standing in my driveway, dressed as my husband, waiting to file a police report regarding my neighbor’s terroristic threats, I was forced to concede that my suburban fantasies are not working out the way I’d hoped.

Our other neighbor, the one who isn’t crazy, recently acquired two pit bills he keeps chained to trees in the back yard. We’ve discussed calling Animal Control, but we had to consider how many area residents we wanted pissed off at us at the same time.

My friend Shelly had an aunt who lived in my neighborhood in the 1950s — she tells me it was an idyllic “Leave It to Beaver” enclave complete with bridge clubs, housewives vacuuming in pearls, and cocktails with the Pattersons on Friday nights. It’s not fair. I wanted to live in that neighborhood. Why can’t we have cocktails with the Pattersons?

Probably because the Pattersons would not have allowed us in their front door. We wouldn’t have been “The Paynes” from up the street. At best, we’d be those two suspicious bachelors who mothers warned their children not to talk to, and nobody invited to barbecues. The simple truth of it is, we would have been the outcasts in my fantasy neighborhood, with or without sweater vests.

The cop arrived and took my statement, and then went over to talk to Anita. He came back about 20 minutes later and told me we “might be dealing with a competency issue,” which qualified in my mind as the understatement of the year.

The officer also filled me in on a few details about Anita: she’s retired, an immigrant with no family, and she would feel much better if we would agree to stop breaking into her house and disconnecting her washing machine.

Since she had no relatives to contact, we basically had two options: press criminal charges, or help keep a record showing a pattern of behavior which would warrant evaluation by a mental health professional.

The thing that really appealed to me in my fantasy neighborhood was that people would look out for each other, and try to make life there better for everyone. No one’s looking out for Anita. She doesn’t need to be in jail — she needs help. So we didn’t press charges, though we did get pricing on an attractive 8-foot privacy fence to make things a little easier for all involved.

But if I expect Anita to let go of her delusions, I have to let go of mine. The fantasy neighborhood I would have loved never could have existed. We live an open, honest life, and have full freedom to improve it — the only people who give us trouble are clinically insane.

Even without cocktails with the Pattersons, that makes this the best time there’s ever been for us to live here.


Topher Payne is an Atlanta-based playwright, and the author of the book “Necessary Luxuries: Notes on a Semi-Fabulous Life.” Find out more at topherpayne.com.