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The summer I was twelve, our neighbors, the Lunds, went on a cruise for two weeks while their college-aged son, Toby, stayed in their house. The Lunds were as friendly with us as anyone else on our hilltop cul de sac, waving at my parents when they pulled up in the driveway, chatting with my brother and sister and I when we trick-or-treated at their house. The most neighborly thing my parents did was to pass on the surplus of fruit that grew from the trees in our backyard. My father would throw some lemons in a brown lunch bag, hand it to me or my sister, Becca, or my brother, Josh, and say, take this to the Birch house, or the Lund’s house, or the Krone’s. And we would.

With his parents gone, Toby had a party that lasted a couple days with overnight guests and one giant, ox-like black lab who made giant dog turds on our lawn.

My father was a tolerant man. He tolerated basketball in the house, unbathed kids, moths laying eggs in the kitchen pantry. But he could not tolerate dog shit on the lawn that he alone weeded. A lawn that, without the use of pesticides or herbicides, had the soft, velvety texture of a plush carpet.

Dad scooped up the dog droppings with a trowel, put them in a brown paper lunch bag, handed it to my sister and told her to deliver it to the Lund boy.

I went with her. Toby opened the door. He seemed so large that it was hard to imagine him as someone’s boy.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” Becca and I both said.

“You’re Becca and . . . Becca’s sister right?” Toby grinned wide and slow.

“Yeah,” Becca said. Of course she wasn’t going to tell him my name. My sister was fifteen and lately had been categorizing guys into two groups: succulent or gross. Toby was definitely succulent, and surely my sister could think of no reason for him to know my name.

“This is from my dad,” Becca said, and she smiled coyly.

My lips shook and made a pittering sound as I held in my laughter. I wanted Toby to open the bag right then so we could see his face. I wanted him to say something snarky and fantastic that we could deliver back to Dad—something that would keep the entertainment going. At the time, I could think of few things less funny than dog doo in a brown paper lunch bag.

“Okay. Thanks Becca and . . . whatever!” Toby laughed and shut the door.

It took us a while to realize that the Lunds, and all the other families on Azalea Way had stopped talking to everyone in our family. And so my father stopped passing on the lemons. I assumed they shunned us because Josh often left his Big Wheel in the street, or because my mother twice backed out of the driveway in high speed and ran over the Lund’s mailbox, or because someone had climbed the towering eucalyptus trees that bordered our yards, peeked down onto our redwood deck and witnessed my parents’ parties where marijuana was smoked in tight little cigarettes that were butted out in abalone shell ashtrays. Or maybe they were mad because we were the only people on Azalea Way who didn’t put up Christmas lights. Viewed from the bottom of the hill, our cul de sac could almost look like a Christmas tree in December, a tree without a glittery star on top where our dark, unlit house sat like a poor sport.

All of my friends’ mothers hung out together. They played tennis at the club down the street, alternated houses for coffee and showed up at school together doing whatever it is parents did at schools back then. My friend Corinne’s mother had a sharp tongue and probing eyes. One day, Corinne’s mom looked me up and down, glared at the rolled bottoms of my jeans and said, “Doesn’t your mother hem your pants?”

“No,” I said. A couple years earlier my mother had declared that she “quit” being a housewife and we three kids were to tend to the house and fend for ourselves. I never did figure out how to use the Singer sewing machine and Becca, who could whip together a sock puppet or Barbie clothes on the machine in a matter of minutes, was unwilling to hem my clothes for me. I was short, so all my pants were either rolled or jaggedly cut with a pair of scissors.

That same day, Corinne reported to me what her mother had recently heard at the neighborhood coffee.

“Do you know why everyone in the neighborhood hates your family?” Corinne asked. We were in her perfectly matching green and pink room. She had a bed skirt and a canopy, both of which seemed “fancy” to me.

“’Cause Josh leaves his toys outside?”

“No,” Corinne said. “Because last summer you and your sister delivered a bag of your poop to the Lunds and told them it was lemons.”

“No we didn’t!” I had forgotten about the party, the dog shit collected from my father’s then-perfect lawn (he later abandoned lawn care and our plush, green carpet turned into a thigh-high field of straw).

“Yes you did! Their son was there and he left a note on the counter that said, ‘The Blaus sent these lemons over for you.’ and when they came home from their trip they opened the bag and it was full of poop. My mother would never make up something so disgusting.”

“I gotta go home for dinner,” I said. Sometimes it seemed that in showing me everything in her life—the two Christmas trees with miniature villages tucked below each (one in the family room, one in the living room), the two whopping pink Easter baskets she got each spring because her mother couldn’t fit all the candy into one, the new school wardrobe that was so inexhaustible she didn’t have to wear a repeat until sometime in late November—Corrine was pointing out deficiencies in my house, my parents, my life. And just then, when Corrine made it clear that there were two kinds of people in this world, those who give their neighbors bags of poop and those who don’t, I couldn’t stand to be near her.

I ran out of Corinne’s house, past the house where the neighborhood perv hosed his bushes in his bathrobe, the flaps always flying open to reveal what my sister and I called his turkey gobbler; past the Richter house where Mr. Richter was surely sitting in his blue wing chair in the living room staring out at nothing; past the house where neighborhood children were only allowed into the rumpus room or the garage, as if we were stray dogs with fleas and weeping, over-licked sores; up the center of Azalea Way and past all the homes where no one would even look in my direction.

I wanted to cry, but there wasn’t time for that. Becca had just made tacos and she needed me to set the table, open a bottle of red wine for my parents, and fetch my brother who was perched on the platform that was fifteen-feet up one of the eucalyptus trees in the backyard.

By the time we all sat down to eat, a cry was still hovering somewhere on the edge of my throat.

“Remember last year when we delivered the dog poop to the Lunds,” I said, staring down at my taco.

“Can you believe a kid would let a dog that big just shit wherever it wanted?!” My father was still outraged by the crime.

“Well,” I said, “their son put the bag of poop on the counter and left a note for his parents that they were lemons from us. Corinne’s mom told Corinne and she told me. That’s why no one will talk to us.”

There was a moment of silence, and then we looked at one another and each of us, including Josh, who never even knew about the poop-in-the-bag-incident, started laughing. And laughing. And laughing.

My parents never apologized to the Lunds. They never said a word. My mother hated that neighborhood and was happy she didn’t have to do small talk and chit chat each time she walked to her car. And my father was so caught up in his head, often talking aloud to himself about whatever he was working on, that he probably just forgot we were being shunned. I am certain that none of the neighbors missed us when we moved.

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JESSICA ANYA BLAU's third novel, THE WONDER BREAD SUMMER, was selected as a Summer Read on NPR's All Things Considered, CNN's Book Chat, and Oprah's Book Club. She is also the author of DRINKING CLOSER TO HOME, and THE SUMMER OF NAKED SWIM PARTIES. For more information go to www.jessicaanyablau.com.

94 responses to “Lemon Fresh”

  1. Zara Potts says:

    I love your family, Jessica. I so wished we had lived next door to you.
    I want to read a whole book on ‘Growing up Blau.’
    Your stories are so engrossing and it’s always a happy day when I see your name on the front page of TNB.

  2. Ah, thanks Zara! How are you? I’m STILL sending tons of good wishes your way!

  3. BAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHA!

    Oh, I’m sorry, Jessica. This is just too funny, in a perfectly awful way.

    I especially liked the little snapshots of your neighbourhood. They really anchored the scene for me.

    A friend of mine had two Highland Terriers who would usually keep to the yard if they weren’t being taken out on the town. One day, the gate was left open as the neighbours came over to say hello. One of the dogs, sensing this opportunity, charged out of the gate, over to the neighbours’s house, and in through the front door (it had been left open). He ran straight up to the master bedroom – not stopping once on his way to his goal – and took a dump on the carpet.

  4. Oh Simon, you have perfectly summed up my life: Funny in a perfectly awful way! There’s no year, or decade, that couldn’t be described like that! Perhaps it should be my epitaph: Her Life Was Funny in a Perfectly Awful Way. Do you mind contacting my family upon my death and telling them what to put on my stone?

    • No problem. That’ll be a great phone call.

      ‘Hello, this is the Blau residence.’
      ‘Uh… hello. Sorry to hear about Jessica’s bizarre and widely-publicized death. That Bermuda Triangle sure is a kick in the pants, huh? Anyway, so, you don’t know me, but she asked me to ask you…’

      • Okay you got me laughing out loud! I’m sending you all the important phone numbers for you to keep in a safe place in case of my death. Maybe I should send email addresses, too, then you can send them my epitaph and a few of your posts as well. I come from a family of avid readers!

  5. I loved this. I’ve lived on a similar street, although mine was a little more friendly, mostly. Or it used to be, anyway. Less so, now.

    The Lunds got exactly what they deserved.

  6. Really? Where were you? What city? It’s funny how neighborhoods can have personalities, just like people.
    Thanks for reading!

  7. Phat B says:

    You shoulda grown up on my street. It was full of hippies with kids. They used to have block parties where everyone in the neighborhood would drink and play horrible versions of Proud Mary. We lived around the corner from an elementary school, and were kicked out several times during the many drunken softball games. It was a short lived time though. All the parents got better jobs and moved out of the ghetto, including my own family when I was 14. They don’t make neighborhoods like that anymore. Nowadays my parents complain about the lady behind them who feeds pigeons, and they guy next door with the fake grass. I’m coming to the conclusion that a majority of today’s homeowners hate each other with a passion.

    • Yes, there are definitely places where the neighbors hate each other. I’m in Baltimore now and people here seem to hang out with their neighbors a lot. As if each neighborhood is its own club.

      • Phat B says:

        It’s good to know that those types of neighborhoods still exist. Down where I live the only sense of community is found in apartment complexes. I think sharing walls makes people acknowledge each others presence. I want to live in the neighborhoods they promised me on television, where neighbors just let themselves in through the sliding door and poured themselves a drink. I like flawed neighbors, where you hear them fight and fuck and everything in between. Makes me less paranoid.

  8. When life hands you lemons…this doesn’t bear thinking about.

  9. When life hands you lemons, hand someone else a bag of dog shit?

  10. Elizabeth Beckwith says:

    Loved this! Excited for your new book!

  11. My heart smiled when I saw your name on the front page of TNB this morning. I can’t wait to read your book! I should buy a copy for everyone in my family. Maybe they’ll feel better knowing we weren’t the only ones.

    • Oh no, you DEFINITELY weren’t the only ones. Actually, I figure that no family is really “normal.” There are just those who show their oddness and those who hide it well. Nothing was hidden in my family. Or yours, I suppose!

  12. Brown paper lunch bags? Check. Two big black lab mutts that produce plenty of poop? Check. Now, which neighbor do I send it off to? Hmmmm… hard to choose.
    Thanks for a terrific post Jessica, and a great idea :-)…….

  13. Thank you Robin!

    Your book must be getting lots of action (I don’t think it’s even out yet, is it?) because it keeps popping up on my Google Alerts (I assume because of my blurb)! Very exciting time, no?

  14. P.S. I just clicked on Amazon to see when exactly your book comes out (January) and saw that TNB’s very dear, charming and talented Greg Olear made a list of TNB books for Amazon. You can find that list here:
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/syltguides/fullview/R2ZWTEB2AST9SX/ref=cm_srch_tsr_rpsy_alt

  15. Ducky says:

    Great story. I can smell the lemons.

    What’s fascinating is how people are so passive aggressive. Instead of the Lunds coming over and asking your parents about the meaning of the poop bag, they just made assumptions and judged. Though I guess sending a bag of poop through two kids is on the passive aggressive side, too. Why do parents always use their kids for dirty work?

    • Yes, parents definitely get kids to do their dirty work. And husbands get wives to their dirty work and wives get husbands to do theirs, etc. No one wants to do their own dirty work, do they?!
      Thanks for reading this Ducky!

  16. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Jessica, really, this could be a movie. It’s all so cinematic!!! Thanks for the great storytelling and the laughs. By the way, did Toby have sinus problems? I mean, at some point, wouldn’t one notice that scent is NOT lemony?

    • I think he was probably smoking a lot of weed the whole time his parents were gone. And you know how weed can sometimes smell a little like dog shit? That loamy, steamy smell. The house was probably filled with smoke and he couldn’t make out the shit stench from the rest of it.

  17. Erika Rae says:

    I’ve missed your hilarious posts. This was like a lemon-scented breath of fresh air. Delicious.

  18. Richard Cox says:

    I think you are secretly David Sedaris. You’re tired of mining your own life for stories, so you have created a fictional family from which you are drawing whole new lives of inspiration.

    I bet right know you’re wearing an I Heart Hugh T-shirt, aren’t you?

    • Well I’m immensely flattered that you’d think I could even PASS as David Sedaris . . . OKAY, c’est moi, David! (pronounced Da-VEED now that I habit en France). And Hugh is beside me right now, stroking my long North Carolina thigh with his big meaty hand! C’est fantastique!

      • Richard Cox says:

        Honestly, it’s the first thing this piece made me think of. Like I was reading one of Sedaris’ Richard Bachman pieces. Hilarious!

        Has anyone seen the Rooster??

        • Oh The Rooster, that motherfuckercocksuckingsonofabitch! My favorite is when they bring the hooker home for Christmas and everyone gathers around and asks her questions about skanky johns. I think it might be called “Christmas With Dinah.”

  19. Susan Henderson says:

    This story is absolutely succulent. Can’t wait for your new book!

  20. Thanks Susan. I can’t wait for YOUR new book!

  21. D.R. Haney says:

    In retrospect, Jessica, it might have been better to deliver the turds anonymously — perhaps in a brown paper bag set afire before the doorbell was rung.

    But, you know, either way, I’ve never found Southern California to be a very friendly place. I’m ignored by most of my neighbors, as I, following their lead, ignore them. But I think that’s how it is generally in America these days, maybe due to SoCal influence. We do lead the way, much as New Yorkers don’t realize it, stubbornly believing that NYC is the center of everything.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Wait, is that like Man Bites Dog? I’m confused.

    • Ha ha ha… Duke, I wonder if you remember me telling you a certain brown paper bag set afire story in LA…

      If I may: my experience with California was very different. I think it’s the accent. To Americans, having an Australian accent seems almost like a passport to friendship. At the very least, it breaks the ice.

      • Wait, Simon, I totally agree with you that the Australian accent is like some marker showing a totally fun person who’s the life of the party; and everyone wants to sleep with him/her (even Janeane Garafolo). But are you saying the California accent is . . . not friendly?! OH, wait, you’re saying the Californians all loved you because of your accent so they were all friendly to you, yes?

  22. Phat B says:

    CALIFORNIA WHOOOO!! *INTERNET HIGH FIVE*

  23. Ryan Day says:

    Can a cul du sac have its own accent? That would be really exotic.

  24. It is French! I could say it in a French accent! Cuul do saque!

  25. Wow, I love stories about poop, so I was pleasantly surprised when this one took a fecal turn…

  26. You know, I’ve found that ALL men and boys love talking, thinking,and reading about poop. They even like LOOKING at it! And I honestly don’t know a single woman who’s interested in discussing or looking at poop (particularly human poop), myself included. There has to be some biological reason for the male attraction to poop! Maybe it goes back to our gorilla days and knowing who your clan mates were or something like that.

  27. Then she’s EVERY guy’s dream woman!

  28. If I could figure out who owned the cats around here I would start delivering bags of candy canes! Great post. And INSPIRING!

  29. At least cats are more discreet, no?
    And then there are those horrible illness you can get from cat shit . . . Oh, wait, that’s only if you’re pregnant. Since you, Nick, are definitely not pregnant, go for it!

  30. God, J.A., I’m afraid that our family may be the equivalent of your parents’ family on our own block! I mean, we haven’t delivered any poop to anyone lately, but we just seem to be the family on the block who doesn’t have our act together domestically. Our car is always dirty and our lawn is kinda au natural. Most of the moms are “stay at home” and have their Christmas decorations up by midnight on Thanksgiving, and do things like build gazebos and ice rinks in their back yards, and water their lawns daily, and they all sit around this one neighbor’s yard every single day all summer and never seem to go anywhere else. There’s an annual trolley ride near Christmas and a huge block party in the summer, and it’s all very idyllic and cute, but I am no good at any of that stuff and never show up to the preparation meetings or get as involved as I’m supposed to and our money is always late, and I am the mom who is always getting in my car and driving away somewhere without my kids, and whose garden is unwieldy, and who is not friendly enough. I don’t drink domestic beer (or any kind of beer, actually); I am way too liberal for the general vibe of the block; I have tattoos and have written about sex publicly. I suspect the neighbors have all seen me naked through our windows, as I am often naked, so that does not help. My friends smoking pot on our balcony at parties probably hasn’t helped either.
    So I always love your family! I read this and think, “Well Christ, I haven’t delivered them any shit in a bag–what do these people want?! I am a domestic goddess and a great neighbor!”
    I suspect my kids will be writing posts something like yours someday . . .

  31. You are hysterical! I love this! I think you need to POINT OUT to your neighbors that you haven’t delivered them any shit in a bag. Let them know about the terrors from which they’ve been saved!

  32. Darryl Salach says:

    Another wonderful moment in time from the Blau family!lol Too funny. Can’t wait to read your new novel, Jessica!!

  33. Thanks Darryl! And I can’t wait to read another fabulous issue of The Toronto Quarterly!

    I’ll put a link here for anyone who hasn’t discovered it yet:

    http://thetorontoquarterly.blogspot.com/

    OH, and I’m sending you something soon–need to finish up the semester, grade papers, and finish the edits on the novel!

  34. Darryl Salach says:

    Thanks Jessica, for plugging the journal. Greatly appreciated!!! I look forward to your contribution to the next issue as well…it will be a stellar lineup!!!

  35. Thomas Wood says:

    Really nice read. I think more neighborhood disputes ought to be settled in brown paper bags.

  36. Maybe everything should be settled in a brown paper bag. Relationships. Jobs. Parking spots.

  37. Tawni says:

    This made me laugh out loud. (The real kind, I mean, not the “LOL” people write when they don’t have an actual response.) Thank you for sharing this hilarious story. I love your writing. 🙂

  38. Thanks Tawni–and thanks for making the distinction between LOL and a real laugh! Love that!

  39. Marni Grossman says:

    Your neighbors were undoubtedly jealous, small-minded people. They just didn’t get you and your fabulousness. Your father was just trying to help them fertilize their yard.

  40. Or maybe he was trying to drown out the pot-smell that took over the Lund house while they were away on that cruise!

  41. New Orleans Lady says:

    This so funny and I can relate. My family would be catagorized with the type of people who would give away brown paper bags full of dog shit. Our neighbors always hated us, too.

    One time, my step father got one of those huge rolls of Black Cat firecrackers and set them off in the middle of night. To be more clear, it was March, 2:30 in the morning, and he wrapped them around my neighbors magnolia tree in their front yard. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a black cat go off, but, it’s an insanely loud boom. Yeah, well this had over 10,000 of those little suckers and it was guaranteed to last 60 minutes or more. To tell you the truth, I don’t even remember what they did to piss him off in the first place. Probably something silly, or maybe nothing at all. That’s just how he is, and this wasn’t the only time we pissed off the neighborhood.

    I understand.

    Great story! I love reading about your family and childhood. I recently read your book and have already passed it along to a few family members. You have an even fan base biginning down here!

    • New Orleans Lady says:

      Oh My! That last line should read, “You have an even bigger fan-base beginning down here.”

      I don’t know what happened to my hands while typing just now. They have a mind of their own today.

  42. Hey! THANK YOU New Orleans Lady (for reading this AND for buying and passing on my book)!

    Your father sounds pretty hysterical! I have never heard a Black Cat go off and have never even heard of a Black Cat. But I love the name, Black Cat. Probably has some great packaging–good graphics or something. I’m going to google it after I post this.

    WHAT did your neighbors do after the Black Cat attack?! Was there a back and forth battle or did the hour-long explosions end it all?

  43. New Orleans Lady says:

    That pretty much ended it. They were all afraid of him even before that. He’s an RN and a very serious hunter and he used to bring home his deer kills in body bags. Yep, you read that right. REAL body bags. He would come home covered in dirt and camo, carrying several guns, and pull a bloody body bag from the back of his truck. Good times.

  44. Hilarious! Good times, indeed! (Love that he HAD a stack of body bags. I mean, who has body bags lying around?!)

  45. […] California.  Her father, for example, inexplicably refused to drive her anywhere.  He also put a (lemon) twist on the old dog-poop-in-a-paper-bag trick. Her neighbors were weird…a 9.5 on the Richter scale.  A fellow ninth-grader wrote in her […]

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