Marie and I were excited when my promotion came through and I was tasked to head the sales office in Tantamount Lake. California. This was a good position. A well performing territory, like the Tantamount office, made it easier to get going. It is always simpler to maintain and grow a sales territory than it is to start one from nothing. It would give me an opportunity to learn what was expected of me in this new job.
Of course, we had to relocate from Wisconsin to California and the move came quickly. We had two weeks to get it done but, as it was only the two of us, it was achievable. Everything in our apartment was carefully packed into a yellow and green Mayflower truck and we got on a plane to Orange County, California. The company provided a condo and a car. We had the address of the office and the condo, both in the town of Tantamount Lake, about 15 miles from John Wayne Airport. When we arrived we wasted no time and jumped in a taxi to take us to our new home. The taxi driver was named Alex. He told us that he was from Uruguay and that he liked to talk.
The 405 freeway was congested in both directions and it took almost an hour and a half to reach the Tantamount Lake exit but Alex pointed out some interesting sights on the way. There was a mini-golf course that also offered bowling and cart racing; we saw a couple of hospitals, some shopping centers, some more shopping centers, a concrete river bed with no water, and a lot of sound blocking walls. At one point we even caught a glimpse of green hills in the distance but the sighting was so brief we both thought it might have been a mirage. Alex, assured us it was real.
When Alex told us we were in Tantamount Lake neither Marie nor I had realized we’d left one city for another. Our new friend and tour guide, amazed us when he told us that we had actually traversed through about seven separate cities so far in our journey. He said we had to look sharp, as in many cases, city boundaries are defined by nothing more than a small green sign with reflective letters advising the name of the burg you were entering. Alex took a right hand turn onto Tantamount Road, which curved gently around an artificial pond, with a fountain in the middle. This, he told us, was Tantamount Lake. It wasn’t big and it was obviously man made but it was clean; with soft grass lawns sloping down to the water’s edge. A white painted gazebo with bougainvillea climbing gracefully over the trellis top sat about halfway between the lake and the road, completing the perfect pastoral scene. Marie squeezed my hand.
There was no litter to be seen anywhere and the trees around the lake all looked as if they had been planted within the last 6 months. Short, with sparsely leafed but perfectly groomed canopies they sat atop thin trunks planted in mounds of fresh dirt with hedges, azaleas, and impatiens serving as under plantings. Three or four more quick turns and we passed a column welcoming us to Tantamount Bluffs and Alex deposited us at 16 Avenida Lucia, our new home. There was a 10 foot square of grass in front of the house that we admired on our way to the door, which was flanked by Bird of Paradise and Lilies of some sort, I didn’t recognize. The key I had for the front door slipped neatly into the lock but didn’t work. As I fiddled with it, the door was pulled open from the inside and I was standing face to face with none other than ‘Malibu Barbie’ herself.
“Can I help you?” she asked suspiciously.
“Hi,” I said as I pulled my key back, “We’re the Walters’. Are you from the company?”
“I’m sorry,” Barbie replied, “I wasn’t expecting company. I’m just off to play tennis.” She stepped outside and pulled the door shut behind her, locking us out.
As she started down the walk I called after her, “but we’re the Walters, this is our house, number 16 Avenida Lucia. She stopped and looked back at me.
“Oh, you’re the new guys,” she said, “this isn’t 16, this is 19.” She spun the number 6, with the missing screw on the post next to her, effectively turning it into a 9. “16 is that one,” she said pointing catty-corner across the street at a house that looked exactly like this one. “I’m Muffy,” she said, “welcome to the neighborhood, gotta run,” and she was off – her garage door silently sliding open. We watched her back a cream colored Mercedes into the street and drive away.
“Marie,” I said, “all these houses look the same. It’s kinda spooky.” I scanned the street.
“No they don’t,” Marie had been studying them as well. “Look, Muffy’s house is beige, across the street, that one’s tan and ours, number 16, is definitely ecru. The house on the other side of ours – must be 14 – looks more like a cream or a mocha – hard to tell for sure in this bright sunlight. Our house also stands out ‘cause we don’t have Bird of Paradise. I think that’s a Boxwood hedge.”
By this time we had made it across the street.
“Maybe I can paint a red dot on the garage door so I can find the house again.”
“Careful,” Marie warned, “Neighborhood like this… a red dot might net you a little time in jail!”