Jogging in suburban Jersey.
The eye-sore house. And I mean, like, I slowed down just to gape at it.
Oh my God, I'm about to cross paths with someone on my jog.
What do I do? They're strangers, but perhaps they're friendly people. Do I smile? Do I nod? Do I say "good day" like a proper Englishman?
Always one to try new things, I decide to nod and say hello.
I get a glare in return.
First instinct: New Jersey-ites are rude.
But to give them the benefit of the doubt, here I am, sweating like a pig (the kind of pig that sweats, wherever they happen to live...I think I'll have to explore that in another blog post...hmm) all over their neighborhood. My headphones are blasting all that "newfangled" music that all the kool kids are listening to, and sometimes I even think they know I'm originally from New York. I've got the New York patina that they can smell like a pig digging truffles (something pigs actually do). Maybe if I wasn't listening to Jay-Z & Alicia Keys singing about the very same state, I could get by.
So I sweat some more and jog on, determined to keep trying the smile-and-nod.
Then an old lady at her mailbox flags me down.
I'm not the type to jog in place. I'm happy for a break - and so are my legs.
"Can I help you?" I ask.
"Oh yes, dear, yes. Do you have a quarter?"
"Of sense and Transylvanian blood, yes, but not the money. Sorry. I'm already carrying my license and registration in my sports bra. There's no more room."
She droops. "Oh, well, thank you anyway, dear. My phone is broken, you see, and I so desperately need to call my grandchildren. I was going to use a pay-phone in town."
"You want me to take a look at it?"
Now she brightens. "Oh, would you? Oh, my dear, that would be wonderful! Please, do come in!"
And that's when I see her house. Two concrete lions on either side of her driveway, Corinthian columns guarding her door - and making it seem like a mouse-hole in comparison; the bubbling fountain on the lawn that's so big there's no more lawn left, the flowers pots attached to the house's facade, vomiting what looks like fungus; topiaries, American flags, and the massive satellite perched on her roof like a crashed UFO.
"I think you forgot to buy a mansion along with all this stuff," I say.
"Never mind. Let's go inside."
Even from the foyer I can smell the baked goods goodness coming from the kitchen.
"Smells delish," I admit.
"Oh, go on in, dear. Have a brownie. Have two! There, there," she shuttles me toward her kitchen.
There aren't just brownies. There's pies, cannolis, cupcakes, and tarts. Taffy and pudding, cookies and custards.
Have I made you hungry yet?
"Take whatever you want, dear," the old lady says.
"Why did I come in here again?" 'Cause I honestly can't remember now...was it something to do with a phone?
But she's got a slice of pie under my nose in a few more seconds and a seat at the table for me, clean fork at my disposal.
The pie scratches my itch, hits that target, and shoots for the stars fifty times over. Now I really can't remember why I'm here, but who cares?
"That's it, dear, eat up. When you're done eating, you won't be a nice little girl anymore. You'll be just as sour as my desserts are sweet."
I stop. "Huh?"
"Eat. Eat," she urges, her eyes looking like a cult leader's on doomsday.
"Wait a minute...did you just say what I think you said?"
"What did I say?"
"I'm going to finish this pie and stop being nice to people?"
"That ear infection you had must have messed up your hearing, dear."
I stand, throwing the pie to the table. "Is that why everyone out there keeps glaring at me? You've infected them with your pastry madness! All of New Jersey! Do you realize how many times I've been cut off or honked at while driving - all because you've made them hate everyone!"
"There's a leprechaun in Paris doing the same thing, dear. Stop shouting."
I sigh. "This is for your own good, lady."
And remembering the fairy tale quite well, I push her into the oven. It's not as easy as Hansel & sis made it look, and she really doesn't fit in there.
In fact, her dress hem gets stuck on the broiler, and now she's howling and knocking her pastries to the floor.
"All right, all right. Just hold on a second." I unhook the hem and she leaps away from the oven.
"Just get out of here!" She points to the door.
I give her a once-over. "You know what I think you need?"
"What?" she snaps.
"Exercise. It does wonders. Just last year I was a frustrated writer and now I'm a - well, I'm still a frustrated writer, but the baby fat is completely gone now. It's like magic!"
It takes some coaxing, but she eventually puts her old bones to the pavement and keeps pace with me. Now we're both sweating, smiling, and nodding.
Maybe I'll see some smiles tomorrow.