Stop Me If You've Heard This One
Over the years, I have lived in quite a few neighborhoods. All of them differ from the rest, and none of them, not one, can compare to Gruslen Terrace, in the heart of Neopia Central. Have you ever gotten that feeling where you love something unconditionally? Something that you wish would never end? That is how I feel every time I see a neighbor. Every one, every single one, is pleasant, kind, thoughtful. Throughout my life I have encountered so many grouchy people, so many that only think for themselves.
But my neighborhood, no. Everyone has lived here for all or nearly all of their lives, as have their children, and their children’s children. It is truly an astounding thing to consider how much love permeates through the small cluster of homes here. I walk past each home and know exactly who lives there. I know everyone’s story, what makes them tick, their likes and dislikes, and they all know me, a soft-spoken Lutari just looking for a peaceful home. We are like a family, my neighborhood. And that’s why I love it. No matter what happens in my life, I will always have my family of neighbors to turn to.
And what sort of family would we be if we didn’t see each other often? My favorite memories have come from the get-togethers that come along every now and then. Who wouldn’t smile at the thought of enjoying a pleasant summer evening under the stars with your closest friends? Or celebrating your birthday with the kindest people you’ve ever met? And I can assure you, there is nothing more satisfying than a pancake breakfast with people you love.
Of course, the longer I’ve lived here, the more I’ve come to notice the consistencies the family has adopted. For instance—it is almost a guarantee that Maggie, a dazzlingly orange Kau, will have to mediate a fight between her two small children, Katie and Cassie. It always seems that they end up fighting over something as inconsequential as who gets to sit next to their mother, and so Maggie is forced to separate them. But it’s alright. We all smile and nod knowingly. That’s what families do.
Take the barbeque we had at Mr. Kantor’s house last week. Kantor is the oldest man I know. He once told me he was a hundred and seven, but a week later he reported he was only eighty-eight. No matter what his age, he was quite an amusing old Lenny. He told us stories of fighting in the great Meridellian war (though he would be quite older than a hundred and seven if he had truly fought in that war), and of the first Altador Cup, way back “when Altador still hadn’t been discovered yet.” No one could escape his gripping storytelling skills, and no one wanted to.
He had a wonderful voice, one that would pull you in with a single word, and never let you go. The words floated around your head, hijacking your imagination and leading it on a high speed race to the finish line. And although we had heard all of his stories many times, it didn’t matter. We enjoyed them. They fell on fresh ears every time.
When the sky had slid into a rich indigo, after everyone had had their fill of gourmet hot dogs (which Mr. Kantor claimed to have developed himself, though I had a sneaking suspicion he had ordered them from Hubert), we all gathered around him in his throne like lawn chair, simply waiting for him to break out one of his famous stories. After arriving in Gruslen Terrace, I had quickly discovered that Mr. Kantor’s stories weren’t just hoped for at events like this, they were expected. On this night, he launched into my personal favorite, immediately spreading his wings wide and contorting his face into a malicious leer, imitating some evildoer he had encountered in his many years.
“Have I ever told you the story of when I was captured by the tribal natives on Mystery Island?” he began, his eyes easing into a memory like a Peophin gliding into the sea.
The children gasped with glee at the start of a new story, and Mr. Kantor smiled. “Now, now, don’t pretend you’ve never heard this story just to humor me. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Really.”
Maggie smiled as she played with her daughter’s hair. “No, I don’t think we have, Mr. Kantor. Please tell us.”
He smiled and clasped his wings together. “Splendid. Now, it must have been close to sixty years ago when I got into this little pickle. I was working as an assistant to a world-renowned archaeologist, Dr. Skull A. Crossbones—”
The children giggled. “Was that his real name, Mr. Kantor?” Cassie asked.
“Why, of course it was! Would I lie to you, young one?” he asked with a glimmer in his eye. “Now, Dr. Crossbones was a very intelligent Kiko professor, and I was but a naïve blue Lenny. Of course, being naïve, I believed I was always right. So I led Dr. Crossbones down a path that I thought would take us to the Tomb of Geraptiku. But where does it really lead?”
I waited for the answer, though I knew exactly what it was. As I looked around, I could tell by the confident looks on their faces that they knew too. But still no one speaks, no one answers. We all wait for—
Mr. Kantor slaps his wings together. “It leads us right into a trap! Soon Dr. Crossbones and I are caught up in a net. Suddenly Kougra natives surround us, and do they look angry! Dr. Crossbones tries to reason with them as they cut us down from the net, but it’s no use. I could already see that we were the tribe’s lunch! In a flash, they’ve tied us both up and we’re off to Fyora-knows-where.”
At this point a child, a small violet Mynci, cannot contain her glee. She shrieks, “Into the cooking pot!”
Mr. Kantor chuckles, as does the rest of the group. “Right you are, young one. They throw Dr. Crossbones and me into the largest pot I have ever seen, and then they begin dousing us in huge cups of spices and sauces! I have to say, I never smelled tastier, which is, of course, rather worrisome. So at that point, I’m thinking to myself, how will I get the professor and myself out of this pickle? But I didn’t worry. I never worry if I can help it.”
“How did you do it?” Katie pipes up.
“I begin to consider how I can possibly bargain my way out of the pot before they fire it up. I look around their small camp, and I notice quite a bit of shiny objects. Upon closer examination, I realize they must have been the expensive belongings of their earlier victims. So I rip off the gold ring from Dr. Crossbones’ finger and wave it around in the air. Dr. Crossbones is of course rather angry, but I have no time to listen to him shouting at me, I’m trying to save him!”
By now, Mr. Kantor is so engrossed in the story that he has worked up a sweat. He wipes his brow and grins.
“Turns out the natives do indeed love shiny things. And I daresay Dr. Crossbones was rather grateful for my offering his ring in exchange for the sparing of our lives. After all, you know what they say... gold is the eye’s favorite food!”
I was pretty sure that that adage was only said by Mr. Kantor. Nevertheless, I smiled as he said it, for every single person crowded around the Lenny mouthed the phrase with him. The punch line had been said so many times it was etched into our hearts, our memories of Mr. Kantor. It defined him.