They were words you really never want to hear when first arriving home. “I think the neighbors are weird.”
Weird? What did that mean? They were a tad hypocritical in venting about my barky dogs when their own doesn’t have much of an off button. They like to sit around the backyard discussing how they are smarter than their business school professors and proclaiming how successful and important they will soon be. Oh, and one obviously didn’t get the drought memo and really likes to water his dead front lawn with his shirt off — not a win for either the grass or the aesthetics of the neighborhood.
Otherwise, they were fairly bland twentysomething types who don’t raise many eyebrows. We are on a smile and wave basis. The shirtless wonder once offered to help me carry in my trunk full of groceries. One day we might even remember each other’s names without a whole lot of brain racking.
So what could be so odd about them? Maybe they were bopping squirrels on the head. Perhaps a peek into the bedroom window would reveal a creepy doll collection. Possibly I was living next door to the next Dahmer, Bundy and Manson trio.
I paused the overactive imagination and asked what was meant by that opinion.
“I think they’re playing Dungeons and Dragons,” came the pronouncement.
Dear lord, not a fantasy role-playing game! Homicide and mannequin fetishes, fine. But sitting around a table with a 12-sided die and fighting battles that only exist in one’s head? Say it isn’t so.
Seems the neighbors were overheard in the backyard choosing characters and accumulating experience points. Somebody enlisted a dragon and another person declared themselves a wizard. There might have been an aqua elf. All was good until one player went rogue and, without consulting with this army, spent most of its resources on some sort of crystal. Apparently, this is a big no-no in head games just as it would be out here in the real world.
The possibility that the neighbors were closet geeks seemed a tad far-fetched at first. For one, their house doesn’t have a basement. Plus, they were into adulthood, for crying out loud. They should be sitting around a video game console or computer racking up ammo and drawing blood like normal people.
Besides, sometimes a female came over to visit. That had to be a sign that they weren’t the completely socially awkward wallflowers that I recall the D&D fans of my childhood to be.
“I think the girl plays, too,” I was told in response to my theory.
So much for my outdated stereotypes although maybe she is simply confused by the “gamer babe” label used at San Francisco Giants’ games.
And so much for my surprise that Dungeons and Dragons still flourished. I assumed the only place one found a multi-sided set of dice anymore was the county Elections Office to pick precincts for post-Election Day vote checks. Admittedly, some creative folks with a soft spot for costumes opt for live action role playing or a trek to the Renaissance Fair. But I didn’t really think anyone still preferred a fantasy game requiring little more than miniature figurines and a piece of paper. How vintage. Next up, they can dust off the Pokemon cards.
Coincidentally, just this week I learned from news radio that Dungeons & Dragons actually celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. Recently, I also received some insight into the draw, at least according to the knights and druids next door, while painting near the common backyard fence.
“It’s not even that we’re winning or that the game is that good,” one explained to the others in what might have been a pre-tournament pep talk. This role-playing Tony Robbins must be the one who went on the unauthorized crystal shopping spree. “It’s that we are playing with such a great group and you don’t always get that.”
Possibly there are some life lessons to be had.
But the neighbors are still weird.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. Follow Michelle on Twitter @michellemdurand What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: email@example.com.