There's nothing quite like a scary letter from your local police department to throw the rest of your day off course. Normally, the type of letter I usually get with any kind of ominous governmental markings is directly from the city I live in. The letter usually starts out stating that either I've gone one too many days without watering or mowing my lawn or there is something about one of my old trucks that offends the aesthetic sensitivities of my community.

When I first sat down to write this month's editorial, I hadn't planned on this stuff being the main topic, but my girlfriend just called a few minutes ago telling me that a letter had just arrived in the mail from our local police department. Needless to say, this grabbed my immediate attention, but I calmed down, hoping that maybe it was something about supporting our local policeman's association with a cash contribution or maybe, at worst, a street-sweeping ticket. But the suspense was killing me, so I asked her to open the letter up and read what it was about.

Much to my relief, it was from the nice code enforcement lady at the city again, only this time it had arrived in a police department envelope. And when I say nice lady, I'm not being facetious, because she really is a nice lady. In the past, when she's had to contact me about the poor hygiene I keep my house in or that the Mickey Thompson wrinkle-wall slicks on my '72 F-100 look flat, she's been real pleasant to deal with. The last time I had to speak with her on the phone, she explained that one of my neighbors had reported I was running an automotive repair business out of my garage. I said "Oh," and then explained my take on the situation, beginning with the fact that every one of the old trucks parked around my house was running and currently registered in my name. I went on to say that it's a real shame a person doesn't have a right to know their accuser, because through the years these mean-spirited anonymous tips have really given rise to a lot of suspicion and mistrust amongst myself and the other neighbors who have been turned in.

In recent years, though, our neighborhood's paranoia hasn't been quite so intense, because we all finally put two and two together and added up what had been happening. It was pretty easy to identify, actually-every time a house went up for sale on the street, we all started getting letters from the city about some kind of visual irritant that needed to be attended to within 14 days. The obvious answer turned out to be that whenever a real estate agent concerned about property values wanted to gouge as much money out of a house as possible, they would call the city code enforcement lady and turn everybody in. That's OK, I guess, but now when a home goes up for sale in our neighborhood, we all take great delight in being around when one of the real estate people is throwing an open house. One of my favorites is while the agent is unloading the prospective buyers from his Lexus and making his big spiel about how nice the neighborhood is, and all of a sudden someone gets into their hot-rod pickup or musclecar and proceeds to do a big smoky burnout for the entire length of our cul-de-sac. Another good ploy that always seems to work well is to throw a block party for the entire weekend of the open house. Most of the time when the new prospective buyers show up, they don't even get out of the real estate agent's car, they just hunker back down into the rear seat of the Lexus as it disappears into the dense black smoke given off by our communal gasoline-fired barbecue pit and are never seen again.

The one neat thing, as it turns out, is that our neighborhood's unusual hazing process has served to unite our street with some pretty good new neighbors. After having about 10 families show up and have the holy crap scared out of them, the new people appeared with all their kinfolk in full-size pickups, unloaded their loud screaming kids, big ol' barking dog, and fit right in.

Well, I don't know if an editor can write an editor's note in his editorial, but I wrote all of this yesterday. When I got home last night, I went straight to where we keep our mail and checked out the envelope the letter from the city came in. On the upper righthand corner in tiny hand-stamped red letters above where the name of our local police department was printed, it said "code enforcement." I guess they had to borrow an envelope from the cops. On the inside, there was a letter that said all my vehicles need to run, and I have 14 days to repaint my house.