It was Pewter’s 11th birthday yesterday. Kids. They grow up so fast. Physically, that is. Mentally, he’s still in kindergarten.

Kids his age don’t like their mom and dad hang around anymore when there’s a birthday party. But when there’s a clown, all signs of maturity fade away as fresh snow in full sunlight. Big red nose, flappy shoes, ridiculous wig, smeared with paint… and a single glance that could murder me. Cookie entered our garden with all of the aforementioned characteristics. While in his clown outfit, I couldn’t help but laugh at him straight in the face. Why?

Last night at the bar, Cookie and I made a bet. I proclaimed he would not be able to prevent him from publicly humiliating himself that night. Of course, he’d already drunk quite a few beers. Of course, he could not walk in a straight line anymore, let alone stand upright. Of course, he needed to prove that he could still do a Russian folk dance in his current state. Afterwards, I had to reel him in from behind the bar… Of course.

That’s why Cookie put up with two hours of humiliation in front of 15 children. Honestly, he wasn’t a bad clown at all. If it was because of the dress-up or natural talent, I couldn’t say. I figured I’d buy him an extra beer next time to make it up to him. Just when Cookie’s act had reached its climax, dark clouds gathered over the garden. It would have been easy to blame the weather for this sudden change in the atmosphere, but alas. The dark clouds sprouted forth from none other than my hated neighbor, Barry Michaels.

Have you ever had a neighbor who was filthy rich, as greedy as Scrooge McDuck and a bastard on top of it all? Meet mine. Michaels stormed into the garden and snapped at a few children. I immediately stepped in. “What’s wrong, Michaels?” I asked with a caring tone of voice, of which I was hoping sounded real enough, “’Dog crap on your lawn?”. The sneer on his face made me want to rub dog crap on it. “No, Essig. Keep down the noise! I’ve got a real estate agent coming over today to estimate the value of my property. A very important part of that taxation report is going to be the neighborhood in which the property is situated. Meaning our street. Get it?” he yelled. I heard the words float by, but I could not fully comprehend their meaning. A real estate agent? Could it be? Michaels wanted to move? “You’re moving?”, I heard myself asking hopefully. With a little confusion mixed in his voice, Michaels answered: “What? No, you idiot, it’s a judge! A very exclusive lifestyle magazine organized a competition to pick the most valuable house in this neighborhood for a photo shoot and video coverage on the local network. I’m going to get that honor as soon as YOU KEEP IT DOWN. Hear me? Oh, and I’ve already informed the authorities of a certain little … ‘incident’ that took place last week. If you don’t want that to hit the books, I’d keep quiet if I were you.” I swallowed. Teaching Pewter how to play baseball could prove to cost me dearly, after all. Especially because the mayor visited Michaels to show off his brand new Mercedes at the exact same time.

As Michaels walked out of the garden, my good mood disappeared in a flash. As fun as it was to see Cookie act like a clown, it somehow seemed less appealing to get sued by the mayor himself. I explained the situation as clear as I could to the children and motioned for Cookie to hook up the video set inside the house. Cookie thought for a moment, shook his head, took up his cell phone and made a few calls. After he’d hung up, the giant smirk he showed everyone made me want to know more. “Alright, I’ll bite. What was that all about?” I asked.  “Well,” Cookie sniggered, “I happen to know that the competition your lovely neighbor was talking about is open to anyone. So I entered a last-minute contestant. You.” I looked at him, not believing the words that had just left his mouth. “You WHAT?” He sniggered and quickly shushed me. “I also asked a great band to provide the judges with some entertainment. After all, a good atmosphere in the neighborhood comes with quality music, right?” I started to understand his intentions. “Of course! This will give us a valid excuse to annoy Michaels. But… music will only encourage the judges to rate Michaels’ house higher, won’t it? His house is bigger, more expensive and it just breathes class.” Cookie sniggered once again. “Who said we’re in the competition to win? Oh, the band has arrived.”

The little van that stopped in front of my house turned out to belong to the band, indeed. The word INSOMNIUM was printed on the sides. As I looked at four normal looking guys carrying their equipment into the garden, I hissed at Cookie. “What is this? I thought we were going to shock the judges? These guys look like the Beatles!” Cookie shook his head. “Appearances can be deceiving, Gene.” I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, and you’re no clown. Let’s get it over with, already.”

Half an hour later, Insomnium had set up an impressive-looking stage in the garden. All of their attributes were carried over to the garden from out of the tiny looking van. I wondered how in the world they were able to fit it inside. More importantly, how they’d fit inside themselves with all that stuff.

Finally, the judges arrived at Michaels’ property. The Beatle-boys nodded to each other and began to play.

It turned out to be better than I could ever dream of.

With a giant smile imprinted on my face and tears of joy in my eyes, I saw the judges scolding Michaels for wasting their valuable time. The band noticed this. After the closing scream and a loud ‘Yo, Mr. Michaels! Thank you for having us here today!’ through the microphone, I could die happy. The kids went ballistic, but I couldn’t care less. Cookie saw the opportunity fit for a little rampaging in Michaels’ garden. Of course, he’d already drunk a few beers. Of course, he had to go dig a hole in the rose bushes. Afterwards, I had to call a doctor to pluck the massive amount of thorns out of his body… of course.

Great party. Great band. Great way to see Michaels fail. Insomnium had kicked in one last song. I could only savor the moment.

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