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The Village Idiot

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A few years back five desperadoes bailed from a vehicle at the corner with Oakland Police, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, and the California Highway Patrol in hot pursuit. The blocks on either side of our street were cordoned off while the cops searched backyards to round them all up. The next morning we discovered at least one of the desperadoes had jumped the fence into our yard, knocking the central air conditioner off its foundation, trampling several plants, and knocking over some garden decorations. Within two weeks a $2,000 motion detector security system was installed around our property and ever since we’ve been alerted to anyone or anything coming onto our front porch, down our driveway, or into our backyard before they ever make their presence known by ringing the doorbell or otherwise.

Since then the house next door has been sold and last September the new owner’s first tenants moved in with their three children. We’ve yet to get to know them and can only speculate on the situation. Seems the father is a cross-country truck driver gone for weeks at a time. Mother tends to get home from work late in the evenings. She has a sister who has her own several kids, apparently lives just a few blocks away, and the two women take turns watching the others’ children.

The oldest boy next door looks to be about 17 and is alternately charged with babysitting at his own house and the aunt’s while the mothers are at work. The children range in age from seventeen down to three and when the babysitting is taking place next door there are usually five or six of them. We’ve said hello on several occasions only to be met with total silence as if we didn’t exist. Neighbors have complained of the kids riding their bikes across their lawns and up and down their driveways and, like us, report being totally ignored when they try to say something to any of them. Whenever any family adults are present, all of the kids are as well-behaved and well-mannered as can be, but without adult supervision they turn into loud, obnoxious, out-of-control brats with no apparent respect for the boundaries of others.

Hence, when the power pole incident took place on March 20th and the whole neighborhood came outside to see what was happening, I seized on the opportunity to invite the sister, her mother, and kids who were also standing out on their porch to come across the street to Beulah’s where the rest of the neighbors were gathered to watch the drama unfolding and meet all of us. It went well and one of the fourteen-year-old boys, suspended from school for fighting, was even interviewed by one of the TV stations that showed up.

Back in my office two days later, the front porch motion alarm sounded and I went to investigate. I looked out the living room window just in time to see the neighbor’s sister dragging the eight-year-old girl and three-year-old boy off of our porch. The three disappeared towards the house next door and a few moments later the two children ran back up our walkway and started pulling the rainbow-colored pinwheels out of our garden. Once the little girl had control of the little boy, she reached over and to me it looked as if she was trying to break one of the pinwheels, so I rushed out onto the front porch and in my best old ogre voice demanded to know what she had been doing now that the two of them were back in front of their aunt’s house. The adult was nowhere to be seen and the little girl denied having done anything at all.

“I just saw what you did from my living room window,” I bellowed, “and you just broke our pinwheel! Don’t tell me you didn’t do anything!” The bike riding on lawns, the screaming and yelling while the kids were left alone, and their rudeness had all taken their toll and this was the last straw. Hearing the commotion, their mother came around the house from their driveway and wanted to know what was going on.

“She just intentionally broke our pinwheel, I watched her do it, and now she’s denying it,” I thundered as I walked towards the trellis over our walkway to display the damage to the mother. Trouble is, the colored crepe paper strip I would have sworn I saw fluttering in the breeze from the living room window turned out to be a similarly colored long slender leaf from one of our plants and the pinwheel was just fine.

I was absolutely mortified, realized I had just destroyed any goodwill established two days prior, and profusely apologized to both the little girl and her mother for having exploded over something that never actually happened. Whether they live next door or not, they are there frequently and Pat & I have to live next door to them. Mother made no similar apology for her children having come onto my property in the first place whether or not they had caused any damage. Even so, I had clearly overreacted and felt like a total jerk.

Ten days has elapsed since the power surge destroyed our television, clothes dryer, several power strips, the audio receiver, our surround sound speakers, and at this point I am less than halfway through lining up the replacements and repairmen for restoring the household to its former self. In fact I’ve had no time for addressing anything but the damage control since the original incident. Pat, on the other hand, still has to go to work every day which pretty much precludes him from making the necessary phone calls and setting up the appointments. Hence he’s feeling left out of the loop.

This morning he called me into his bedroom to help with attaching a photo to an email that he was having trouble with and I instantly seized the opportunity do a little Photoshop magic on the image and reduce its file size appropriately. In looking back I realized I was grabbing onto anything that would take my mind away from the power surge fallout. Before I realized it, we were screaming and yelling at each other which I ended with “Fuck you!” and he responded in kind.

So, we didn’t speak to each other for the rest of the morning or afternoon as is our custom until one of us goes to the other, we sit down and discuss what happened, and each of us comes to an understanding of how the other one feels. I got up from my afternoon nap at 4:30 and went into my office to check email when Pat walked in, sat down, and said, “Let’s talk!”

A good forty-five minutes or so into the conversation, just as we realized we were both subconsciously overwhelmed by the damage from the power surge ten days ago, the motion alarm went off on the front porch and Pat went out to the living room to see who or what had tripped it. Several moments of silence were broken by a “What the hell?!!” from the living room and the security alarms announcing the opening of the two doors leading from the living room to the outside porch.

I ran from the office to the inside porch to see a seven-foot geyser of water soaking our outer front porch, a teenage boy crouching by the steps, and Pat screaming at him to get the fuck off our property. Wearing a red sweatshirt, he looked just like the fourteen-year-old from next door who had been suspended from school for fighting last week.

Pat was in a frenzy screaming at the kid to get off our property, who the hell did he think he was, shoving and pulling at the kid to get him off our porch. Somehow in the melee, I heard the kid was being chased and didn’t want to get caught. I immediately assumed it was the kids next door playing hide and seek and didn’t want to blow more goodwill like I had when I screamed at the little girl and boy for not damaging our pinwheels. And somewhere else in all the confusion I heard that the cops were coming.

So, genius that I am, I told Pat to leave the kid alone and invited the kid to come into our inside front porch where he could wait safely until an adult showed up to get control of the situation. Pat took off down the sidewalk, I presume to get the cops while I tried to calm the kid who didn’t seem to be paying attention to me at all. Seemed strange to me that rather than calming down he appeared to be getting more agitated and before I could realize it was the cops he was hiding from, he announced he was going into the house. Before I could even finish the sentence that, no, he wasn’t, he had the door open and ran inside. It took awhile, but now I am just as pissed as Pat. When I looked inside our house and didn’t see him at all, I went looking and spotted him in our backyard.

About face, back out the front door, and in search of the cops myself. Three were already at the front of our driveway and I directed them to the back yard, telling them how to access the latch on the gate. Turning back to the street I spot five or more police cars stopped on both sides and officers fanning out all over the neighborhood to cordon off our property which had just become ground zero. Pat’s in front of Tony’s talking to a couple of cops and I head back inside to the back porch in time to see three officers handcuffing the suspect next to our backyard fish pond. I spot two more officers atop the roofs of the neighbors’ tool sheds behind our fence and hear others in Tony’s backyard next door.

I warn the two officers who are looking for a way down to the ground from the tool sheds that our fence is old and unsafe and offer to get them a ladder from the garage; they decline and soon disappear. The two remaining in our yard begin to question me wanting to know if the suspect had opened the door to our garage. I assured them that we always leave it open as a safe haven for neighborhood street cats. After a cursory look into the garage I assured them that nothing appeared amiss and asked why they were so worried about it. “Because he just robbed somebody with a gun and he had to have tossed it somewhere around here.”

Back around front, I lost count of the number of police at fifteen, Pat was drenched from frantically trying to find the shutoff valve to our still gushing geyser, and the next door neighbors who had absolutely nothing to do with any of this were gathered on their front porch with more kids than I had ever seen at their house wondering what all the commotion was about. I told Pat to forget about the geyser and I would try to figure it out later.

One of the cops started walking from in front of Tony’s house towards me and I asked him if they had found the gun. Indeed, they had in Tony’s backyard, and he showed it to me: a clear plastic water pistol or child’s pellet gun. The police took our names, our address, our phone numbers (we have two landlines), and our birth dates (though I’m clueless as to why they needed those).

With that I went into our jungle, located the shutoff valve while getting soaked myself, and put a stop to the geyser that had done a pretty good job of washing our outside front porch for the past thirty minutes or so. Pat was on the verge of a meltdown, so I quickly ushered him into the house where the shuddering and tears flowed for several minutes as I tried to comfort him. When he broke away and headed for the kitchen, I headed out the front door to tell the next door neighbors what had just happened, then invited them over to our house to see the new TV we had bought to replace the one that was blown by the power surge.

What the hell was I thinking? Two-pronged attack: rebuild the goodwill with the new neighbors after screaming at their children a few days earlier and diverting Pat’s attention from the emotional upheaval he had just experienced. Worked like a charm! Several adults and a horde of children streamed into the house. It was grandma’s birthday and the whole extended family was gathering next door to celebrate it. Pat prepared soft drinks for the little kids who gathered around him in the kitchen as though he was the Pied Piper while I opened up a bottle of wine for grandma in the living room.

As they were leaving forty minutes later, they extended an invitation for us to join their party later on. Instead, we collapsed in the living room, turned on the TV, and watched the latest installment of John Adams on HBO. Midway through the program, the front porch motion alarm and the doorbell both rang and Pat returned from answering the door with two pieces of birthday cake.