Chainlink of Fools

Years ago, we had a neighbor who maintained an immaculate lawn with lovely outdoor plantings. We were never close, but we were civil, and our brief conversations consisted of either recapping the day’s weather or complimenting the curb appeal of his property. He never invited us into his house, and we reciprocated accordingly. We saw him frequently, his wife only on occasion, and wouldn’t have recognized their late-teens daughter in a crowd.

One afternoon our son Josh came back from walking our dog Rosie and asked if I knew that Ben was throwing sticks from his yard into ours. I asked Josh to explain further: Ben was cutting the grass as Josh returned from the walk, and whenever Ben bent down to get a stick out of the mower’s path, he’d casually toss it in whatever direction was necessary to get it to land on our front lawn.

Naturally, I began to respond in kind. When I cut our grass, I’d toss any sticks I came across into Ben’s yard. And not just sticks – stray rocks, roofing nails, dead squirrels. Sometimes I’d do this even when I wasn’t involved in lawn maintenance.

A chain link fence defined the edges of our backyard, and one day when I came home from work I found that Ben had installed a six-foot-tall wooden privacy barrier. That was his prerogative — but he had violated a basic tenet of the Homeowner’s Creed by leaving an unfinished side of the fence facing my property. The creed clearly commands: “Thou shalt install fencing of a single finished side with that side facing thy neighbor, in the name of all that is decent and holy.” This meant war.

Ben also had a dog, a miniature pinscher that would yap incessantly whenever it was outside, which was all the time. Rosie, despite daily walks, still managed to leave piles of poop around our yard. I used to turn a plastic grocery bag inside out over my hand to pick them up and dispose of them in the trash can — but once that wooden fence was in place I started scooping them up with a shovel and hurling them, catapult-style, into Ben’s yard. I should confess here that the first few times I tried to do this, I misjudged — and those piles landed with a nauseating SPLAT! on “my” side of the barricade. But practice makes perfect; within a few days I had mastered the effort and trajectory required for a successful launch. Ben never sent these… I don’t want to be crude here, so I’ll refer to them as “shmissiles” — back to us, or engaged in any discussion about them with me, so I presume he labored under the impression that his pup suffered from a particularly pernicious canine version of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

We had one other notable contretemps: one summer evening a car sat idling in Ben’s driveway for an extended period of time, so long that the exhaust fumes wafted into our open bedroom window. There was also some kind of conversation underway, obscured by the noisy muffler. This went on for over an hour; finally, my wife Carol called next door at 11:30 at night to complain. Ben’s wife Cindy sleepily answered the phone and was very put out by Carol’s intrusion, admonishing her for calling so late and “explaining” the car belonged to her daughter’s boyfriend, and the daughter was standing outside having a desperate conversation trying to dissuade said boyfriend from taking drugs. Carol listened calmly to these details, responding with a reasonable request: “Couldn’t he turn off his engine while she pleads with him — indoors?” At that, Cindy slammed down the phone. Around midnight, the car finally drove away and we gratefully fell asleep. At 1:00 A.M., our phone rang. Carol groggily picked up the receiver to find it was Cindy, who said, “I’m just calling to let you know the car is gone from our driveway now, and I HOPE I DIDN’T WAKE YOU UP!!!” before again slamming down the phone (apparently, her go-to move).

A few days later, and before I had a chance to implement a suitable revenge scheme, Ben told us that Cindy had moved out. While the dissolution of his marriage was nothing to rejoice in, the removal of his wife from the picture did seem to lift some weight off Ben’s shoulders: he was chattier as we saw each other outside, he smiled more, and – most importantly – he stopped throwing his sticks in my yard. A few months later, as his daughter went off to college, he sold the house and moved into a condo in another part of town; we never saw him again.

The family that bought Ben’s house was very nice – happily-married mom and dad; daughter the same age as our son; no pets. They were outgoing and jovial; they invited us over for drinks and we responded by hosting them for dinner; the husband and I swapped tools on occasion. We ended up leaving the area a year after they moved in, expressing mutual regret over losing such good neighbors, and not once during those twelve months we had together did these lovely people ask if we had any insight into how piles of dog shit regularly materialized in their backyard.

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