This actually happened back in June, but I've been distracted/sick/sleeping since then. Hence the weird dates. Anyway, this is the kind of nonsense that happens around here. Enjoy.
The first time I ever met our neighbor to the back of us, I was looking for our tortoise Henry, who had just escaped his pen. He had just about made it into the next door neighbor’s yard when a be-jumpsuited old man walked down the hill into our yard.
“Hello,” I called up the hill, putting Henry back into his pen. No reply. Maybe he’s hard of hearing. I fiddled with the cage to try and prevent another break out. The man walked closer. “Hello!” I called again. He stopped about four yards from the tortoise pen, so I had to walk up the steep hill to him.
“You’ve been here, what nine months?” He finally said.
“Something like that, yeah.”
“Well, I’m Bill, and I live behind you.”
“Ah. I figured.”
“I’ve lived here for 21 years, well, it’ll be 21 years on July 7th. I’ve been on the board and 12 committees.” He paused so I could admire his community spirit. I should also mention that while we live in the middle of nowhere, we also live in a very annoying gated community. Bar codes are required to get in. There's a manned gate. And a book of rules as thick as a dictionary. It's ridiculous.
“My wife, Maryanne writes the recipes that are in the Trail Views every month.”
“Oh, that’s nice.” I had no idea there were recipes in that thing.
“And she has been doing that for twenty years now. Well, now some other gal is doing dietetic recipes, so she only has a recipe in there every other month, but still.”
“Wow.” I began to wonder what "dietetic" meant.
“I’m always in danger of gaining weight. She’s published seven cookbooks. Five for the church, and two commercially. And she published one for the family on her 75th birthday, but people in the Trails wanted it too, so we had to publish 300 more. We only have 20 left.”
“That’s really something!” I said, the way you do when you are expected to be impressed.
“So I noticed you have a lot of weeds. I was the volunteer fire inspector here for seventeen years, but I’ve been fighting prostate cancer for the past four, so I had to stop.”
“Oh.” Before I could think of the right thing to say, he just barreled on.
“You need to have all the weeds on your property down to four inches or less. The fire inspector is going to come around soon and give you a citation. Also, you need to trim that tree. See how it’s close to the ground? If the grass was on fire, it would leap up that tree and burn my house down!”
I looked at the tree in question, a good hundred yards or so from his house. “That would be bad, wouldn’t it?” I smiled as he continued.
“I’ve been here for 21 years, so I can show you some things that you may find helpful. Because the fire inspector is going to come around in a few weeks. I used to climb the trees to trim them for folks here who couldn’t afford it. But I can’t do that now. Because I was fighting prostate cancer. But I should be up to full strength again in a week.”
“That’s good! My grandfather actually just died of complications with his-”
“Uh huh. Well, they pay the fire inspectors now, but back in my day, it was all volunteer work. You know what you should do? You should spray the weeds so they don’t come back up. That’s what I do. See my land?” It was remarkably bare and weed free, speckled with trees and overgrown buckbrush. Bare red dirt everywhere. Bare red mud in the winter. Mudslide potential?
“That’s nice.” I said.
“I have 40 trees! So if you have any questions about living here, I can help you.”
“Oh, that’s very kind of you. But, um, I was actually just getting ready to leave.”
“Oh, oh, that’s okay then.” He started to back up a few paces. “Maybe I should speak to your husband.”
“I used to be be with the military, back in Korea. So I surveyed the plot lines here. They’re all accurate. Do you know where the plot lines are?”
“Yes, I do.” And I also had heard that he had moved the stakes several times in an attempt to grab more land.
“Well, I can show you them, and show you some more things you may not be aware of.”
“Er...” I looked back at Henry, who was thankfully still in his pen.
“Or maybe I should show your husband.”
“Yeah, that would be good.”
“I’ve lived here for twenty one years in July. I know things that may be helpful to you.”
“Thank you!” I said, inching backwards.
“What was your last name?”
“Oh right. The other neighbor over there said that’s what your name is. And your first name?”
“Claire.” I had the distinct impression that this would come to haunt me later in the form of angry citations.
“Well, nice to meet you. If you have any questions about anything, I’m up the hill.”
“Thank you!” He mercifully turned around and went back to working on his own yard.
I put a rock against the gap in Henry’s fence, hoped for the best, and ran inside.