Everyone’s got one – you know, that guy in the neighborhood who scares all the little kids. When I was growing up, it was Mr. Yetka. He lived in a pink house by the orchard at the end of the street. He yelled at us kids if we were making too much noise, which was every Saturday. We spent a lot of time sneaking around his fence, spying through knot holes. He had a bad back and had constructed a weird contraption in his garage to stretch his neck. He gave out apples on Halloween. We called him Mr. Yucka. My mother said he was perfectly nice – but we knew better.
When my kids were eleven, nine, seven, five and three, we out-grew our little house and purchased a bigger one in a neighboring town. Our new house had a gloriously big yard complete with a pond and woods. Our five children became a big draw for the other neighborhood kids. Each day, our house became a crazy hive of kids climbing trees; kids building forts; kids digging trenches; kids racing bikes, scooters and skateboards; dogs chasing kids; moms yelling at dogs and kids. Our new neighborhood was in transition. Younger families were moving in and older couples, finished raising their families, were moving out to smaller, less labor-intensive homes. The guy next door was two years from retirement. Each morning, he got in his car and drove to the office, blissfully unaware of the riot one house to the north. This was about to change.
No sooner had he hung his “Thank You For All Your Hard Work” plaque on his wall when his serenity was shattered by the pandemonium next door. Though he occasionally offered a pained smile as we walked by his house in the evenings, he started to show signs displeasure. Out on the highway, the kids spotted him shaking his fist at our merging Land-Yacht from the safety of his Buick. I thought maybe the kids were mistaken, he was probably just waving.
A covert letter from “We Your Neighbors” materialized in our mail box. It detailed our dog’s daily bark at the mailman and included a copy of the city ordinance detailing nuisance dogs. “We Your Neighbors” also reprimanded the family around the corner for their ugly lawn art. Suspicious. Later that summer, while mowing his lawn, the guy next door made a lightning quick turn into the street with his John Deere, running one of our kids into a hedge. He returned to his grass, but not before the bike-riding boy spotted a triumphant smirk on his face. Dastardly.
And then … The Chicken Affair.
My kids had three pet chickens, quiet hens, roosting in their play house. By day, Peanut, Butter and Honey (named for their favorite sandwich) pecked around the yard eating wood ticks. Occasionally, they performed their tick removal service for the neighbors to rave reviews. They laid one egg each day and obediently put themselves to bed at night. The best thing about our little hens was if you yelled CHICK CHICK CHICK out the front door, they would come at a run. As far as pets go, they definitely out-ranked the dog by their obedience and productivity. The inferior dog had a tendency to escape our yard and show-up grill-side every time a neighbor flipped a burger. He was definitely the least popular pet on the block. Or so we thought. One ominous day, a county sheriff knocked on our door to inform us that our chickens were in violation of a city code. We had one week to remove them from our property. I asked the officer how they knew we had chickens since we live in an out-of-the-way neighborhood with no through traffic. He said, within earshot of the kids, that a neighbor had called. To this day, we have no idea which chicken-hating neighbor called the cops. The kids conducted a door to door survey, asking trick questions designed to trap the culprit. The guy next door wouldn’t answer the door and thus his fate was sealed. He became That Neighbor.
Determined to avenge their lost pets, my kids began to plot his demise. On long road trips, they whiled away the hours dreaming of villainous tactics to drive him insane.
They made a water balloon sling-shot from some surgical tubing and a plastic funnel. I caught them attempting to lob water balloons into his swimming pool.
I intercepted two boys with a potato gun, made of PVC pipe, aiming to shoot potatoes at his house.
While working at a local food shelf, they acquired a large bag of candy-filled Darth Vader heads. Apparently our cities’ hungry weren’t interested in this treasure so it ended up at my house. They contrived to place one Vader head ominously on his mailbox each day. Only their fears of electronic surveillance prevented this stealthy ploy.
I'm watching you
One by one, their evil plans failed and eventually my kids grew up and went away to college. The grouchy neighbor is finally enjoying his retirement, although I occasionally see a squirrely pack of grandchildren in his yard. I suppose I should thank him for providing my children with many long hours of entertainment. I’m sure they’ve done better in school as a result of their innovative and prolific scheming. I’m reluctantly in his debt.