By Tim Hayes
In my old neighborhood, green space remained at a premium. We had a small backyard, a strip of grass beside the house, and a tiny patch in front.
To prove the point, we had a manual push-mower from Sears. No gas engine, no extension cord, just you and any kinetic energy you could summon and transfer to the blades.
It wasn’t hard work, but you can imagine the stink I raised whenever it came time for me to cut the grass. You’d have thought I’d been asked to mow the fairways at Augusta at 4 a.m., when in truth the acreage to be cut might have only been enough for a fair putting green.
So, the ability to sport a decent a lawn – even a Fun-Size one – meant something in my old neighborhood. Because the grassy spaces had been so diminutive, everybody took a little extra care to keep them cut, trimmed, and maintained.
Everybody but Chick, that is. Chick lived next door, one house higher than us on the slanted street.
Even though they lived literally 10 feet from my bedroom window, I never understood Chick and his family. He lived there with a sister about the same age as him, late 20s or early 30s, and a younger brother, Archie. I assume their parents lived there years earlier, but long before my memory kicked in.
My best guess says that Archie might have been a year or so older than me, but that never became clear. I couldn’t tell you what grade he attended, because it seemed to get switched around a lot. Archie was “a little different,” the grown-ups on the block would say. Be careful around him.
But I never saw Archie do anything weird or dangerous or threatening. He didn’t talk a lot and didn’t hang around with the guys on the street or down at the park, but so what? We’d play Wiffle Ball in the alley right outside his back window, but he never came out to join the game. I didn’t think much of it. Yet, for some reason, we had been warned about getting too close to Archie. And he lived next door to me, naturally.
One spring, Chick decided he’d had enough of all this extensive lawn care, and did the unthinkable – he had his entire backyard cemented into an off-street (off-back alley, actually) parking lot. Just one more proof point that this family up the hill had at least one screw loose. Probably more, but who wanted to be the one to take inventory?
But Chick didn’t stop there. Next, he brings home a puppy. A puppy, and no backyard to run around on, or to do his business in, so to speak. I guess they took him over to the narrow strip of lawn beside their house for the first month, but a 25-by-5-foot patch of grass can only take so much fertilization.
So Chick shifted to Plan B. Even more unthinkable than paving over the backyard. They let the dog leave his doody on the cement – then Chick would turn on his hose and squirt the poop into the alley! Past our garage, along the back fence of our house, and by all the downstream neighbors until it splashed into the sewer grate at the bottom!
This is how I came to understand the saying, “Shit rolls downhill,” long before entering the world of work as an adult. I saw it happen! In living color! And we did more than see it, if you get where I’m drifting. Who knew a puppy could produce such vapors?
My buddies and I all thought every Dad down the block – including mine – would march up to Chick’s house and string him up by his own garden hose.
Then, about two weeks after Chick’s Plan B had begun, I heard a tense, heated conversation over the side fence. The puppy had produced another souvenir pile on the cement, but as Chick went for the hose again, a halting voice piped up, gaining confidence and courage the longer he spoke.
“Listen, Chick, you can’t keep doing that! We should pick up that poop and put it in a garbage can or something! That’s really bad, what you’re doing! My friends don’t like it, and I want them to like me! It’s hard for me, and you know that. So stop doing that thing with the hose, right now!”
I stood there, immobilized, silent, stunned, wide-eyed, shocked. The last thing I wanted was for Chick to know I’d been on the other side of the fence, listening to his little brother’s confrontational comeuppance. I froze in place until hearing the sound of Chick going back into his house.
The hose never got used again for that purpose. And Archie had two hits during the next Wiffle Ball game in the back alley.
Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes