Candidate for the Zombie Apocalypse Team

Yesterday, when I was walking over to take the temperature of the lake, my neighbor stopped me.

“Have you seen Louie?” He refers to one of his three Great Pyrenees dogs.

“No, but I’ll keep my eyes open. Missing long?”

“Not really.”

He goes back inside his fence, and I count the number of times I’ve talked to him in the last 20 years.

1. I think the first time was when his first wife, the beautiful, broody woman with red hair down to her waist, committed suicide a few days after nine eleven, and I told him I was sorry. She always seemed like a character from a Brautigan novel: smart, somber, and eccentric.

2. A few months later, a new wife moved in, and replaced the funky garden art with a cheery mass-produced sign that says, “Welcome to the Lake House!”, surrounded by a clump of petunias. A box full of free items, like a blow dryer, garlic press, and NYT crossword puzzle books, showed up at the end of the driveway. The first wife seemed like she’d be most comfortable in a library; the new wife: a sports stadium, or pushing her way in front of someone in a crowded sale at Target. I think I was pawing through the stuff one day and said hello, or maybe I really didn’t do that, because it was too sad. The details of that box disturbed me for a long time, but right now I really can’t remember the contents.

3. One time he called me on the phone, “Do you have any honey?”

“No, my bee hives got ravaged by a bear, and I didn’t order new ones yet. Sorry, no honey.”

“Oh. Well, I’m told that eating honey raised very locally will help my allergies.”

“Oh.” There’s a long silence, that kind of feels like he’s waiting for me to change my story, and fess up that I actually do have honey, but eventually, we both hang up.

4. Another time, when my kids were younger, I was sitting at the beach watching them swim, when he went into a rage against a teenager dirt biking loudly around the neighborhood, including forays into the grassy beach area. He grabbed the kid on the shoulder, and screamed, “If I ever see you and your fucking bike in front of my house again, I’ll fucking kill you.” The kid started out cool, saying, “Hey man, it’s a public road,” but soon realized he was dealing with a scary crazy man twice his size, and went quiet. The kid, who’s father had dropped dead unexpectedly a few months earlier, leaving the Mormon mother alone with three unruly teens, no job, and presumably, three years supply of food, drove off quietly.

5, 6, and 7. Every few years I ask him if he’ll sell me some firewood, because he has a pile of trees in his yard as big as a house, mostly left from the 2006 windstorm that was exceptionally violent here, but even more so on his property. I think three of his vehicles were smashed, and one building. He always says, “No, I need it,” about the firewood.

8. Earlier this spring, when a neighbor and I were taking a walk, we noticed a dead cat floating along the shoreline of the lake, which is also our drinking water. Kim, about five months sober at the time, summoned this neighbor, who fished the cat out. It was bloated and a bad smell was released when he stabbed it with a pitchfork, and he carried it that way into his yard. I don’t know what happened next.

9. This summer, he stopped me on my way back from my swim.
“How’s the water?”

“Great.”

“If I get a petition started to put a fence around our beach, will you sign it?”

“Umm….”

“Seriously. Kids come swimming that don’t even live here.”

I don’t really see a problem with that, but I don’t think my little spiel on how water is for sharing will get us anywhere. “I’ll think about it,” I lie.

“See, we could put a big fence with a locked gate, and you’d have to have a key to get in.”

Besides all the other icky parts of this, I imagine what a disaster it would be for me personally, because I’d lose the key the first day.

“Oh, maybe some concertina wire along the top?” I add, joking.

“Oh, I don’t know if we’d need to go that far,” he responds, seriously. “We’d make a really tall fence.” His long grey ponytail doesn’t match his politics, I decide, and continue walking home, wondering if he’s a birther, but deciding I don’t really want to know.

10. Yesterday, about the dog, Louie. When the first wife was alive, the dogs had names like Paxton, and Psyche, but now they have common boys names, like Ben. Late in the afternoon, while on a run in the woods behind my house, I see an unfamiliar man walking Louie. We say hello to each other, the way you do when you’re alone in the woods, and I pet the dog. “What’s his name?”, I ask, even though I know the dog, and the dog knows me. “Willie. His name is Willie.” I think about calling my neighbor about the kidnapping, but can’t decide, so don’t.

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