Saturday, November 18, 2006


Since Old Man Foster died back in ‘66 the place next door has fallen on hard times. His son came over from Borrego and sold off about half the acreage and moved into the house but he was a barber and we already had two in town and it’s not that big a town, or at least it wasn’t back then. He finally had to sell out and move. I never got to know him. They was only here a couple of years and I was in the Navy then and it didn’t help that I sported a beard, then and now. Barbers have a natural dislike for beards.

After that, the Foster place really went to hell, first bought by a bunch of hippies who were going to live off the land, except none of them knew a thing about farming nor much about work, spending most of their time talking about things they didn’t understand which was just about everything, and smoking funny-smelling cigarettes.

They lasted about two hungry years, the last one living mostly out of our garden.

Then there was the rock group, flush with cash and eager for a place in the country where they could play loud music day and night. It took about two years to sue them into silence.

Three times. The third time the judge slapped them with a fine so big they decided it was time for another World Tour and left one night without even saying good-bye. Or locking the doors. Or paying the fine.

Our next new batch of neighbors were quiet as the grave. Sorta stand-offish. Lots a coming and going, always at night. Lotsa UPS deliveries of chemicals and laboratory apparatus. Then the ether exploded and put their speed-cooking chemist in the hospital and didn’t do the house much good either. Me and the other neighbors put out the fire; we’re in the country and it was all volunteer back then. Don’t know what happened to the owners. They dumped their buddy at the door of the Emergency Room and kept right on going.

After that the place stood vacant for a couple of years, slowly going to ruin.

It got broke into by wetbacks who let their cook-fire get away from them and burnt off the west end of the back porch before we could get it out. They was cooking up one of the neighbor's prize Nubian goats. We’re all afraid of fire up here on the hill, what with no water to speak of the closest help some distance away. After the second fire we started taking turns checking on the place at night, chasing away the lovers and the wetbacks and the what-nots.

That’s why I throwed down on the new owners with a shotgun, I thought they was burglars or Messicans or some damn thing. It was only loaded with bird-shot so I snuck up good and close before I announced myself. He just about had a heart attack and she peed all down her leg when I shouted “Hands up, you mother lovers!”

Strange car, middle of the night. It seemed. the thing to do. Except I didn’t say lovers. But they got my drift. The For Sale sign went up about six months later, right after the coyotes chased their cat up a tree and ate it. City cats never believe how well a coyote can climb.

The School Teacher Family was nice enough. Man and his wife, both teachers, one little boy about six. They wanted to get to know us and we was willing but the spiders got in the way.

I’m no naturalist but I’m naturally curious and we got some really strange spiders up here on the hill. There’s a big green one with brown spots that makes these beautiful webs, some as big as a bed sheet, nets her dinner then eats it along with the web... then spins herself a new one. There’s another spider looks pretty much the same except she’s mostly brown with green spots, makes a web about the same size. But damn if she don’t patch her web instead of eating it. No kidding. She nets her dinner, wraps it up, hauls it off, then comes back and patches the hole in the web. Damnedest thing I ever saw.

That got me curious as to which is the better strategy, a new web or a patched one, so I started watching those guys real close. The spiders hide-out during the day but you can tell one web from the other because the Patcher always has an odd number of radials in her web while the Eater’s web has an even number of radials.

Each time I’d find a new web I’d figure out who it belonged to, measure the web then come back after dark and measure the spider, keeping track of which kind grew the fastest.

I was hunkered down in the weeds counting the radials of a new spider web I’d discovered when Mrs. Teacher and the boy comes down the drive. I was keeping track of the radials using a mechanical pencil as a pointer, counting my way around the clock of the web as they drove by. Real slow. Heads turning. I gave them a friendly wave and a nod but kept on counting. Some of them webs have nearly a hundred radials and you’d be there all day if you lost track.

The Teachers put up the For Sale at the end of the school year but it wasn’t until they’d gone that we learned they hadn’t seen the web, couldn’t see it from their drive. But they had a nice view of me taking a crap in the bushes while conducting an invisible orchestra, or at least that’s what they told the neighbors. And that I was a Peeping Tom, creeping around at night with a flashlight.

Funny thing is, the other neighbors never doubted them for a minute, not since I clipped the top of the eucalyptus doing a slow-roll over the house in a biplane a couple of years before.

The next batch of neighbors were into horticulture in a big way, growing America’s favorite herb on the back of their newly acquired property, or trying to. I had to show them how to break down ‘dobe soil with acid, helped them get the mulch just right. They lasted about two years. Four crops. Number Three was some primo shit. Or so I heard. Then came The Raid, with helicopters and SWAT teams and insane German dogs and more Deputy Sheriffs than a John Wayne movie.

So what’s this got to do with Volkswagens? Well, it’s like this... We got some more new neighbors, haven’t met them yet but we sent them a Bread & Butter note like we always do, welcoming them and inviting them over for cocktails some evening; their option.

Gave them our private phone number in case of trouble; call the Sheriff, they don’t hardly bother unless there’s shooting involved. But one of the talkative neighbors had already been there, giving them the history of the place and of their ‘strange’ neighbor with the airplane in the yard and all the antennas on the roof. We weren’t expecting to hear from them any time soon.

So I’m laying under this Karmann Ghia that has a bad CV. Got its ass hiked up on jack stands and my legs are sticking out from under. I’ve got the joints all cleaned and go to mark them and I can’t find my white stencil pencil, which is what I use for marking. Snuck in the house and borrow a bottle of my daughter’s nail polish and used that. Neat little ‘L’ on the left axle, little ‘R’ on the right, with perfectly painted little arrows and alignment marks.

It’s not easy, using nail polish laying on your back, holding the bottle in one hand, brush in the other and trying to keep things neat. Sure enough, I got a piece of black gunk on the brush and can’t get it off. Can’t put it back in the bottle or my daughter would kill me. Shuffle out and get all greasy in the process; I’m not using the creeper. Sit down on a sawhorse and try to clean the brush. Bottle’s in my left hand, brush in my right, big greasy thumb right there when I’m looking for something to sorta skim the brush on. Used my thumb nail.

Nail Sticks ‘Pearlescent.’ Real pretty, sorta pearly white. Makes a good marker for CV joints. And it went on my thumbnail neat as anything, nice smooth coat.

I had to just about paint my whole thumbnail to get the black booger off the brush but I finally got it. Looked up and there’s the new neighbor, jaw hanging down to here, eyes sticking out like a couple of boiled eggs.

He didn’t say nothing but you could tell what the damn fool was thinking. So I fanned-out my fingers like a girl, blew gently on the thumbnail and put on a second coat.

At supper my wife asks: “What’s that all over your thumbnail?”

“Met the new neighbor today.”

“Oh gawd,” she sez real slow. “Not again.”

-Copyright 1995 -Robert S. Hoover-

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