One of my neighbors is starting to weird me out.
It's been a long time coming, too.
- First, he brought with him about 25 kids, all between the ages of seven and 10, or at least it seemed that way when he moved in about two years ago.
Then he got them a trampoline. It sits about 50 feet from our back porch, next to a swing set and some other paraphernalia used to keep kids busy.
The result is I now know that a bunch of kids jumping up and down on a trampoline do a lot of things at the top of their lungs. Things like squealing, hollering, laughing and crying – and it's hard to tell one from the other.
I like kids, don’t get me wrong. I just like them to be quiet and not try and bum smokes off me. But I put up with these youngsters because my wife told me to.
"You were never a kid?" she asked me every time I complained about something the little darlings did. Well, apparently not. Or if I was, I at least had the excuse of being a kid and not realizing I was annoying.
But just when I got a bit used to the trampoline, a couple of tiny little 4-wheelers showed up and my neighbor marked out a racetrack using traffic cones.
After a couple of weekends worth of feeling like I lived beside Oglethorpe Speedway, I wanted to go over and cut the 4-wheeler tires in the middle of the night.
I didn’t because my wife told me I might get beat up if I got caught and besides, wasn’t I ever a kid, "because if I had been you sure couldn’t tell it."
But then he started doing things that annoyed my wife. Like keeping a dog in a pen in his backyard. It barks and yelps and cries every time someone comes outside in his backyard – and sometimes mine.
Or like a short period of time when he spent an awful lot of hours cranking up what sounded like 747 jet engines over and over again. This seemed to happen most often on Sunday afternoons while her parents were over visiting and we were trying to have conversations with them. It sounded a little bit like we were next to pit road at the Darlington Speedway.
"That’s awful," she'd say, noting the man had no consideration for his neighbors. Had I been quicker witted, I’d have asked her wasn’t she ever a backyard mechanic. Instead, I just agreed with her.
Still, she continued to cut the guy slack, even as recent as three weeks or so ago when he decided to go earth moving.
I was out piddling in my yard when I heard the sound of a machine I hadn’t heard before coming from his yard and saw he’d managed to bring in a backhoe. Not some little Bobcat yard toy amateurs use to accidentally dig up power lines. This thing was so big it could have belonged to the county.
And there he was, merrily driving it around, ripping up small trees and shrubs and dirt – real close to the property line separating him from me and peace and quiet from that other world where people like him exist.
As I watched, he cut close to one of the towering pines, tearing roots away, and I came closer than I have in some time to becoming a little unhinged.
Instead, I stomped back to my wife, who’d just come outside.
"He’s a menace," I said, or words to that effect. "He’s evil."
"I swear, you just need to go live on an island all by yourself," my wife said. "He’s probably trying to cut fix his drainage by digging a ditch. That’s all."
I thought about that for a second and had to concede she had a point, since his backyard started looking like a bass pond every time it rained even a little bit hard. I’d even been tempted to slow roll a spinnerbait through it on occasion. But I was too mad to care about his drainage.
"Yeah, well, if that big pine tree over there blows down and falls on our house then I’m going to sue him," I said.
My wife looked at me like I was the one who was going around cutting up perfectly good pine tree roots.
"No we won’t. We’ll call our insurance company and they’ll take care of it," she said. "We’re not going to sue anybody."
Fine, I said. It’s his yard, he can do what he wants. See if I care. But all that digging he’s doing is probably going to flood our yard instead.
My wife didn’t answer. She’d already gone back inside.
I had to stay outside and keep an eye on the guy. It was becoming my job.
Later, all the backhoe and chain saw work the man had been doing resulted in a pile of mostly wooden yard debris about 20-25 feet high.
It sat about 30 feet from our yard, where trees and shrubbery had been allowed to grow unmolested for generations, helping hide our old wooden shed. Which, by the way, is filled with enough combustible material to burn for a year if it ever catches on fire.
About dusk the following evening, I spotted my neighbor bringing out some lawn chairs. I heard his kids getting excited.
I called to my wife. What do you think he’s going to do with that pile? I asked. Surely he’s not going to set fire to that pile of wood, especially not now, she answered.
He did. Flames shot 50 feet in the air and we were bathed in the kind of rosy glow you get when you sit in front of a wild fire.
Ashes were falling on us like snow and all of a sudden it smelled like we were in the middle of a forest fire.
"That man is going to burn down the neighborhood," my wife said, or words to that effect.
He didn't, of course, or I might not be here. And the truth is, the man is probably nice, honest, hard working and ethical. It's obvious he cares about his family and it's obvious he's got plans for that yard.
I just hope they include putting up one heck of a big fence.