Friday, May 19, 2006


In Which We Talk of Parodies, Parents, and Posture Problems...

When does one become a parody of oneself?

I mean, let's say, you end a recent blog entry in a cliffhanger about entering a neighbor's house on the most tenuous suspicion that a pervert has broken in. You have no police back-up. You are, in fact, technically the criminal in this case, since you are entering the house without permission. What's more, you are famously unprepared for whatever you might encounter. Instead of carrying, say, an assault weapon or a black belt in martial arts, you are wielding a flashlight and your dog who, though loyal and fiercely protective of your children, has never really proved himself useful to you in a dangerous situation against a criminal. He's barked and growled at many deliverymen and one ass-hat driver who mouthed off to you. He chased your neighbor around your garage one night. Yes, he did tackle a man who appeared in your back yard and ran aggressively at your daughter, but that man was YOU. He's faced down a mean but stupid dog about a half-dozen times. He terrorized a possum and bit the head off a bird, both animals roughly 7 to 10 times smaller than he. To your knowledge, he has no formal training as an attack dog. If a desperate or crazed criminal attacked you, you honestly have no idea what his response would be. Would he tear the guy's throat out--or just stand their barking while you're slowly murdered?

Your readers have come to expect these kinds of ill-thought-out misadventures. Indeed, odds are they've anticipated several possible outcomes already. In one outcome, you end up being attacked by the neighbors' dog, previously thought missing, but now in the house and attacking you. Your dog gets involved and in short order you find yourself lying on the floor, bound in a web of leashes.

In another outcome, you scare the shit out of the neighbors' oldest child, Gary, who comes home unexpectedly and proceeds to beat you senseless with his rollerblades.

In a third outcome, you scare the shit out of one of your neighbors, who returns home early. If it's the mom, she maces you. If it's the dad, he shoots you with his shotgun.

All of these scenarios end with you being arrested by the police and charged with unlawful entry. Irony ensues.

Some readers have perhaps even come to expect the unlikely but validating plot twist, in which you actually encounter an intruder who, just as your instincts predicted, had snuck into the house, intent of visiting some form of harm on the 7- and 10-year-old daughters of your neighbors. A heroic tussle ensues and the man either escapes or you lay him out with the flashlight, which will lead to much preening and crowing by your brother, who gave you the thing in the first place. In another permutation of the scenario, you are caught at a disadvantage by the pervert and your faithful dog proves his worth beyond all doubt, savaging the attacker, and subduing him by getting a good purchase on a sensitive appendage while you call the police.

If indeed you each predicted every one of these possibilities, then I think it's fair to say I have become a parody of myself and it's time to consider blogging something new: endless posts about my love of anime, or how much Korn rocks; or perhaps I'll give you vividly detailed accounts of every medical procedure I and members of my family have ever received.

Of course, there's always the chance that nothing happened at all, which would just be so unlike me. Perhaps enough unlike me that none of you predicted that outcome.

And if indeed that is the case, then you'll be shocked and thrilled--okay, maybe just shocked--to learn that

(wait for it)

NOTHING happened. Nada. Zipperoo.

Blaze dragged me into the kitchen, growling and chuffing, but once he sniffed around and found some old bits of potato chip on the floor (which he happily inhaled) he calmed down considerably and looked at me as if to say, So, WHAT are we doing here?

As it turned out, we did nothing. I opened both the front and the back doors, but locked the screen doors (the better to hear someone leaving in a hurry). Then we checked out the house from the scary basement to the bedrooms on the second floor, pausing to look in each and every closet, doing so each time with flashlight/cudgel raised high so I couldn't be surprised in typical horror-movie style.

During this tip-toeing tour of my neighbors' house, I saw nothing out of place--not a single muddy footprint nor a jimmied window nor a ruffled bedspread indicating someone was hiding underneath (I had Blaze look under each bed). I did crazy Ivan style turns (actually, more like 180-degree jumps) at unpredictable intervals, just in case someone was padding up behind me with an unlikely but silent murder weapon--a yo-yo as a garrote, perhaps, or a twirling baton as a shiny bludgeon.

In the end, though, nothing out of the ordinary happened. The dog didn't even so much as spray a drop of urine in an inappropriate place. We found ourselves standing in the open garage, having come up absolutely empty-handed, which was both a relief and a cause of worry. I went about closing up all the doors again and leaving as I came, through the unlocked back door.

Once again, the dog and I returned to our vigil on my front step, waiting for my neighbors to return. I grabbed the cordless phone and left them a message, telling them where the girls were, just in case they picked up home voicemail from wherever they were. Then, for lack of anything better to do, I called my mom, expecting to hear a sympathetic voice when I told her what I'd just done. Instead, she freaked out.

"Are you shitting me?" she shrieked in a tone so shrill that Blaze could hear her, even though the receiver was several feet from him. "How could you do that? That's breaking the law!"

"Oh my God!" I cried. "Look who's talking! This is the woman who put a brick through Mrs. Cooper's back door window because she thought the woman had had a stroke!"

"Excuse me, Mistah Man, but she DID have a fall on the stairs and break her ankle, if you recall. If I hadn't broken in, she'd have died on the stairs. And that yappy little dog of hers would have partially devoured her by the time the police found her."

Oh yeah, forgot about that.

"The difference is, I called and Lillian several times and knocked on her door and thought I heard her groaning. Also, I was RIGHT. On the other hand, YOU went into a situation that was dangerous for you without knowing if you were right or not. You should have waited until they came home, like the policeman told you."

In the distance, on my mom's end, I could hear a gruff voice. "No!" my mom said, speaking offline. "I think that's a ridiculous example! That was a one-time case! You'll just encourage--"

There was a muffled pause. Then Mom returned.

"Your father wants to talk to you," she said coldly, then handed the phone off.

"So, playin' vigilante are we?" Dad asked, cackling with glee. "You find some pervert hiding in the neighbors' closet?"

I told Dad what I'd done.

"Hell, ain't so bad," he said. "You had the dog with you. And I gotta tell you, that is one goddamn good dog. I think he'd have torn a new asshole on anyone that got near you."

"Yeah, well, I still have the tell the neighbors I essentially trespassed in their house."

"Sez who? Just tell em what you thought when you heard their dog was let out. Goddamn fishy, you ask me. On the farm, if someone wanted to rob your livestock, they always killed the dog or fed him sumpin to make him sick. No gutless crook wants to mess with a dog. I'd say yer instincts was right on the beam."

"Thanks," I said, pleased. "So what was the one-time case Mom didn't want you to tell me?"

"Oh. It weren't a one-time case. You know, back when I was a kid, we had a useless sheriff in our township. And weren't but two or three state troopers for the whole of New Hampshire. Weren't no law, is what I'm saying. If something needed taking care of, you and your family or your neighbors took care of it. I ever tell you the story about Hap Whitney?"

I searched my memory, but the name never rang a bell.

"Not surprised. Kind of a scary story when you think on it some." And then he told me:

Long before I was born, when my dad was a teenager, his sister Barbara, then about 16, was out in the front garden of the old family farm, bent over and weeding. The men--my dad, my grandfather, and Barbara's boyfriend--my future uncle David--were in one of the remote pastures, gathering hay. My grandmother and the other two siblings--my uncle Dennis and my aunt Brenda--had just driven to the store.

Presently, a seedy character ambled out of the woods from across the street. We'll call him Hap, because that was his nickname. Hap Whitney lived in the woods in an old makeshift cabin. It was fairly common, actually: ever since the Depression, a lot of men and women--sometimes even whole families--lived rough up in the woods, spending what must have been some harsh winters in slapdash shelters made of little more than canvas tarps and rotted logs. Many of them were decent folks and harmless eccentrics.

Hap was not. He muttered to himself in just that way that crazy people do, and he was also known for his unexpected bursts of temper. Today, he'd probably be on some beneficial cocktail of meds and be a fine contributing member of society. But back then he was just known about town as being not wrapped too tight. People said he was harmless, but most didn't quite believe it. Kids were told to stay out of the woods opposite McDaniel's Marsh, where Hap had his cabin. Once or twice in the two or so years since he drifted into the area there had been some complaints--a girl walking home from school had seen him following her through the woods just off the road, making doglike woofing noises. A group of boys who'd been swimming in the marsh told their parents that Hap sat out on a rock and watched them wordlessly while they swam, then made whistles and cat-calls at the boys when they climbed out of the marsh and got dressed (they had been naked, of course). But the sheriff dismissed these concerns. Hap hadn't actually harmed or even touched anyone. The feeling was, so long as he kept himself to himself, people had nothing to worry about.

My grandfather, who was a gentle man and who believed wholeheartedly in the live-and-let-live philosophy of life, had been one of the few people to agree with the sheriff. "As long as he don't give us cause, I don't see why he can't live his own life, and we live ours," he had said. But he always added, "Just the same, steers clear of him, kids. Don't be giving him cause."

So it was too bad for Hap that he came wandering across my aunt, who cut quite a curvy figure at 16, especially bent over and weeding like she was. Hap didn't make any dog noises or cat-calls this time. Instead, without prelude or ceremony, Hap walked right up to my 16-year-old aunt and grabbed her ass. With a squawk, Barbara whirled and, seeing that it was not her boyfriend or even one of her brothers messing around, she lashed out with a punch, catching Hap--hard--on the side of his head.

Hap staggered back, stunned. Then his face became a sneer of animal rage and he reached into his pocket.

Although she saw nothing, Barbara had reason to believe that Hap had either a knife or a gun on him and was certain of her mortal peril just then, when my grandmother drove up over the rise and pulled into the yard. No one messed with my grandmother, so Hap--hand still in his pocket--walked rapidly back into the woods. Barbara was shaken and she started crying.

When the men returned from the field, David was so incensed, it took both my grandfather and my Dad to restrain him from charging into the woods and running a pitchfork through Hap. "Your uncle David was some strong at the age of 18," Dad recalled. "I doubt anyone but your grandfather was strong enough to hold him back."

But my grandfather managed to keep David in an armlock until he calmed down and agreed to come in for supper instead of killing Hap. It was a silent meal, and my grandfather presided over it in total silence, handing bowls of food around the table. David stared straight at his plate, stabbing his food with a fork, perhaps imagining it was a tiny pitchfork and each Brussel sprout he popped into his mouth was Hap's head.

Finally, as Barbara and my grandmother cleared the table and set out plates for pie, my grandfather calmly, almost absently, remarked to my uncle. "Well sir, poor ol' Hap. Reckon it's time he moved on."

My uncle looked up sharply, then nodded very slowly, in his usual laconic way. "Ayuh," my uncle replied. Not another word was said about it, but my dad knew his family was going to take care of it.

The next week, Hap, after a day of aimless ambling and muttering, returned to the clearing in the woods on the other side of the marsh, where his makeshift cabin was.

Only the cabin was gone.

I don't mean it was destroyed or that it had been dismantled. It was just gone.

Not so much as a stray nail or beam lay in the clearing. Only a bare spot of dirt gave testament to the fact that any structure had occupied the spot.

Hap looked around once or twice, as though perhaps he had entered the wrong clearing. Then he stopped and looked as, from behind a large old oak, my grandfather emerged, smiling his usual, easygoing smile. He held a burlap sack in one hand and he loped with easy grace across the clearing.

Hap knew this was Barbara's father and he took a couple of steps back, his hand already in his pocket.

"Oh Hap, ol' fella," my grandfather said easily, almost sadly. "Be bettah for you if that ain't a knife nor nothin'. Be bad for your posture if t'were."

Hap stopped. "What? Why?" he muttered hoarsely.

My grandfather blew a breath of air through pursed lips. "Well, sir, because I'd have to break every bone in your body," he said, his voice still light and sincere, as if discussing the weather.

(My dad, all of 13, heard every word of this exchange from where he was hiding behind a rock. "I was never so scared of your grandfather in my life right then. He NEVER threatened anybody that I knew of," he told me.)

Hap slowly took his empty hand out of his pocket. And just then, a big, ham-like hand clapped him on the shoulder from behind. Hap jumped and tried to squirm away, but David tightened his grip, holding the very bones of Hap's shoulder.

"Listen," Hap said, his voice still low and muttery. "I din't hurt no one. I din't mean nawthin. I'se just having some fun."

"Fun!" David bellowed in his ear. "I oughtta grab yer ass and see how much fun YOU think it is! I-"

"David," my grandfather said quietly.

David shut up instantly.

My grandfather stepped up to Hap and looked down on him (he was a very big man, my grandfather).

"Hap, ol' fella," he said, still in that neighborly voice, a friend offering advice. "You got a choice here. You can take this here sack--" and he dropped the burlap bag at Hap's feet. It contained everything that had been in Hap's cabin before it vanished, every earthly belonging the man owned. "--and you can leave. Route 4-A's just a mile thataway and someone's sure to give you a lift." He sighed. "Or--"

Hap licked his lips. "Or?"

"Or you can find out what happened to your cabin," David said, squeezing Hap's shoulder.

"And?" I asked my dad.

"And...last time I saw Hap Whitney, he was dragging that sack down the logging road to 4-A as fast as he could leg it. Last time me or anyone in town ever saw him again," my dad recalled. "Run him outta town they did. And I helped. Five kindsa illegal that musta been. Imagine the ACLU would have some stern words for us today."

"I guess," I said, trying to imagine my grandfather--who I only remembered as the gentlest of giants--being driven mad enough to do something so crazy and aggressive.

"So, wait," I said. "What DID happen to the cabin? How'd you and Papa and Uncle David get rid of it?"

There was a pause.

"Well, suh, I suppose I could tell ya," Dad said. "But I ain't gonna. And I don't suppose you're gonna tell your neighbors you searched their house for some crazy-ass bastard," he said.

"No, maybe not," I agreed. "But I am going to tell them about that guy in the Volkswagen. Let them handle it with the cops."

"Good idea," said my dad. "Nothin' wrong with being a good neighbor, but at some point you just let the parents of these girls handle it. Never ceases to amaze me what a parent will do when his child is threatened."

As he said this, I finally saw a van--the girls' mom--turn down our street. "In fact, here they are now. I'm gonna go."

"Awright," said my dad. "You done a good thing today, but--"

"Yeah?" I asked.

"Don't do it again. Worries your mother." He paused. "And it'd be bad for your posture. Understand?" he said, calmly, evenly.

"Yessir," I answered.

And so I told my neighbors. About their missing dog. About the strange guy. About Officer Peltz's offer to look through the house if they were concerned that there was a connection between the two. Then my own family returned and I didn't really have time to find out what my neighbors were planning to do. All I know is, I didn't see Peltz's patrol car there last night.

And Buddy their dog is still missing.

I hope he's just lost. I hope he finds his way home.

I hope my neighbors lock their back door from now on.

Because even today, you never know who is going to amble out of the woods and into your yard.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

That actually made me feel more safe in a way. In the knowledge that perhaps there are people who notice these...irregularities, (I certainly never would).
Hmmm....while I kind of anticipated something more dramatic occuring, nothing happening is in fact the most likely scenario! I don't think it was a bad choice on your part to enter and I'm sure Blaze would have kept you save if there had been a human rat hiding out there.
Hmm, I have to disagree with Chuck...I think it would have been okay if BB had gone in, but (no offense) MM doesn't strike me as the kind of guy other guys try to avoid.

I loved all the scenarios at the beginning. However, as soon as you started listing them, MM, I thought, "Oh, great, nothing happened." I wanted some excitement!


If indeed you each predicted every one of these possibilities, then I think it's fair to say I have become a parody of myself and it's time to consider blogging something new: endless posts about my love of anime, or how much Korn rocks; or perhaps I'll give you vividly detailed accounts of every medical procedure I and members of my family have ever received.

So you're making fun of my blog now? Meanie.


I loved the Hap story though. It more than made up for the lack of sick bastard-pummeling I was hoping for.

I so want to know what happened to the cabin.
Rats, you didnt use the flashlight. I'm telling you, it's a dealdy weapon.

David told me the Hap story a few years back and he wouldnt tellme what they did with the cabin either.

I think Papa hitched up his old team of horses and drug the thing into the marsh.

Except I know that clearing and there's rocks all over and mud and the horses wouldve left drag marks. The thing that freaked Hap out, way David told it, is that the cabin was just GONE.

Maybe the old man brushed away the drag marks.

Dad ever tell you about the guy who pulled a gun on him when he was in Boy Scouts? Papa DID break every bone in that bastards body.
Yow! Sounds like you need to make another bona fide blog post, BB, and tell that story :D
Heather, from MM's description of the guy he thought might be in the house, I got the impression it was someone who is afraid of confrontation...and I think Blaze would have been a powerful "equalizer" in any event. But I am glad that, in the end, nothing happened. Hope the neighbor's dog turns up soon.
Hopefully things work out and your neighbourhood stays a safe place. Keep up the good work Sheriff.

I think you should apologize to Officer Peltz, though.
(just sayin')
"And it'd be bad for your posture."

Ya got to love Yankee understatement ... ayuh!
It's good to know sometimes absolutely nothing happens. Otherwise, I would really start to wonder about you. Most of us lead lives that are not even half as interesting as yours. Of course, you DO seem to put yourself in situations where stuff is bound to happen...:-) I hope your neighbors thanked you. A lot of people wouldn't have cared enough to investigate.
Okay, I was way off.

I figured that the most likely scenario was that the neighbors had taken their dog to a groomer or a vet or something. They would arrive home to find their daughters missing and the back door wide open. They would then call the police, who would arrive just in time to find you 'burglarizing' the house. It would be at that point that officer Putz accused you of making up the whole story of the black Volkswagon as a diversion from your planned misdeed.

It would be sometime after that that the mysterious Volkswagon would return (perhaps a couple days later) and the pervert would abduct one or more of the children. You would see this taking place, of course, and try to get to the scene in time to stop it but for one reason or another you wouldn't make it in time.

You would try to tell the story of the mysterious Volkswagon to the police, but that would fall on deaf ears. It would be you that was the prime suspect in the crime. Especially since doing a crime scene analysis would show that your hair and fingerprints were all over the whole house.

It would be years before the truth of what happened finally came out; when some lunatic pedophile on death row finally decided to come clean. You would finally be exonerated, but only after half a decade of ending your posts "Yours, from somewhere on the C-Block".

Sometimes, I guess, anti-climatic is better.
Chuck, what if it wasn't the guy in the Volkswagen? What if it was a very large axe-murderer?

When my mom was little, someone broke into their house while my grandma was in the backyard, raking leaves (the side door was unlocked). Apparently, they stold a bunch of stuff and wrapped said stuff in my uncle's baby blanket -- under which he'd been sleeping, in his crib. Lesson? Lock your doors!
whew. Nothing happened.

I think I can sleep now. And I do so knowing that there are people in this world wonderful enough to notice things out of place and strong enough to try to do something about them.

ya, I think my kids are a little safer knowing MM is with us.
Thank you.

While nothing happened, I'm so glad you took charge of the situation. Too many times in today's society, people look the other way. If these girls were mine and a situation like this happened, I would be EXTREMELY grateful that someone cared enough to look after them.

That being said, I'm so glad nothing happened. And I hope the neighbors quit leaving their back door open and learn to give their children a key or, at least, make arrangements for them to stay with a neighbor or an after school program.

Thank you for caring.
Non sequitur:

The other day, I knocked Dad's balls into the fence and one of them got stuck!

your dad is awesome, and i'm glad your, erm, visit to the neighbors' was uneventful.

i would advise, however, full disclosure.

a friend was just telling me of a feud between her friends 'cause one family went out of town and the second family agreed to care for their dog (food, walks and - most importantly - medication). the first family had cameras installed from when their children were very young and they kept an eye on the nanny (and caught her abusive behavior). they turned the cameras on before they left. turns out family 2 didn't come to take care of the dog for 2 days. the day before the family returned, they came, cleaned up the mess the poor dog had made in the house, and were laughing about how they'd never tell that they forgot the stupid mutt... yup - all on camera.

so, while they probably weren't filming, disclose before you get caught, IMHO.
That was a great story. Thanks for sharing it. And, as many others have said, the story more than made up for the lack of a burglar asskicking.

It's kinda funny, but I kept imagining your grandfather talking in Fred Gwynne's voice, a la Pet Sematary. I really was waiting for you to tell us that your grandfather said, "sometimes, dead is better."
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