The Neighbors

They weren’t just stupid. They were also careless. They left their tools on the grass in the backyard next to the tree they’d slaughtered that afternoon just before the rain. For no reason, they’d cut it down. In their primitive fashion, they had torn at it with a machete after sawing it down with a chainsaw.

They’d left the chainsaw on the grass as well.

It had started raining, so they rushed inside. God forbid the elements of nature touch them. Which was why they were destroying the only beautiful thing on their property. A maple. Full grown and green and lush. Now in segments on the grass.

It was the chainsaw that caught my eye.

As darkness came upon the place, I saw the chainsaw still there.

Once it was fully dark, I dressed in my black pants, shirt, black gloves, and a hooded sweatshirt. I was a ninja now, all in black. I went out and made a beeline to where I’d seen the chainsaw lying. It was still there. I picked it up and moved towards their house. The flickering television, a massive 50” piece of work, held their attention. There were five. The older man, the owner of the place, his wife, their daughter from out of state with her husband and her own five-year-old daughter. They sat, entranced by American Idol. Who would be selected tonight? Whose voice was sweetest? Who did the cleverest thing of all on that stage?

I went back to my own place, chainsaw in hand, to wait for the flickering light to go black. I set the chainsaw down by the back door.

In the walk-in closet, I found my father’s shotgun and a half-empty box of shells on the shelf nearby. I loaded two bullets and waited.

Around midnight, I went back to their house. No moon in the sky was a great help. In their house, all was silent. All was dark.

I threw a pebble at the window of what I determined to be the master bedroom in the back of the house; the room where the owner and his wife slept. I threw another. And another. A light went on. The man came to the window to peer out, saw nothing. The light went out.

I threw another pebble. This time slightly larger.

I went to the back porch door and waited.

I saw a flashlight’s bouncing light move down the stairs and turn the corner toward the backyard. I stood, braced by the side of back door. The hall light went on, shedding light onto the porch. He opened the inner door. I held my breath. There was a screen door as well. The chainsaw had a push button starter and as the man opened the screen door, I pounded the button and the chainsaw roared to life.

I raised the chainsaw to the level of the man’s neck and sawed easily through, right to left. The head rolled forward off the neck, down the chest, and hit the back porch deck with the thud of a large cabbage. The body staggered a single step and fell. The legs twitched. I sawed off the arms and legs just as they’d done to first my trees and then their own.

Seconds later, I reached for the shotgun. The screen door opened as I trained my sight between the son-in-law’s eyes, just above his gaping mouth. I knew the blast would shatter a foot-wide hole through his head and whatever was behind him, so I wasn’t too particular about my aim. I was about to squeeze the trigger when the owner’s wife and daughter appeared behind the son-in-law. Their timing was more than perfect. They stood in the hallway screaming for me to stop.

I squeezed and all three were done. Night was silent again.

The last living creature in the house was the granddaughter of the owner and I had no bone to pick with her. Plus, she had stayed fast asleep through all the chaos.

I set about sawing off the arms, legs, and heads of the other three and left them there on the porch in splendid disarray. I took the chainsaw to my house, hosed it off, and washed off myself as well. I put the chainsaw into a plastic shopping bag and then into a large, hard plastic suitcase. I stashed the suitcase in the trunk of my car.

And then, I went to bed.

Slice of Girl

My aunt asked me to come over to read with her newest foster child. The girl is eighteen. She’s got sculpted, fashion model-quality cheekbones. High, breathtaking cliffs. Her skin is olive-y. Not brown, not green, and not yellow, but some easy and soothing combo of all three. And this blended olive color as it is on her smooth, soft skin gives the girl an effortless, sultry air. And now combine all that with those cheekbones and the result is delicious.

She draws her hair up. Usually in a misshapen bun, squashed onto the center of the top of her head. A flattened, grapefruit-sized ball of frizzy hair. Planted there. Planted and stationary. Until she turns her head. And then, it lists. Just enough to contribute a touch more attitude to the attitude she already spews.

The girl is sullen and so frequently bitchy. Her rare smile is a tiny oasis in the driest desert. When she allows a smile or a gentle word to escape, I feel surprise. I am quenched briefly.

She speaks, purposely it seems, at a lower than normal volume. And when reading aloud she reads at a level often barely audible. One must tune in carefully to hear, thus giving her the attention she demands.

She has learned to control it all. Figured out the loopholes to get by on the least effort possible. She knows the whether and how-to of being nice. She’s adept at the manipulation of time, so she never does for too long anything she doesn’t want to do. She’s mastered the modulation of her voice and tone when speaking to one person or the other to get her way. And she knows the precise time to increase the volume of her voice, drawl her words just a tad, or give a coquettish blink of her eyelashes. There’s almost a twinkle in her eye when she’s putting on the act to get what she wants, even sometimes when the act has her being miserable. She seems to be enjoying herself.

And then it’s gone. Bored and boring, dull, tired, and numb. Like an ox.

When she doesn’t get what she wants, the world is to blame. Never her. Fault will be announced. Damages will be voiced. It will be well known that she has been wronged.

“I’m not gonna drink it,” she whines when the “wrong” beverage is brought home as a gift for her from Daddy’s trip to the doughnut shop.

“I’m not gonna drink this. It’s not what I asked for,” she blasts toward the kitchen.

She pushes her lips into a pout, slides the drink several inches away from her, brings her eyelids to slits and states, “I’m not. I’m not going to drink it.” She says it a few more times in a variety of ways and then, twenty minutes or so later, picks it up and sucks on the drink’s patient, pink straw.

When it’s time to go, I gather my stuff and call goodbye to my aunt.

To the girl I smile, “See ya tomorrow.”

She replies with a bland and resentful, dismissive, “Yeh,” and turns to go to her room. I leave, closing and locking the door behind me.

13 Benefits of Death by Strangulation

Why Being Choked To Death Could Be A Good Way To Go

Strangling - strangersonatrain

  1. It’s a surprise. Death is coming one day, you worry. No more worries. It’s here!
  2. You get human contact during your last seconds alive.
  3. Internet research says death-by-strangulation takes long enough that you’ll have a chance to see your life pass before your eyes in a more thorough way than a shooting death, yet not long enough to be maudlin or, worse, boring.
  4. It will be a good, no, great, story for family and friends for years or even decades, to come.
  5. Your organs will be in fine shape should you opt to donate your cadaver for medical research.
  6. Your organs will be intact, if you chose to have your parts reused by others after you croak.
  7. While it would be a challenge to do a Selfie at such an event, there’s bound to be time enough for a passerby or even the perpetrator to pop on a smartphone for a final video or snap.
  8. It’s a conversation starter. Or stopper, depending on the audience.
  9. If you’ve chosen post-mortem casket-viewing, the only special prop required by the mortician will be a shirt or blouse with a high collar.
  10. Your existence and demise will be recorded and kept as part of a police report most likely, thus making you part of history.
  11. You’ll surprise a lot of friends and family who never thought anything like that could happen to someone like you. Whatever, “someone like you,” means.
  12. The strangler will walk around with you, their victim, popping into their thoughts every so often. You two are forever linked. Like it or not.
  13. There are so many worse ways to go out… Google it.

Hybrid Love

Lamby smelled glorious. Safe and comfortable. It was 1964 and I was three.

My family and I took the sleeper train from Connecticut on the harbor to the piney forests of Wisconsin. I brought Lamby, my well-worn greyish-yuck-colored stuffed animal.

No longer the spry little white lamb with green eyes and a perfect

Lamby (2)

blue bow around it’s neck, I’d loved the once-shapely, unmistakable lamb into raggedy lumps of slush-colored fabric.
It was when we were bustling to grab all our luggage to get off the train in Wisconsin that I realized Lamby was missing. The porter, identifiable by his cap, white jacket, and white gloves, helped us search. We undressed the fold-down beds, looked in the loo and all around the tiny room, but Lamby was nowhere.
I remember the hard vacancy in my heart, the pressure in my chest. I was bereft.
Later that afternoon, we arrived at my grandmother’s wooden cottage. Inside were a few musty bedrooms, kitchen, sitting room, dining table, lots of old magazines, games, books, a fireplace, and French doors that opened onto a porch that looked out on a placid lake.

We were the first family of the season to visit, so the air in the place was still dry and stale from being shut down for late autumn and winter. In the sitting room, golden shards of dust sparkled in the afternoon sunlight streaming through through the window. Fairy dust. And on the couch was a two-foot long, red felt fish pillow with large red scales, each with a sequin sewn on giving it a shimmery, fishy look.
My father came over to me as I stared at the fish holding out what was left of Lamby, a two-inch swatch of grey, mouse-colored fabric.
“Here,” he said, “Here’s what was left in the springs of the sleeper bed,” he said. His tender voice told me he understood this was not enough, but was all we had. I lifted the piece of cloth to my nose and inhaled. Lamby!

My mother sewed the small fragment of Lamby onto the cheek of the felt fish. And I don’t remember who, maybe Mom, maybe Dad, maybe even me, but someone came up with the name Fammy for this new hybrid Fish-Lamb friend of mine. Though Fammy certainly was not Lamby, he carried me and I carried him through the next several years.

And With A Name Like Herb

Herb is a neighbor. An old man now. Some years ago, he was an Eagle Scout, or whatever a high rank is in the Boy Scouts. He went a long way in that game. He was self-disciplined, well-behaved, and goal- driven, I guess. You can see those same traits in his acorn-gathering technique.

Herb Garden

At this point, he’s meandering on to somewhere in his seventies, I think.

Almost ten years ago, my son went door-to-door in our neighborhood to offer lawn-mowing services in the summer and snow shoveling when the snow came. Herb took him up on it and our family became neighborly acquaintances with him.

Herb was old then, and he’s older now. He was stodgy and moralistic then. Now he’s even more so, but the rigidity and stodginess is becoming a murky soup of foggy headedness.
Herb’s house is around the corner from ours on a side-road where every house looks the same except for a different light fixture, a garage that exits the side of the house instead of the front, or a sheltering roof over the front door.
Mid-November, on my daily walk, I passed Herb’s, house. The wind was beginning to mention winter. It was cold enough to wear a coat and hat. That day, I saw Herb on all fours on his lawn, not far from the trunk of the lawn’s single, tall, and verdant-topped oak; one of the gems of his street. He was maneuvering around in a three-sided patch of clear, leafless lawn, doing some kind of work it seemed. Apart from the area where he was on hands and knees, the rest of his lawn was smattered with crispy fallen leaves.

It was easy to see the grass had been recently raked but in the current raining-down-of-leaves phase of Autumn, it was an uphill battle.

Leaves on lawn
Until Fall had come to a full stop, at our house we abided by the tradition that it was pointless to rake. And once all the leaves had fallen, we also felt it was pointless to rake as there were simply too many leaves.

Herb’s philosophy, though, was diametrically opposed to ours. He was determined to keep his lawn spotless and leaf-free. His current, triangular work space was impeccable. Bold green. And now being closer, I saw a bucket near him into which, one by one, he picked acorns from the ground and pitched them.
“That’s a big job,” I said in what I hoped was a neighborly tone. I meant to commiserate. To bond with him by empathizing with what seemed like an endless task. Then, like a fire ladder extending itself segment by segment, Herb sat back on his heels, straightened his back, pushed off the ground with a hand, and rose to stand.
“Yeah,” he agreed, They’ll all be gone soon. No more. All gone. Forever.”
“Yeah,” I said, thinking of the coming bare-treed winter. He leaned back a little and turned his face skyward to the lush green canopy atop the long tree trunk.
“Yep. No more acorns. Soon they’ll be all gone.” I figured he meant that it was autumn and he’d soon be caged up inside for the winter to do indoor tasks until it was warm enough to come out and continue on with his tedious, never-ending yard work. I felt my attempt at commiseration a failure and began to question Herb’s cogency.
My feeling is, who the fuck am I to tell anyone what to do? I’m a “naturalist” of sorts in that my philosophy is “leave it alone.” When there’s a question about whether to cut it or leave it, you’ll find me in the “leave it” camp. Ask me whether you ought to change your hair color? I’ll go with “leave it alone.” I have confidence that Nature has a plan of some kind and the less we mess with it, the better off we’ll be in the short and long run.

I continued on my walk that day, leaving Herb to ruminate further about his acorns.
A few days after the “All gone” conversation, I passed his house again on my daily walk. This time, my very observant son was accompanying me.

The lawn was now completely green. Not a single brown, red, or yellow leaf marred his precious turf. My son was staring up. I followed his line of vision into the sky and saw the luscious, bushy green top of the oak. Herb stood on the lawn near the tree. He was looking up as well.
“That’s gonna be gone,” Herb said, “Tonight.” It was a statement. Firm. Knowing. He now turned to consider us. “Gone,” he muttered. He was calm. Resigned. He was getting his way. He was going to triumph over incorrigible, messy Nature. The majestic crown of the oak would be no more. And as a result, the leaves and most importantly, the maddening acorns, would be banished as well.
A day or two later, I set out on a chilly day to take my walk. Alone this time. As I rounded the corner onto the side road where Herb lived, I lifted my eyes from their tendency to glue themselves to the ground just in front of my steps. My vision stuttered and stuck.

Beheaded. The oak tree. Herb’s statuesque oak tree was headless. Its largest branches reached up, but were all of them chopped off mid-forearm. There was nothing but heavy, abrupt branches straining for the sky. Not a leaf, no small branches, nothing to protect the towering creature from the elements. It was bare and headless. Exposed and dying.

Herbs Tree
A crazy fuckin’ Schenectadian nature-hating boy scout weirdo had gone batshit on a harmless, photo-synthesizing, shade-giving, oxygen-promoting, visually-refreshing, squirrel-and-other-rodent-feeding tree. A thriving beauty of a tree at that. A tree who’d done no harm. Had, in fact, done the reverse of harm. Had done what it was supposed to do: grown up to the sun, offered leaves for shade, and seeds to feed little animals, and grow more of its own kind. And in return, it had been decapitated and banished, unable to work or live a normal life forever more.

Blue Jay Comes To

Blue Jay comes to the big feeder and bosses everybody around.

But he is afraid of Woodpecker.Blue Jay


How do I know?

He’s more jittery around the black and white striped fellow. And it takes more bluster to get Woodpecker off the big feeder, whereas, the little guys frighten easily at the least flutter or squawk. In an attempt to get Woodpecker to shove off, Blue Jay flaps and caws. The feeder swings crazily like boat on a stormy sea.

From my desk, I call at him, “Stop that. Go away!” Three times I admonish.

Blue Jay flies to a nearby branch to spy on his enemy. And to try to shut me down, he tilts his head and directs his left eye at me, the source of rebuke. I speak more kindly to him now, from my seat inside by the window. I remind him of the other, smaller feeder. Tell him he doesn’t have to share. Tell him he can have his very own feeder.

He flies deeper into hiding in the tree’s leafy middle where I am unable to see him.

I imagine he is feeling chastised, and so, irritated with me. I figure he thinks I just didn’t understand his importance and why he, not Woodpecker, should have the feeder Woodpecker was hogging. By rights, shouldn’t Blue Jay have the bigger feeder?

Tufted Titmouse suddenly lands on the roof of the second, smaller feeder, now unafraid of Blue Jay hanging back in the tree. And then Squirrel takes small squirrel-sized leaps in slow, careful, motion. He looks around nervously after each jump, as he heads to the base of the feeder where a carpet of sunflower seeds awaits. Evidence of many feeder squabbles. Seed spillage is the day’s main course for many visitors.

And then comes Blue Jay. Which I like to imagine is because I told him so.

He flies to the smaller feeder and I feel gratified.

Woodpecker continues tapping at a spot on the big feeder, heedless of nearby activity.

And suddenly a whoosh, another whoosh, and three of Blue Jay’s relatives join him at the smaller feeder. All goes well. And before too long, those in attendance disband.

Minutes later, Blue Jay alights on the east side of the larger feeder. It rocks gently and Woodpecker, already there, stops pecking. Focused and unmoving, he eyes Blue Jay briefly. Woodpecker then turns back to his work to extract seeds from the feeder.

The two are on either side of the large feeder but Blue Jay doesn’t make his usual, noisy squawk. Rather, he sits there silently glaring at his black and white striped nemesis. Woodpecker stops now and returns the glare with indifferent curiosity.

They are still for thirteen, then fifteen, seconds.
And then sudden movement when they both begin tapping their beaks into the feeder with vigor. There seems to be some kind of resolution. An unspoken agreement to disagree. Maybe.