A suburban father learns there’s a time for diplomacy and a time for war
One Good Turn
By Sean Crawley
For the Norrish Gift Award
My next door neighbour has: a whipper snipper; a leaf blower; a chainsaw; a ride on mower; and a shredder. Well he used to.
He may have had other tools in his back shed, like a spade or a rake, but they never came to my attention. It was the noisy petrol guzzling buggers that keep the garden under the thumb that piqued my inner good Samaritan.
And that is the point I tried to make after I politely knocked on my neighbour’s door last Sunday afternoon.
“There’s no law against leaf blowers,” he grunted.
“Do you think you could maybe give it a rest on Sunday’s at least.”
“What are you a religion freak or sumthin?”
I must admit his massive illustrated biceps and the can of bourbon and cola in his meaty hand took a bit of steam out of my approach.
“No. No. It’s just that we’ve got a baby and it still needs to have a sleep through the day.”
He told me to respect his privacy and get off his property: “Fuck off cunt.”
I like to be diplomatic and follow community protocols in situations of conflict, so that is why I approached him face to face. I’m no fan of the anonymous note in the letter box. I spoke my truth and it failed. The mother of our seriously sleep disturbed offspring suggested I ring council first thing Monday morning.
“There has to be something we can do.”
“Do you remember when that hail storm blocked the drain out front?”
“Oh yeh.” My wife shrugged, and retreated to the bedroom with our crying child.
“Two thousand dollars I think that phone call ended up costing us,” I said to no one.
The fluoro vested council guy with a pipe camera took five minutes to prove beyond doubt that the liquid amber tree on our property was the culprit and legally, financially, environmentally, and whatever else “-ally” was our responsibility.
From next door’s house I heard yelling and things being thrown around. A back door slammed and the unmistakeable sliding shed door sang out. Then the chain saw started up.
The sonic affront was seriously testing my civic sensibility and empathy for humans. Maybe he was bullied at school, humiliated by his father, violated by a priest? All things considered, perhaps revving the shit out of a chain saw and butchering every tree and shrub on his own fucking property was perfectly understandable.
The woman of the house, whom I had never seen, miraculously penetrated the racket of his therapeutic, or was it retributional, pruning: “You bloody idiot!” The chain saw stopped. I felt immediate worry for her. A car started up and sped away. She was safe.
Every Wednesday, Kylie – my wife knew her name all along – did compulsory voluntary work at the Vinnie’s depot. If you want to know what compulsory voluntary work means you’ll need to ask the Department of Social Services. Her defacto, Bruce – again information provided courtesy of my wife – was never home during week days, and often not on week nights. Wednesdays was conveniently playgroup for my small and precious family.
With Sunday not forgotten, and the council phone line manned by computers, immediate and decisive community service was needed. I took an empty milk container down to my own shed where I just happened to be in possession of some petrol. Armed with close to two litres of the stuff, I jumped the fence and snuck into Bruce’s cave of noise monsters. They were sleeping. I chuckled as I poured the accelerant around and over the culprits. They would not suffer. I used the last few splashes to make a flammable trail back to the fence.
Back on my side, I moved into phase two. The jumbo sized BBQ matches were my brilliant idea for remote fire-starting – plenty of length and phosphorous. My early morning physics and chemistry calculations did not predict that each and every match would extinguish well before before hitting the quickly vapourising petrol puddle.
Shit. I ran back inside my house and circled the kitchen to generate a Plan B. Six laps later I spotted the local newspaper. I ran back to the scene, scrunching up pages as I went. I lit Plan B and lobbed it over the fence.
The explosion had neighbours I had never seen before running onto the street and dialling triple zero.
I explained to the investigating police and insurance assessors that I work at home on Wednesdays. My singed eyebrows and reddened face were ignored as stories of my heroic and selfless actions with the garden hose to extinguish the bits of burning garden machinery that landed onto the yards and street within a ten metre radius of the now missing aluminium shed emerged.
Turns out as well that, after getting a bit boisterous at the local pub just last week, Bruce upset a notorious mad bastard who happens to have a track record for settling scores with arson. Stevo, as he is known, is the brother of the Sergeant of Arms of the local chapter of the Hell’s Angel’s and so the whole matter went no further.
“Do you have something you want to tell me?” my wife said as she applied paw paw ointment to my peeling forehead.
“Yeh, looks like I won’t have to phone up council’s noise complaint department after all.”
She smiled and the only sound that could be heard was the breathing of a sleeping baby in the cot in the corner of our bedroom.