My across-the-street neighbor is a spokesman for testosterone. He -- Bill --
drives a tough truck and wears tough leather and jackhammers for a living. I,
on the other hand, am the guy who strolls the block with his eyes closed to see
what it's like to be blind.
For these reasons, we don't get along.
Recently it became important for Bill to supplement his image by flying
a pirate flag. It was cute at first, but after a few weeks all I could see
was skull and crossbones. In the morning I opened my curtains with a sense
of hope and possibility, only to remember, Oh, yeah, I'm under attack.
I wanted to fire my cannons but phoned the city instead.
"Yes, I am calling to report a pirate ship outside my home."
"You must live on Campbell. I'm afraid there's nothing we can do, sir.
It is the resident's right to display a pennant."
"So I can fly a flag that reads, 'White Trash'?"
"That would be indecent."
"And the symbol of death is not?"
For those of you who don't have pirate neighbors, the skull and crossbones
is used to signify that captives will be slain and, alternately, to label
cyanide. It's some way to start the day.
You'd think that a man who pays mortgage would outgrow the pirate fantasy,
but Bill suffers from a disease whereby he matures one year for every four
he's alive. So it goes.
I confronted Bill one afternoon while he was banging under his truck. He
rolled out from underneath but did not get vertical. From the look of things,
he had been there several weeks.
"Yeah?" he said, squinting. He didn't seem happy about this whole
being alive thing.
"I was wondering about your flag," I said. "Are you descended
He studied my face to determine if I was being ... whatchamacallit ... conde-something.
Then he recognized me.
"You're the guy who walks around with his eyes closed!"
"Yes, I want to know what it's like to be--"
And he rolled back under the truck, laughing like a man who didn't need
any more cigarettes.
There was only one thing to do: draw my sword.
So one night when my wife was away and I not especially sober, I decided
to capture the flag on behalf of grown-ups everywhere. I tiptoed through
Bill's yard, heart a-pounding. You'd think I was robbing the Louvre.
With one ... two ... three easy jerks I freed the flag and ran like hell.
The skull fluttered in the darkness, glad to be part of the crime. It felt
like someone was chasing me -- a dog, a phantom, my parents. Inside my home,
I parted the curtains for a look. Nothing. Hmm, that was easy. Maybe I had
a future in larceny.
Next morning I awoke to someone pounding on my head -- er, door. Through
the peephole I saw a policeman. And Bill. I had almost forgotten. God bless
"May I help you?" I said, smooth and natural like someone shouting,
I cannot bear the burden of my sin...
The policeman said, "This gentleman claims that you removed an adornment
from his house."
Gentleman? Adornment? I love cop talk.
Bill added, "We can see it through your window."
I had failed to shut the curtains. God bless Smirnoff.
A warm sludge trickled over my sense of self. It isn't punishment that prevents
a man from stealing; it's the shame of getting caught.
Bill and I exchanged looks. Mine said, The police?! His said, Oonga boonga.
The officer broke it up: "Are you in possession of this man's flag?"
I slinked into the living room and reappeared with the Jolly Rogers. I hadn't
been caught stealing since the fourth grade, when Mr. Beard gave me an Unsatisfactory
and then lost his keys in my lunch pale.
I explained, "It's just that every time I look outside I see the Grim
Bill seized the pole and said, "That's what makes this country great."
Then, as if I weren't gagging on it, the policeman said, "This gentleman
has been good enough to not press charges, but I think you owe him an apology."
Could he ask that? Was it his place? I don't recall an apology law. I could
see my attorney in court: My client will serve the time, your honor, but
apology is out of the question.
I swallowed the bile and muttered I'm sorry to the swoosh of my slamming
door. It was quiet enough to hear my head crack. Stewing in the hall, I recalled
something my grandpa once said: "If you can't beat 'em, taunt 'em."
Today I began flying my own adornment, a neon pink Hello Kitty pennant.
It isn't as big as Bill's flag, but I trust that it's killing him. And every
night I listen like a boy for Santa Claus, hoping to catch him stealing my
flag. When it finally happens, I'll be there with S.W.A.T to recover it.