It’s not normal human behavior to mace yourself. But you just don’t understand the extent to which I will go to fuck with Stewart.
Stewart Theodore Davis, or as I call him, STD, is wiry thin with frozen turkey skin. His bulbous forehead protrudes from a dome with no chin and hair wrapped from ear-to-ear around the back. The gleam of his bald top is the look leather shoes dream of.
And a leather shoe is about the only thing that would dream of Stewart. He’s like Mr. Rogers, only condescending and fidgety. Well, the neighbors say he’s only fidgety around me. As he should be.
Since the day we moved in, I’ve derived immense pleasure from making him call the police. Or cry. Or both.
The condescending part is why. Stewart is one of those know-it-all buzzkills that corrects your grammar and starts most sentences with, “Actually …”
The first thing he ever said to me was, “I’m going to have to ask you to not place your fire pit within 20 yards of my shrubs.” Not, “Hello, I’m your new neighbor!” or “Welcome to Hickory Hollow.” Just keep away from those precious bushes.
If you’re going to open the door to a feud with your new neighbor, you probably shouldn’t tip your hand to your primary weakness during your first impression.
One can excuse the rudeness of that first exchange when you learn Stewart is a botanist who teaches as the local private liberal arts college. The shrubs are to him what a pure-bred Yorkie is to a dog show maniac. Apparently well-manicured rhaphiolepis shrubs possess the qualities of being “exquisite” and “inspiring.” I can only assume those are the uppity words for “pink” and “smelly.”
Stewart even talks snooty. His lips pucker which makes his “s” sounds slightly lispy. He keeps the pucker when he says words that require a wide, thin mouth. So, when he says “year” it sounds like “yurr.” That might make sense if he were British. He’s from Sheboygan.
Every day around 3:30, Stewart crosses the threshold of his walkout basement, garden gloves to his elbows. A navy argyle sweater vest over a white tee is tucked in beige cargo pants held up by a toolbelt retrofitted to hold water bottles and pruning shears. And yes, this getup is supported by Birkenstocks and mid-calf black socks.
The contrasting skin, which can only be described as neon white, turns tomato red after about 20 minutes in the sun, so what color it has is covered by an icing of SPF 600 sunscreen.
Opera blares from a small CD player nested on the ivy-covered patio tea table where he reads when he thinks no one’s around. I once snuck to the other side of his neighbor’s deck with my crossbow and shot a flaming arrow through his paperback copy of some awful romance rag. That story ended with me telling a deputy sheriff a bogus tale about nomadic local Indian tribes.
One afternoon last summer, I was grilling burgers for the fam when Stewart decided it was time to apply pesticide to his precious shrubs. The chemicals give off a smell that reminds me of Cynthia Berry, a homely girl who rode my bus in junior high school. We called her “Cherry” which she thought was a silly rhyme with her last name. It was because when she was around it was very clear she had pits. The mix of her musky odor and the Listerine she seemed to bathe in and voila! Stewart’s pesticide.
I walked over and yelled, “HEY STEWART!” Despite the obvious animosity that has always existed between us, Stewart is dweeb-friendly and thinks everyone likes him. Some people in Hickory Hollow have openly called him names to his face. He thinks they’re kidding.
“Hey there, neighbor!” he smiled with his dorky little pucker, pulling off a garden glove to shake hands.
“I understand you have hygiene issues, Steward, but why does it smell like you just filmed an episode of panhandler porn over here?”
“Oh, that must be the pesticide,” he laughed, clumsily. “It’s time to protect the rhaphies.”
Raphies? Good lord. He’s nicknamed them.
“Well, we’re grilling out over here, Stewart. Do you think you could wait until after dinner? We won’t linger outside so you can get to it before sundown.”
“Oh, I’m afraid not. This particular type of fertilizer is only optimally applied before dusk. If it’s too cool, it doesn’t penetrate the epidural surfaces most efficiently. That can cause minute imperfections on the flora and, well, you know where that leaves me … ha, ha, ha? Pun Intended!”
Kill me. Now.
“Stewart, I’m grilling out, the meat is already on and my kid is going to be out here eating. If the wind changes direction, your fertilizer may spray over on our food.”
“Oooh. That would certainly be a predicament. Two ounces of this stuff would take down a fairly large game animal. I don’t suppose you might be able to dine inside this evening?”
I politely pointed out that I was feeding my family and he was spraying moose musk on a fuckin’ weed. By doing so knowing a family was potentially down-wind, he was at least guilty of reckless endangerment, if not attempted murder.
You can have a lot more fun with your neighbors if you know a little bit more about the law than them.
“If you do something to hurt my children, you’re going to have more to worry about than fauna imperfections. Besides, everyone’s fauna is imperfect. Mine leans to the left and won’t work when I’m drunk.”
Stewart started fidgeting. I knew I’d worked him into a lather. He went on about the perfect fertilization cycles of Asian flowering shrubs and he had every right to spray whatever poison he wished on his own property.
Normally in situations like this, that is when the other person is claiming dominion over me, I resort to strategies of distraction. Once, while jockeying for position around the buffet line at Wok this Way, two second-shift guys leap-frogged past me in line only to take the last of the crab legs. Before the next serving came out, the cops were there to arrest them.
Turns out an anonymous caller alerted authorities to the fact that Ricky “Pud” Thacker and Elroy “Snake” Irving placed pipe bombs under the salad bar. The police were gravely concerned as the caller informed them the pair were Jefferson County’s sleeper cell of “Balsamic” terrorists.
Crab legs never tasted so good.
Stewart was flailing about, his voice now ratcheted to a higher octave.
“And the Hickory Hollow by-laws state, in Section 3.1.4 …”
I retrieved my lighter fluid and pulled a Zippo out of my pocket. I held both up so Stewart understood.
“OH DEAR GOD, NOT MY RHAPHIES!”
Stewart was retreating, in a near-tearful panic.
“I’M CALLING THE POLICE!!!”
As Stewart disappeared inside, I checked my watch. It would take 12 minutes for the deputy sheriff to get here. I had clocked him the last three times for future planning.
The beauty of neighbor trolling is, if you do it right, it’s always your word against theirs. And when they don’t happen to frequent the same bars as the neighborhood patrol officers, they miss out on buying them drinks and letting them win at darts.
With a couple minutes to spare, I asked Michele for her mace.
“What on earth for?” she asked, exasperated.
“Just trust me.”
At around 11 minutes and just before Lieutenant Roger Hall turned into Hickory Hollow, responding to a complaint someone is threatening to burn Stewart Davis’s champion bushes, I shot a little mace into a napkin and dabbed it around the corners of my eyes. By the time Lieutenant Hall followed Stewart around the side yard to the back fence, they were puffy and red. Tears streamed down my face.
“I’m glad you’re here, Roger,” I said, feigning a little gasp for air. “We’re just trying to cook dinner and Jolly Green Vagina here started spraying chemicals. All I did was ask him to wait until we finished cooking out and went inside. He just snapped … got aggressive … started waving that nozzle around and that shit went everywhere.”
“Oh my,” the officer said, “You look like you need an EMT.”
Stewart’s eyes and mouth bulged open, “Well, I NEVER!”
“Yeah, that’s not news, Stewey,” I said, pouring bottled water over my face and grimacing in faux pain.
While waving off the EMT, I embellished a bit more about Stewart’s alleged tirade. I may have added a little reference in there to racial slurs and I didn’t understand what Milton had to do with Stewart’s anger, but it was clear between Stewart’s speechless panic and the officer’s increasingly concerned expression I’d accomplished my goal.
Lieutenant Hall looked at Stewart as if he were a wanton criminal. He started to hyperventilate.
Before the Lieutenant could start putting on the squeeze, I stepped in.
“I’d be happy to not press charges for assault … or does this qualify as terroristic threatening? Either, or … I’ll stand down if you would just take that poison away from him,” I said, trying not to pull a hernia from silently laughing too hard for comfort.
Lieutenant Hall wrote Stewart a citation for disturbing the peace. The question of me threatening to burn his bushes never came up.
Stewart locked himself in his house. He bought a wrought iron security door last Christmas when I gathered a group together to go caroling at his house with the crotches cut out of our pants. (Relax. We had speedos underneath.) He added double-paned glass windows after I paid several neighborhood vagrant kids to water balloon during one of his “airing out the house” days.
It won’t be long before the neighborhood association turns on him as his one impeccable home morphs into something more akin to a military bunker.
The mace reaction wore off just in time for the burgers to come off the grill. I sipped on a bourbon as Michelle, Chappy and I enjoyed the sunset. I purposefully walked back near Stewart’s fence and award-winning shrubs and lit a cigar. Can’t say that I didn’t intentionally flick the ashes over the fence at his precious plants.
Fourteen years ago, I gladly obliged to not put my fire pit within 20 yards of them. They’ve never been out of danger since.