Thursday, January 13, 2011

Four! -- More From the New Book

Another section, this one on our strange golfing neighbor, from the manuscript-in-progress Sleep, Creep, Leap: The First Three Years of a Garden. Keep in mind, hot off the press and very raw, but your thoughts are most welcome. I have nearly 20 rough draft pieces, so half done.


We’ve just come back from picking up sandwiches from our favorite local shop. There’s nothing I enjoy more than eating dinner on the covered deck in summer, looking out over the garden and birdfeeders. My wife and I sit in silence, voracious for Philly steak and cheese, fingers covered in wonderful grease, the foil wrap scraping our fingers as we reach for sour cream and onion chips.

Surveying all that we own—a "massive" quarter acre—we hear blue jays squawking and brown thrashers chasing each other through cedars. From right to left squirrels fly across the balance beam of the chain link fence, placed along the back property line so we could see through to our neighbor’s three acre field and pretend it was our own.

The empty lot next door has a small hill in the back that rises about ten feet to the sloping edge of our neighbor’s acreage. Late one night I heard men’s voices and trucks beeping, then mechanical sounds like dozens of bodies being secretly dumped into a hole. The next morning three new oak trees were scattered near the property line. Who plants trees late at night?

During dinner I lift my head from the onions and peppers and melted swiss to see our neighbor appear suddenly on the top of the hill taking chip shots at golf balls. He’s launching nearly invisible balls toward his house 80 yards away.

He looks over his shoulder at us. I can’t believe we make eye contact, but we do, and it feels like an eternity. He slowly looks down to his ball, lines up the club, and takes a good long, arcing swing.

Then he looks at us again, bends down, places another ball. I’m not even eating any more. I nudge my wife.

This swing doesn’t seem as graceful as the last—it is wide and sloppy, hasty. Is he trying to perform?

He turns his body a little toward us. Hello, I say to myself out loud, my wife laughs and says “Be quiet!” Then she says just as loudly, “What the heck is he doing?”

“Maybe he’s checking us out. Sizing us up.” My wife shrugs and takes a bite of her sandwich. The man chips at a ball, then leans on his club, looking out over his small field of goldenrod and immature wild cedars. A kid could get lost in that acreage playing hide-and-go-seek.

“Did you hear those trucks the other night?” I ask my wife. “What? No,” she replies.

“They planted some oaks out back at about 1.”

“At night?” she says, while out of the corner of her eye watching the man watching his landscape.

“Yeah. Kinda creapy.”

“He looks creepy,” she says. “With that moustache and all. Why does he keep looking over here?”

After a few minutes our neighbor tosses his golf club over his shoulder nonchalantly like a civil war rifle and waddles off toward his house. We lose sight of him behind the taller cedars along our fence and finish eating so I can go dig in a few more plants before sunset.

For years I find golf balls against our property line, some half buried in mud, perhaps rising from the depths through frost heaves and rain. One day, I’m sure, I’ll find one in a planting hole. A message, perhaps, like a horse head.


Susan Tomlinson said...

The frat boys across the alley are always hitting golf balls into my back garden. Either that, or they are really squirrel eggs...

scottweberpdx said... that...very representative of the neighbor woes we all face from time to time. Really though, planting trees at 1am...way creepy.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Susan--Squirrel eggs I reckon. I see them everywhere here.
Scott--Maybe not so creepy, I mean, I guess I could see myself planting at night, even setting up lights like highway construction crews. I'm that into gardening.

Patrick said...

One of my friends had such scary and wierd neighbors that when the creeps moved for fear it could hsppen again the tore the house down. they put in a pool and had more garden. Must be nice, huh?

Lynne said...

Great story Benjamin!
Did you check the local newspaper for any reports of stolen construction equipment?

Liisa said...

I love the idea for your book project, and I really enjoyed this story. I agree with you, often times I garden until it gets too dark to see what I'm doing - I could totally use some flood lights!!

Unknown said...

This is going to be such a fabulous book...I chortled at this, and found myself grateful yet again that I have no nearby neighbours. The late night planting gave me pause.

Chloe m said...

Any character with a mustache has to be creepy. Hitler,Saddam etc. That's why I made my husband shave his off years ago. Blech!

You are a talented writer!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Patrick--that's so what I want to do! Tear the neighbor's house down and build a pool. We thought about buying the lot next door, but knew we'd never get our money back. Then they built a house. With big dogs out back.
Lynne--Yes. Someone was missing a crane, a backhoe, and a grader. :)
Liisa--See? Floodlights. I should market these. Now I need some investors.
Jodi--Lucky you. I'd give anythgin not to hear garage doors from my office, let alone lawnmowers and stereos from inside the hous enext door. I think my book will be cool. Maybe. Eh.
Rosey--How do you feel about beards?????