My wife found this artifact a couple of days ago. It had washed up in one of the drainage ditches that periodically choke and flood and gouge up fanning rivers of silt like one of those depression era films about soil conservation. From my own drug experiences, I know it’s some form of combustion/inhalation device for contraband, but its construction raises a couple of questions beyond the scope of my authority.

1. Who the fuck smokes anything out of plastic?

2. If you’re that hardcore, why don’t you just smoke the plastic, and forgo the expense of whatever it is you were smoking out of this?

3.The aluminum “bowl” is stretched tightly across the burner orifice. It is more appropriately a “typanum”. Is there a pill people smoke? Or is this a pipe for smoking one of those gooey balls of “opium”, or what used to pass for “hash” when I was in high school, which was probably compressed curry powder saturated with formalin, or cubes of Nag Champa incense.

4. Lastly, my wife’s very astute question. Why couldn’t they have fashioned the whole thing from aluminum foil? Might it be that ductile metals technology is available solely to attendees of our nations’ adult transitioning kennels?

These questions are largely beside the point, as this pipe answers a number of old ones that have been bothering me since we moved here a few years ago, namely: What the fuck happened to the people next door to us that turned them into such bleakly comic muck feeders who saw us as the arrival of a holy grail of loose change? For a while I honestly believed the witness relocation program had fetched up on the shoals of deep budget cuts, and they were easing them back into the mainstream via unstructured neighborhood support initiatives. But what could these useless bastards been a party to, really? It sure as hell didn’t involve money, at least not in any way that would have involved them touching it, or being notified of its location.

In many ways, I suppose, it was a typical story of people meeting, getting to know each other, and gradually coming round to the idea that it just wasn’t on. I sincerely doubt, however, that a very high percentage of those stories involve exasperated pleas for one of the parties to “Please, please find a church that will take you in as a project. I have been to Canada. Canadians are nice. Do not make me use this gun.”

Well, actually, it only came close to that, and only after the authorities told us to try and resolve the situation ourselves. The night I found myself shouting at the phone while holding it at arm’s length (because cradling the handset in the traditional manner while melting down is absolute hell on your ears) and wondering if that embolus I’d always feared had  finally lodged in my hippocampus and turned me into a sawed-off killing machine was a real eye-opener for me.

I would like to say that my wife was able to talk me down, ease me out of this pitiful state, but she was too busy asking me to give her the goddamn phone, or at least point it in her direction so she, too, could shriek at it without undue hearing loss.

She was covered in blood from yet another one of our sheep that had been mauled by the neighbor’s chow mixes. Their dogs, an unrestrained pack of curs, wandered into our yard at all hours, killing and wounding livestock and pets. I encountered a group of them one morning shortly after they’d nearly removed the hind leg from one of our rescue pigs, and I picked up a fallen tree limb to chase them off. They stood their ground (which was MY ground) and gave me the drooling, exposed teeth growl.  They were improperly habituated and dangerous animals that should have, and would have been destroyed anywhere but the sort of quasi lawless hinterland where gormlessness is actively encouraged, and Animal Control jobs  are inherited through a sexually depraved uncle.

Animal Control told me I was within my rights to shoot them. I asked if this activity did not fall  more appropriately within both their job description and list of turn-ons. Got nowhere. While I was on the phone with them, I noticed one of the neighbor’s dogs leaving the yard with a chicken in its mouth. Phoned neighbor.

Your dogs have another one of my chickens. Here’s the count. No. Shut up. Listen. Three cats, assorted chickens, a potbelly pig that we had to drive to Rockingham to euthanize at a cost of $120.00. Shut up, Steve. Shut up. I am preparing to phone your landlord because you are a complete fuckup.

Finally. Silence on the other end of line. VOILA!

“The landlord hasn’t got anything to do with it.”

“You ain’t a lawyer, are you, Steve?”

“Just give me the vet bill. I swear I’ll pay it. You have my word.”

“Are you for real?.” I smashed the receiver down too hard. It was probably the beginning of the end for that phone.

I didn’t call his landlord immediately, because the next day I could spy him up over on the hill, hammering together what appeared to be an animal enclosure out of beer suitcases, chunks of driftwood, and old Quicksilver Messenger Service albums. I told my wife that we needed an observation platform, and that Gladys Kravitz would be ashamed of our inferior set of K-Mart Binoculars.

I should have known that Steve’s craftsmanship wouldn’t hold up. I was just holding out too much hope, because he’d demonstrated so much inventiveness and initiative in trying to snake a couple dollars off me so he could run up to McShirley’s to buy a six of Sierra Nevada or a carton of Bailey’s. When his ancient Jaguar finally spit a couple of its twelve pistons out of the block, he asked us to front him enough cash for a bottle of Motor Medic. Once, when I was out working in the yard, before I had enclosed the property in tall woven wire fencing and gated the access points, Steve drove up with one of his buddies from the scrapyard where he sometimes hung out.

“This is Hops. He’s an artist too. He draws Indian heads out of his wife’s name. She’s dead.”

I looked at Hops, sitting in the passenger seat of the Jaguar. He was Howard Hughes without the germ phobia. He smiled and revealed a fondness for snuff. I pictured him living in a shack filled with old newspapers, and perhaps even his wife’s corpse, stuffed into a disused refrigerator. He would cut on his old radio, even though it wasn’t plugged in, and softly hum to himself, causing his remaing teeth to vibrate.

I wanted him to leave. Now.

“Uh, Steve. I’m pretty busy.”

“Need some help?”

“Nah. I’ve got it. It’s just this bug I’ve come down with has me dehydrated. I’ve had the shits for a couple of days now and can barely stand up. Virulent stuff. I’m beginning to wonder if I don’t have avian flu.”

One of my geese began to honk.

“That’s too bad. Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have any spare change, would you. I need a little gas to get Hops home.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………..

The fence didn’t hold, but it wouldn’t have mattered if it did, because Steve was letting the dogs run anyway. The day they ripped up the goats that Tammie had bottlefed, the ones who’d learned to follow us out to the mailbox, I saw him out in his yard, burning garbage in an rusty oil drum.

I knew that Steve’s landlord had had it with him, and would jump at any excuse to throw his ass out, but I’d hesitated to call him out of guilt. It’s not like I’ve never been a fuckup.

It was the ghosts of the goats.

They called us, me and my wife, every morning. Both of us heard them when we were just drifting out of sleep. My wife had stayed up with them and watched them die of shock the evening the dogs got them.

After about five days of waking up and hearing them cry, I phoned Steve’s landlord.

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