(A retelling of one of my favorite childhood memories…)
There seems to be an inexplicable culture shift within the townhouse community where my guy and I reside. It’s a Slums of Beverly Hills kind of shift, where our good zip code is hovering closer and closer to a suburban wasteland of sloth and white-collar carnage.
Flower beds and raincoat-bedazzled plaster geese have given way to full trash cans “stored” at the edge of driveways and residual Halloween decorations left ready to ripen in the spring sun. An unnerving number of unmarked utility vans now crowd the street, and just the other day our recycling bin was stolen. I doubt it will be used for its intended purpose.
Mail service and UPS have also given up on our patch of receding affluence. I’ve been contacted by multiple entities for having mail returned as “undeliverable” despite my perfectly functional mailbox, and UPS, when they show up at all, tend to toss packages from their still moving trucks rather than collecting a signature at the front door.
Recently, in fact, my guy stumbled across two sizeable boxes UPS delivered to the middle of our driveway. Neither was for us; they were actually addressed to a house on the other side of our complex. But rather than making the block-long walk to bring the packages to the correct address, we kicked them into our garage and forgot about them for a few days. (I never said we were pillars of the community.)
My upbringing eventually got the best of me though, and one afternoon I decided we’d sat on the boxes long enough. Being a curious kinda chick, I couldn’t just drop the boxes on the appropriate doorstep though – I had to read the return address first:
Firechemicals dot com.
Fire chemicals? We have enough problems with bin nabbers and religious zealots in our ‘hood, the last thing we need is an arsonist.
Still, for as much as I was inclined to call a moving company right then, I was just as overwhelmed by the conflicting realization that this must have been exactly how my neighbors felt everyday living next door to my family when I was growing up.
We all knew my dad was a bit of an eccentric – that much was obvious by his job title alone. “Physicist” stood out amongst the doctors, salesmen and managers in a fuzzy, intimidating sort of way, and my dad certainly did everything possible to spark the distinction.
Where neighbors put jack-o-lanterns in their front windows on Halloween, my dad displayed his homemade Tesla coil. When fathers took their children to parks and mini golf courses, my dad took me to the drag strip and fossil digs with the Field Museum. And where any other rational person would call an exterminator, my dad mixed his own homemade dynamite.
If nothing else, my dad always knew how to deliver a solution. My neighbors just should have known better than to go looking for one when my dad was around. In all fairness, they did have a very large, and very active hornet nest in their shrubbery, and after getting stung repeatedly while walking from the front door to their car, complaining about it to a sympathetic neighbor was appropriate.
My dad just happened to take their problem as a personal challenge, and after vanishing into his workshop, emerged a half hour later wearing a camouflage jumpsuit and crash helmet. My dad never was in the military, and I never did get a satisfactory explanation where he acquired such a jumpsuit, but then again, I also never got an explanation on how he found the chemicals to create the giant dynamite tube he carried in his left hand. (It’s probably a good thing the internet didn’t exist then.)
Our “block” wasn’t so much a block as it was a dead end strip of land they just happened to build a few houses on, so it didn’t take much excitement to lure all the neighbors to the street. Kids and parents amassed for our wacky block party of the damned, and gave a collective gasp to see my dad unearth and light a flare from a tool box in the garage.
“You all need to stand back! Clear the way!”
I knew enough to heed the warning, but the others crept in closer as dad circled the hornet nest. Sensing imminent danger, the winged creatures mobilized into attack formation. Dad dodged the angry buzzing and in one fluid movement jammed the dynamite into the nest while simultaneously lighting it with the flare.
And then he ran.
He ran past the nest, past the neighbors on the edge of the driveway, and all the way down the street before bracing himself behind a willow tree. I’ve since heard plenty of loud noises – quarry blasting, buildings collapsing, the wail my mother made when I told her I was moving to Los Angeles to work in the music industry – but none will burst quite as loud in my memory as the sound that dynamite made when it blew up the hornet nest and the entire shrub it was housed in.
It seems to me that a few well-placed explosives would make a considerable improvement in my neighborhood now. And with that in mind, I have collected the suspicious boxes and made a very special delivery.
I have a feeling it’s going to be an interesting summer around here.