Fifty years ago, I was mad for fireworks. It is difficult to describe the consummate destructive joy of exploding firecrackers, the adrenaline-fired rush of totally unpredictable bottle rockets that never hit what they were aimed at, and the beautiful sulfur smell of burning gunpowder. In some still unexplained connection, gunpowder is linked to the Y chromosome. Men instinctively love fire, destruction, and a good loud noise. Taken together, beer and gunpowder provide 4 of the 5 things man craves most.
So it seems a little strange that thirty years ago I began to hate fireworks. It probably had something to do with What’s-His-Name and The-Other-One. Nothing screws up a love affair with fireworks more than having sons. Suddenly, I was filled with an intense desire NOT to raise a one-eyed son whose nickname was Lefty.
Trying not to expose your children to fireworks in New Mexico, however, is fairly difficult. They are legal. Hell, they are damn near required. Enema U has a fireworks show every time they lose a football game. The Fourth of July around my neighborhood would impress the Chinese on New Year’s. So it was only natural that my two rugrats began clamoring for me to buy some fireworks--something I should have seen earlier, since (as I have already explained--see first paragraph) this desire is inevitably linked genetically.
Eventually, I gave in and went to the fireworks stand. (For a very long time, I used to believe that it was just me that had violent, evil thoughts about fireworks stands. To be specific, I can never see a fireworks stand without thinking about shooting a flare gun into one, just to watch it explode. After all, this (and my total inability to enter a shopping mall without thinking about hand grenades) is why The Doc, my wife, says I have some unresolved anger management issues. Then, one day, I confessed this to The-Other-One’s father-in-law, a fire marshal, and he confided that he had the exact same fantasy when he saw a fireworks stand.) Looking over the line of fireworks available, I eventually found exactly what I was looking for: a cone-shaped device that shot sparks into the air along with a few about fireballs. It was fairly tame, but I positioned it in the middle of the backyard and had the boys observe from the far side of the pool. Luckily, this dangerous experiment ended with both boys physically intact and without any need for an ambulance.
So, about 15 minutes later, I was a little surprised when the police showed up. It seems the crazy neighbor over the back fence had called the police, claiming that I was trying to burn down his house. The two policemen were actually embarrassed. According to them, this neighbor was one of their “frequent flyers” and reported somebody, somewhere, doing something he disapproved of, about once a week. I showed the police the remains of our one and only piece of ordnance, they laughed and told me to forget about the whole affair.
That is not the only time the local police have been wrong about something--for what they didn’t know was that this was just the opening salvo in “The Feud.” If some rotating son-of-a-bitch (this is a son-of-a-bitch that--no matter how you rotate him--remains a son-of-a-bitch) hates you for no reason, then by God you should give the son-of-a-bitch a reason. The feud was ON.
My neighbor was a bachelor, and evidently believed that a feud was something to be conducted by just yelling obscene insults across a fence. This was a major reason why he eventually lost.
It would take an entire book to describe everything my team (in every war, the best generals have staff) did. So let me just gloss over the minor skirmishes. Of course you enroll the enemy in every book, record, and cheese of the month club you can find. And you go to the post office and fill out the little form that forwards his mail to the address of the Anchorage Wal-Mart. Then two months later, you fill out the little form that lets the post office hold the mail while someone is on vacation. And you cancel the subscription to the paper he is receiving, while subscribing him to a new and different newspaper. These are just opening preliminary skirmishes.
The next step is when you ask the local utility company to come and use spray paint to map out the gas lines across the lawn because you plan on digging ditches for the new sprinkler system. Then you order a load of manure to be left in the driveway. Did you know by just using the phone, you can turn off his cable, hire a lawn service and even have his second car towed off to have the transmission repaired? But, petty acts like these are just getting warmed up for the main events.
It was a slow day at the store, so I had every salesman, secretary, and even the bookkeeper, go through the phone book and help me make calls. It turned into one of those company team-building exercises. You have no idea how many companies will come to your house on a Tuesday evening at 7:00 if you simply ask them to. We told realtors we wanted to sell the house. We told insurance salesmen we were interested in purchasing whole life. We got quotes on aluminum siding. I told the Mormon Church I was depressed and thinking about suicide. People will give you quotes on new windows, gutters, venetian blinds, house painting, financial planning and feng shui. And we told all of them to show up on Tuesday at 7:00 on the same night.
By 6:30, you couldn't get within two blocks of that house. Thankfully, we had also ordered the party a lot of pizza.
Thinking back on it, however, the turning point of the war were the Bob phone calls. By this point in the feud, my army was actually…well, an army. Even some of the other neighbors were helping me. It turned out that no one--damn near no one liked this guy. Remember, at one time or another, he had called the police on a lot of people. Here is what they did: individually, they all called his house and asked for Bob. That’s all.
Well, dozens of people called his house. Men, women, and quite a few children called at all hours of the day and night and asked for Bob. That guy, the enemy, was really a rude jerk—he usually cursed and just hung up on people. We did this for weeks and weeks….and weeks.
Finally, after about two months and perhaps 300 phone calls, I made my one and only phone call at 3:00 in the morning.
“Hello,” I said. “This is Bob. Any messages?”
Shortly after Bob stopped screaming, he moved.