There’s a crazy guy in the neighborhood. He is a little . . .off. Everyone knows it. Even Sam knows it.
Crazy Guy’s home is behind ours on a parallel street. Last summer he decorated his front lawn with bizarre, odd items—a baby carriage, an axe, an inflatable whale—the kind of blow-up toy kids play with in the backyard pool. There once was a plastic life-size goose sitting on the grass and a pair of snow skis leaning against a tree. Something new every week. Two colored lights frame his driveway—one red and one green, like Christmas, and written in colored chalk on his driveway are messages about a local CBS radio station—Rock On or K-Hits, or something of that sort.
Like I say. Just a little . . .off.
It is late morning when Sam and I walk by Crazy Guy’s home. This time, and the last several times we’ve come this way, we have noticed nothing of note in his yard. All the things that had been there before are cleared away. I wonder if Crazy Guy’s wacky lawn ornaments are seasonal?
As we move closer to his front walkway, Sam appears keenly more curious. She sniffs the bricks near the driveway and around the plants near the front entrance. She seems somewhat anxious, wary but inquisitive. I have to pull her away so we can keep moving. I look over my shoulder one last time for any strange additions to the yard, but as suspected, there is nothing. Still, as the season rolls on and the weather improves, I’m anticipating this will change.
Who is this guy?
First, he must be a recluse. I never see Crazy Guy up close. From a distance, I once saw him cutting his grass, but that was it. He must be socially unbalanced. Uncomfortable with human interaction. Dangerous? I doubt it, but there was that axe in the lawn. I wonder if other neighbors have met him, talked to him. Certainly they’ve noticed the David Lynch-esque set design of his yard. Is it a random act or is he trying to say something through his yard art, some poetic metaphor? Or is it simply the work of a jumbled mind trying to sort itself out?
As Sam and I pass to the north of the house, Sam looks over her shoulder, as I did a moment before, as if longing to confront Crazy Guy, to understand this eccentric and curious man in our neighborhood.
“What do you think, Sam? What about this guy?”
“Soon, I’m going to have to knock on his door,” I say.
Trimmers are scheduled to work on the big old trees in our backyard. They’ll be sawing off dead branches. Some tree limbs from Crazy Guy’s evergreen trees in the rear of his yard are hanging over the fence into ours and need to be clipped to help allow sun for a garden. Before the trimming is done, I plan to speak with Crazy Guy. It is the neighborly thing to do. I don’t want to start knocking off the branches of his trees without talking to him first, even though legally I don’t have to. I’ve learned that if the limbs of another’s tree are in your yard, trimming them is fair game. But I don’t’ want to do that, and so, this means walking to his front door, ringing the bell, and meeting him, talking to him, looking him in the eye.
Why does this make me uneasy? I like people. I’m comfortable meeting new neighbors. What is it?
“We won’t meet him today, Sam, but one of these days,” I say.
There’s been a lot in the news lately about the awful fix our country is in. There appears to be more contempt than ever before, more ignorance and tension between political parties, between races, between religions, between the young and the old, between regions of the country, between men and women than ever before. Massive protests over terrible gun violence, school shootings, and sexual harassment. A divided country reels from ignorance, the kind of ignorance that can breed uncertainty and hatred. People’s words are harsh; there are snarls and angry screams, taunting and nasty faceless accusations on social media. Reading the news has become an exercise in sorrow. And the world’s dreadful mood is on my mind again this morning as Sam and I take our walk. Ignorance is awful. The less we know, the more we fuel our fear.
Then it hits me. I am part of the problem.
As we turn the corner to head east and then south, I tighten Sam’s leash and tug her toward me, squat to her level, and look in her dark eyes.
“Why do you bark at some dogs and not others?” I ask. “Think about it, Sam. You’ve sneered and barked at another dog that walks by us, but as soon as you meet, go nose to nose, sniff each other, get to know one another a bit, there is no more growling, is there?”
Sam tilts her head, as if realizing something.
“When you stand on the living room chair and bark out the window at the mailman, showing all your anger, are you just barking from ignorance?” I ask. “When you met him that one time in the front yard, what did you do? You licked his outstretched hand; you pined for a pat on the head. Have you forgotten that?”
Sam hangs her head and looks at the ground as if ashamed.
“Me too, Sam,” I say. “Me too.”
We turn around and head back from where we’d been, crossing the street, over the parkway grass, and onto the sidewalk toward Crazy Guy’s place. I again shorten Sam’s leash and take the concrete sidewalk to the stairs. Two days worth of newspapers are on the stoop. A flyer for a local landscaper is rolled tight and slipped into the handle of a sun-faded brown screen door. I try the doorbell, a black button worn from age. No sound. I wait a moment then knock on the screen door. On the window of the main door are torn and faded stickers—one for Western Illinois University and another for the Magellan Project, the 1989 NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, an exploration of Venus that lasted through in the mid-1990s. I wait and rap again, noticing the soiled lace curtains covering the door’s window.
I want to introduce myself. Introduce Sam. I’ll look him in his eyes. I’ll smile. I’ll ask his name. I’ll shake his hand.
Sam sits on the small stoop; I knock one more time, and listen for stirring in the house, something that tells me there is life beyond the door. But there is nothing, no sound and no one.
“Not this time,” I tell Sam, taking to the steps. I look back to the door one more time, as if expecting to see someone. Instead, there are only the newspapers in clear plastic bags on the concrete. I pick them up and tuck both inside the rusted mailbox on the porch. Sam watches, as if approving of my gesture. “Some day,” I add, “some day you’ll get to meet Crazy Guy.”
Sam and I walk slowly to the sidewalk. I allow her to sniff the tree in the parkway near Crazy Guy’s driveway and wait patiently. He must be at work,I think. Sleeping, maybe, after working the night shift? Maybe he’s taken some time away. I’ll come back tonight, maybe tomorrow. Another day.
Turning the corner toward home, I wonder how many neighbors have knocked on Crazy Guy’s door. How many have seen him, said hello, offered a wave. Not many. I’m certain I would not recognize him if I met him on the street, at the grocery store. And now, after anticipating an encounter, I am disappointed. I want to meet him. I want to know for sure that he is as crazy as our imaginations have allowed, or better yet, that he is no crazier than any of the rest of us on this block, on this street, in this neighborhood.
Sam and I are nearly home now, and from across the street I see a woman pushing a baby carriage. She holds a red leash and at the end of it is a small dog—white and fluffy. It bounces toward us with great purpose, happy with the world, and when the dog sees Sam, it tugs hard toward her. Sam tugs, too. Each wants to be close to the other, to snort and smell, to look in each other’s eyes. There are no whines, no barks—not a yap, not a growl, not a sneer.
“They want to say hello,” the woman says, “and it looks like nothing is going to stop them.”
“I’m Margaret, by the way,” she says.
“David, and this is Sam,” I say, nodding toward her.
“Molly,” she says, offering her dog’s name.
The two dogs nuzzle and sniff. Tails twitch. We have to pull them away from one another to be on our separate ways.
“And to think they’d never met before,” I say as we start to walk away. “And not one hesitation,” the woman says.
The two of us step off pulling our dogs along.
When we arrive home, I freshen Sam’s water bowl and give her a small doggie treat. The next day, Sam and I return to Crazy Guy’s door, hoping to tell him about the tree trimmers. We knock once. Twice. And wait. But again, there is no answer. As we step down from the stoop, I notice the house across the street. On the front door there appears to be a a giant cardboard bunny rabbit. A lace of plastic spring flowers—pink and yellow and blue—is draped around the entranceway. And in the yard is a woman, an older lady in her 70s, it appears. On her head, she wears a pair of big fluffy rabbit ears—pink and white—and she places plastic multi-colored eggs on the muted green grass of her lawn, one after another, dozens of them, each about two feet apart from the next. The yard is awash in the colors of Easter, which is only days away. I can’t help noticing the woman’s smile, the joy in her work, and although she does not see me, I smile in her direction. And Sam watches as I watch. She, too, sees how this woman might appear to others, walking around in those floppy cottontail ears, planting eggs on a spring day.
“Crazy person, Sam,” I whisper. “Simply a crazy person.”
In a day or two, Sam and I will return to Crazy Guy’s house. We will knock again, and we finally will meet him. And in a brief conversation on Crazy Guy’s porch, I’ll ask if he’s okay with the tree trimming, and ask about his zany lawn ornaments, and he’ll dismiss all of it only to mention the crazy lady across the street. She’s a little weird, he’ll say. Those rabbit ears, he’ll say. And I’ll smile, and Sam will smile, too, and together we will wish each another a Happy Easter.