The boy in combat at the bank and other stories from the neighborhood

The boy in combat in the bank

“I’m in combat,” the 12-year-old kid in the bank informed his mother. 

He stared into his phone and may have moved a thumb. The mother and her daughter, a couple of years older than the boy, had been meeting with the banker. The boy and I sat beside each other in the small lounge. I was waiting to meet with the banker next. 

When the mother urged him to come along, he played on. She said little else, as if rebellion was fait accompli, before leaving the bank with the girl to sit and wait. Maybe they had a nice car for waiting.

I glimpsed the skinny kid and fought the urge to snatch his phone, call him selfish, suggest he bathe in a vat of eels, and march out of the bank carrying my trophy to his mother. But interceding in matters between parents and children is folly. For once I held my tongue. 

Someone has said it was a big mistake for the mother not to confiscate the phone herself and keep it for a day, just to show him who’s boss, and change his homescreen to a corduroy projects board on Pinterest. He knew he could get away with it though. Looks like unmarked railroad crossings ahead there, one after the other. 

The shuffling woman of Ryan Mountain 

The other afternoon I hiked to the peak of Ryan Mountain, 5,457 feet above sea level, in Joshua Tree National Park. The trail rated as being moderately strenuous, but I thought “moderately” understated the gain of 1,000 feet in a mile and a half. Wandering skeins of stone blocks unfurled up the grade. Rugged stony passages lay at intervals beyond.

I greeted one man who said it was much cooler at the peak but was unsure whether this was good or bad. A nimble elfin woman, older than I, escorted by a younger man, perhaps her son, negotiated one of the blocks. A young German couple, both of them tall and slender, went striding by. My German is poor, but I think they were reciting quadratic equations in chorus as a love song. Trying to keep up made me suppose they had biomechanical assistance from the same clinics NBA players must be using. I gave up the pace and soon lost sight of the towheads. Arriving about 20 minutes later than they on the peak, I cheered the display of speed and asked about their origin: Baden-Württemberg, of course. They were pleased to know I’d been to Stuttgart. For them, Joshua Tree was the end of a week’s trip in the West, and tomorrow they would fly out of Las Vegas. Now they headed down, probably making it to the trailhead and parking lot in about seven and a quarter minutes, which used to be a fast lap around the Nürburgring. I stood there wondering, as always on mountain peaks, because I’m from Nebraska, if something profound might happen. Shouldn’t a summit give me a new outlook? Naw, I still don’t like hockey. I also wondered what I was seeing. Is that Queen Valley? What business did the queen have here? And where’s Fried Liver Wash? How did pioneers like the Ryans, namesakes of the mountain, wash a fried liver?

When the time came for my descent, I encountered a deliberate, plump, upward-bound woman wangling twin trekking poles and managing not to stick her bare tootsies. Yes, bare. She wore shower sandals. And her tootsies still numbered 10 and gleamed with red polish. A bear cub pedaling a unicycle while juggling chickens couldn’t have impressed me more. How did shower sandals, with all the tensile strength of Christmas foil, hold together over chunks and shards of granite, the hardest rock on earth except for President Trump’s head? How had her feet survived? “Oh, I forgot,” she shrugged. Yes, bringing sturdy shoes with good soles and lacing into them for a moderately strenuous trail in the national park, a remote one of the type you don’t wander into from the shower, is like, oops, I forgot when you’re on the red carpet, your bathrobe stays in the limo. 

Mean dog learned it from the owner

Out for a walk on Clubhouse Drive, I saw a man and dog on the opposite side of the street. The dog is Schnauzerlike. The man, being persnickety, washes his Hyundais too often and denudes the vacant lot next to his own of every native baby brittlebush, creosote, and burrobush that dares to germinate and grow and establish itself in perfect naturalness. Twice when I’ve gone by there the Schnauzer was tied to the water faucet and snarled and snapped at me. Now as they were passing on the other side of the street the same thing happened, furious Godzilla straining against the leash, pulling the man and imprecating against Visigothic marauder me.  

Then Weedscalper Sam inquires, “Do you have cats or dogs?”

After a moment’s thought I had to admit the current lack.

That was all of it, and we went our ways. In the time since I’ve realized blame had been assigned for Godzilla’s unaccountable behavior. It was my provocation, vibes of cat and dog hate as strong off me as a medium-wattage AM broadcast signals. Naught else could have explained it.

Unsought admonitions freely given

Turning into my driveway well in advance of them, I saw a familiar black and white smoochie-pie little dog, a woman who had previously demonstrated absence of any thought in her mind, and a formidable man of the long-retired linebacker sort rambling along without the limp. He had something to share, it was doom, and how easily we now relate to his poor wife. 

“You’re going to regret it,” Sarge said, waggling a finger or two. “Do you realize the roots from that palo verde tree will crash into the septic system?” 

He didn’t exactly say crash, it just now seemed to have more impact. Maybe he said push or break. Anyway, I later stepped it off. The trunk of that four-year-old tree is 34 feet from the septic system. Even if something ridiculous happens, by that time I’ll be on one of Jupiter’s inner moons, either or Ganymede–which is just huge, OK? It’s the hugeness–or Io, which is quite pretty although the Gallilean moons are seeing a lot of riffraff these days. 

“Why, I just paid $250 to have mine taken out!” Sarge continued about his forsaken tree.

In his shadow, the poor woman crossed her eyes a couple of times. The dog lay down along the curb. My car wanted to start blinking its lights.

I was just dumbfounded. What to say after being mortally threatened. What a sour thing to leave as a little get-to-know-you. In Alaska, he would have predicted an ice lens from the permafrost crashing or pushing or breaking through your drainfield, buddy!

All I could think of saying was, “I’ll get my neighbors to pay for it,” showing that when stressed all I’m capable of is cuteness unless there’s time to think about it and find a quote from Edmund Burke or some Scandinavian writer whose surname translates to Westerly Going for Fish. Since closing the garage door on the whole business, I’ve resolved to be on guard at next sight of him, to shoot a flaming brand his way and direct the conversation to Pac 12 football. 

Tomorrow’s topic revealed!

Tomorrow’s topic is the Seed Act of 1936.

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