This is a story of love in the time of war -- the story of honour and heroism, horror and pain...without the love, war, honour or heroism.
This is the story of neighbours; a tale of horror and pain...and dullness. And humus.
Several years ago, after my wife and I bought our first home, we quickly discovered that the house next to ours -- with whom we shared a driveway - was occupied by an ogre of a woman, her brow-beaten husband, and their genetically fascinating offspring.
Indeed, so overbearing was this next-door wife, that she could not pass you without inspiring the lyrics from Pink Floyd's The Happiest Days Of Our Lives:
"But in the town it was well known
When they got home at night
Their fat and psychopathic wives would
Thrash them within inches of their lives."
They were a nasty lot, indeed. She was a semi-reformed white-trash matriarch and ex-psychology student. He was (shudder) a child psychologist, who was forced to lumber through the neighbourhood while walking his "dog" -- a rodent-like Yorkie, no more than a half-dozen pounds at most.
For years, we lived next to this human freak show, and raised two young children of our own. Eventually, a lack of space and tolerance made us decide to move from this house to a new home. Though it was sadto leave the neighbouring nest of unpleasantness after four years, we found a new dwelling that offered a better location and the dreams of new neighbours.
How could anything be stranger than what we were leaving?
We moved to our new home in a December; a nice, semi-detached home only a few blocks from my kids' school. Relocating in cold weather, as we did, usually means you don't meet the neighbours right away (as everyone is tucked into their warm domiciles, waiting out the eight months of the year we Canadians affectionately call Winter).
When Spring eventually arrived, the neighbours, like the buds on the trees, started making an appearance. We met our neighbours to the North of us -- an extremely nice, middle-aged couple with two teenage kids.
But it was the neighbours to the South - to whom our house is attached -- that were of interest. We didn't hear much from the other side of our mutual wall through the Winter months, nor did we ever seem to witness the coming and going of any humans from their home.
But, we figured, how could anything be stranger than what we had left? Then, maybe 100 days into the good weather, came our first close encounter of the third kind. Not only did we actually see one of them...we made contact.
It was an awkward approach from her said, as the neighbour mater quickly, yet in almost inaudible tones, introduced herself and mentioned a local fair that was coming up. Then she left, as rapidly as she had descended upon us.
My wife and I stared at each other - as if we had just been dumped on a lonesome road somewhere, after being abducted by aliens and anally probed -- to confirm what had just happened. We talked, quietly, between us, trying to remember what she had said her name was. Klaatu? E.T.? Alf? Boba Fett? Who knew?
A few weeks later, I made contact with the child of the house -- a pre-teen male, who dressed like some proletariat-clad extra from a Sergei Eisenstein film. I introduced myself and it was then that I realized that, indeed, things could be stranger than what we had left.
He said his name was Arden..."Like garden, but the 'G' is silent".
Now I don't know about you, but I don't meet too many people who define themselves by what they aren't, especially when they're not part of a homeowner's property. Okay, proletariat boy, maybe you and your mom are just a bit off. But you really can't be stranger than what we had left, can you? The answer came soon enough.
Even though no more than 50 words had ever been exchanged between the two adjoined households, about a month or so later we were asked to watch our neighbours' house, as they were going away on a short four-day trip. The request was to water the plants and feed the cat that "No G", "Alf" and pater (not yet met) kept. Of course, it begged the immediate question: why, if you were only leaving for four days, wouldn't you water the plants before you left?
But that's not how things run, it turns out, in their household.
Before they left, I was instructed on which plants to water (all), and where the cat's litter box was to be found. I also met the father -- just as oddly dull (or is that dully odd?) -- who inspired the entire clan to be referred to as The Dullards. A note with specific instructions was to be left for me. After The Dullards departed, I took my oldest child with me into the neighbour's house; one must be always keen to gain unescorted access inside a neighbour's -- it's an excellent way to find out how soundproof your walls are, for when you're yelling at your kids.
The first impression was the strong odour of dirt. There were so many plants in this place that you'd swear a mass grave had just been dug from the smell. It was "humus-palooza" and as I advanced towards the scent of tilled soil, I engaged my oldest child in a game of "Operation Human Shield". (She was "it" first and "Operation Human Shield" went immediately into effect.)
Then I found the note, with the instructions. Besides asking that all 4,711 plants be watered, I was to fill the cat's bowl 5/8 full with food. Not one-half. Not three-quarters. 5/8. After soaking the plant life and filling the cat bowl to overflowing, I took a quick look at the layout of the house and calculated how much it resembled something from "Silence of the Lambs". The basement, I imagined, had the requisite pit and sewing room, since all that dirt smell couldn't just be from the living room plants. "Operation Human Shield" and I then made a hasty retreat.
Two years later, and about another 50 words exchanged, I came home one night to find "No G" hanging around the sidewalk outside the houses. When I asked him what was up, he stated that he had forgotten to take his key to school with him, and that he was locked out of the house.
Like an idiot, I invited him into my home, to make whatever phone calls he needed to make. As luck would have it, Dullard m?re and p?re are nowhere to be found. Resisting the temptation to simply turf him back out into the street, I say he can stay in our place until his parents return home.
Social little thing that he is, about 10 minutes into the impromptu visit Dullard Jr. pipes up that he's "hungry". No polite request for food or snack. Just "I'm hungry". Thanking him for the news flash, I quickly turn on "The Simpsons", hoping that it was a particularly inappropriate episode that might send the now-unwanted guest into a temporary coma.
No such luck. In fact, he enjoyed the show (Dullards have no cable, nor do they watch much television) and remarked on how it makes him hungrier. By now, it was time to cook dinner for my family... and the parasite. When I finished BBQ-ing I noticed "No G" discussing something with my wife, whose smiling her fake smile. I then walk inside the house, to talk to her, when I catch Dullard the Younger reading -- up close and real personal-like -- the list of bills and letters we have posted on our 'fridge.
"Get the fuck away from my 'fridge, you nosey, going-to-eat-my food, missing-consonant little bastard!" I yell, in my mind. However, still unsure of the whole Silence of the Lambs/dirt-smell thing, I simply ask that everyone wash their hands for dinner.
The Boy Without The Letter G In His Name had eaten more than his fair share of food when the doorbell rang. It was Alf (or is it Klaatu?), come to retrieve her offspring. Few words accompanied the gathering of her child...and I'm not sure whether I heard someone say "Thank you" or "spank you".
Fewer than 50 more words have followed since, though there's no animosity between the two houses.
And there seems to be little truly wrong with them, outside of what must be, medically speaking, a terminal dose dullness. As Bugs Bunny once put it: "D-U-L, dull." I doubt the bland little heads of this threesome have never carried lampshades; the only jokes they tell are in Latin.
As well, I have come to the sad realization that Chez Dullard probably holds no mysteries, as I doubt the inhabitants are exciting enough to be serial killers.
And while I also feel sorry for Arden -- the human Gnome mapping programme will one day reveal the humour gene he is missing -- I also feel relieved for him: if the Dullards were to name a child with a silent "G" in his name, at least they didn't choose to call him Angus.