white people problems
The notice from the city in Friday’s mail says that you will be summoned before the magistrate if you fail to remove the trees growing in the alley behind your house. It says that the inspector will come back “on or about” Monday.
The code compliance officer does not answer the phone at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday. Her chipper voice invites you to leave a message. You try to be friendly while explaining your situation, but you are tired and sound more annoyed than you really are.
Earlier at lunch, you had said something about chores as the reason for not coming in over the weekend. Now it is true. Retroactive honesty.
When you bought the house nine years ago, the backyard was large, with a chain link fence spanning the width halfway back and a hog wire fence at the easement. Someone told you once that a previous owner stored a mobile home between the fences. Now the South Texas weed trees have grown between the two fences into a dense, narrow forest that screens your view of the neighbors for most of the year. You call that space “the bottoms.”
You and your wife fight through the growth to see how many trees will need to be cut down. She steps in raccoon shit and you find large snail shells, empty. Do raccoons eat escargot? In the bottoms there is the lid of an unrecognized Christmas tin, incongruous with the humid August dusk.
You find a rubber cock among the weeds in the alley.
The chainsaw still runs, but the blade and chain are bad. That chainsaw model has been discontinued and it takes the rest of Friday night to figure out that the new blade and chain won’t work because your model is the 235e, not the 235. Solving this tedious problem is more satisfying than all of the last five days.
Saturday, the summer heat is filled with the ever-present Doppler staccato of cicadas.
You feel like Captain Willard every time you tramp through the bottoms. You run the chainsaw and feel guilty felling the trees that fight each other for space in the sun. Platitudes about the value of work float through a heat-induced headache.
The radio says the governor of Missouri declared marshal law to restore order from the protests against the police shooting an unarmed teenager, his hands in the air and fleeing. The police call them riots and have been using teargas and tanks for a week already, before the declaration of marshal law. They have added a curfew.
The neighbor with the implausibly-viridian crewcut lawn tells you he received a notice, too. He says the code compliance officer is nice, but she cited everyone along the alley so that something will get done.
Everybody is guilty.
In the wealthy enclave nearby, coyotes have been seen more frequently lately. At the park last week with your toddler son, your wife was approached by a lurking camera crew and asked if she knew about the coyotes. She declined to play the role of Concerned Parent on the nightly news.
In the easement you find a covert hash pipe made from a highlighter and foil. You wonder if it belongs to the same person who left the rubber cock. The radio says that the U.S. has started bombing Iraq again, fighting the relentless growth of militant fundamentalists.
The brush piles up and you reflect on the fragility of the social contract. The handle on the chainsaw breaks on Sunday. Parts are available online just in time for next weekend.
You hope the compliance officer is understanding.
The radio plays “I fought the law and the law won.”
(With apologies to Chris N. Brown.)