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The Perfect Neighborhood...A Short Story...Part 2
Having moved past the house with the hippies, Angus McGriffin remained alert for further signs of urban decay. His eyes sweep back and forth taking everything in; the sharp gaze like a pitchfork stabbing into random bales of hay. A torn, stained, and ripped queen-size mattress, left in the vacant lot, was noted with disgust. A car on cinder blocks sits haphazardly along the curb marking its nineteenth hour in that condition. A hooker stumbles out a side alley as she makes her way to the more profitable downtown area where Arttown was being staged. After all, she reasoned, Van Gogh liked his prostitutes. Furtive movement further down the alley is suggestive of a drug deal in progress while signs of an illegal oil dump can be discerned in the gutter.
With the speed of Wyatt Earp pulling his old Navy Colt pistol from a well-oiled holster, McGriffin had his cell phone in hand while simultaneously hitting the police non-emergency number programmed into the phone. Calling this number pissed him off to near blot clot levels, however, the three days he spent in county lockup for “serious and serial abuse of the 911 emergency systems,” occasioned this compromise with the Second Judicial District of Washoe County, Nevada. He dutifully reported the suspected drug activity in the alley and provided a disturbingly detailed description of the debauched debutante, along with her probable route to the downtown area, to the Community Service officer who answered the phone. He was fairly well screaming about the refrigerator abandoned on his neighbor’s porch when the officer hung up on him.
“It’s like whacking a mole,” he grumbled into the dead phone, “it’s like whacking a mole.” Stopping at a “Neighborhood Watch” sign, he pulled a bottle of Windex from his tool belt while fishing from his pocket a cheese cloth he’d brought for this purpose. Today was Thursday and he always cleaned the area’s five signs on Thursdays. He was lovingly polishing the blue and white warning notice as he mulled over the conversation he had with his wife this morning.
“Fred called,” Bernice informed him over breakfast, “he mentioned that you pulled out of the Morrison deal.” She surveyed him as a sparrow would a worm. Head cocked, leaning forward on her right leg with arms akimbo, she looked ready to pluck him from the dirt. “Why would you not want to sell to Barbara, she is a perfectly delightful woman who would have made a great neighbor? What, do you want to get sued for breach of contract? Again? You already accepted her good faith deposit for goodness sake!”
“A woman by herself would never be able to maintain the property as it needs to be,” Angus began before being cut off by the thoroughly irate Bernice.
“And Fred also said you have not approved any of the rental agreements he has been sending over before pointing out that real estate agents make their living off of commissions and you keep canceling the deals before he makes any money. He is out-of-pocket on every one of these deals and he told me to tell you that he no longer wishes to be your real estate agent. So what, are you now adding being blacklisted by the real estate industry to the distinction of being blacklisted by the entire construction industry?” she finished acidly.
As only the member of a long married couple can; Bernice went for the juggler. Fourteen years earlier when they purchased their current five-bedroom corner lot, they also bought the large vacant parcel across the street as the site of their new chateau. It was a romantic time in which they planned to reconstruct the Austrian chateau they had spent their honeymoon in. After a decade of inconsistent progress, construction finally stopped altogether as contractor after contractor refused to work with him. Continuous change orders, complaints, and micromanagement of the job site alienated anyone who agreed to take on the task. After a few years there were no more names in the telephone book to call and the project languished. It was a sensitive subject for both of them, albeit; for entirely different reasons, and those differences were proving the source of considerable friction within the McGriffin household.
Slow moving, the white truck, a rowing machine hanging from its bed, tugged him from his reverie as McGriffin suspiciously charted the truck’s course down the street and apparently out of the area. The rowing machine served as a reminder to order security lighting. He also needed to re-plumb the brownstone on the corner and re-carpet the upstairs bedrooms and hallway of the vacant duplex unit that just closed escrow. That further reminded him to begin eviction proceedings against the occupied half of the duplex. Two dozen properties and four dozen projects to get squared away and only himself to ensure they were all done properly.
“It’s like whacking a mole, darn it,” Coaxing comfort from his customary mantra.
Truth be told, the never ending supply of moles popping up all over the neighborhood were a comfort to him. Each project was a chance to strap on his tool belt and get the job done properly. Each affront to his ascetic sense of order; an opportunity to right a wrong. Those things he feared and loathed; disorder, imperfection, untidiness, and vacant lots existed to give him a purpose. It’s was as if the neighborhood were a terrorist and Angus McGriffin had developed Stockholm’s Syndrome.
Distracted, Angus holstered the Windex and tucked the cheese cloth back into his bib overall pocket. Bernice’s final invective kept pushing itself onto his mental to-do list and robbed him of the typical joy he normally associated with his Thursday undertaking. Dispirited, he resolved to polish the remaining four signs the next day. Despondent, he pondered his options, for Greg had gotten it wrong, the money used to finance his urban beautification program, was funded through inheritance rather than fellatio. It was Bernice’s inheritance from her Aunt Peggy and his options were limited. The way their morning conversation ended had fairly well established Bernice’s opinion on the matter.
“I have had it Angus and we are through,” Bernice had informed him, “My God man, you have a sickness! It’s always, and will always, be the same with you! I want off this ride and you can continue trying to tidy up each blade of grass in the universe!”
Bernice, with the help of a deep breath, continued the emasculation of her husband.
“You can have this house and the Chateau since those are in both our names. Also, you can have three other properties to play your obsessive little games with Angus. All the others are going. Either you can choose which ones to keep or I will. By tomorrow, however, everything else is on the market and will be sold. Do you understand?”
Neither caring nor waiting for his answer Bernice’s caponing continued.
“For the next month or so I will be staying at the Silver Legacy and then I am going back to Philadelphia. I have given Fred my attorney’s number and they will be handling the real estate transactions and you will not interfere in any way with those sales. My attorney will be contacting you about the divorce paperwork. And for God sakes Angus please get some help and see a professional. It’s unhealthy.”
Angus McGriffin stared at his wife of seventeen years while his Adam’s apple developed a sudden case of the hiccups. His worked scared hands, missing a third of a pinky finger from a long ago accident and nicked knuckles from more recent battles, crumpled his napkin. Memories of early happy times flooded his mind. He fondly remembered the beginning days of the Chateau’s construction and recalled the first purchase and eviction on the house down the street which was the first step to cleaning up the neighborhood. Ignoring his uneaten food he pushed back his chair and stood up.
“If I only get property with no money how will I maintain them?” Angus asked earnestly.
With that statement Bernice had gathered her purse and left the house. His phone calls calling for clarification remain unanswered all day. Angus knew his wife and spent most of his time resenting her weaknesses while begrudging her strengths. No. Bernice’s’ threat was not an idle one. Obsessive, but not stupid, Angus began assembling his list to submit to Fred in the morning as he slowly walked back to his empty home on that late sultry summer afternoon.
Owing to the efficiency of Nevada’s divorce laws, the divorce was completed within six weeks, thanks in large part to an airtight prenuptial, perspicaciously suggested by the long departed Aunt Peggy. Angus kept the family home, the unfinished Chateau, and three other properties that were arrayed such that he was able to see each of them from his various windows. They all remained empty. Additionally, he was allowed a split of the proceeds of another sale which would serve to defray maintenance costs. This was a concession rooted in pity on Bernice’s part. His dominions, greatly reduced, still provided him with a measure of mental comfort.
It was six-months later when Angus found himself standing on his frigid porch as Reno’s winter cast her fury in the guise of a mid-January storm. His eyes were pealed against the elements for a sign of the postal worker who should be living up to their creed and delivering his mail any minute now. Delivery personnel were good sources of information about neighborhood conditions as they went about their appointed rounds. Unlike the UPS and FedEx drivers, who better tended to avoid his schedule killing interrogations, the United States Postal Service was federally mandated to deliver the mail and more easily intercepted and questioned. Catching sight of the distinctive bluish grey coat of the postal service as its owner shambled against the wind and negotiated the icy sidewalk; McGriffin readied his barrage of complaints, concerns, and questions for the hapless civil servant.
“Hello Mr. McGriffin,” called out the man as he made it to the relative sanctuary of the porch.
“Hello Henry! You look cold! Have some coffee and get some warmth into you!” Angus pushed a steaming thermos towards the man as he pulled a wrapped pastry from his pocket and handed it over. Angus had long ago noticed the correlation between how long people were willing to listen to him and the treats he supplied to delay their sometimes uncomfortably hurried departures.
“Oh I’m afraid I can’t stay Mr. McGriffin. As you can imagine this storm has slowed everything down.” Henry reported as he pocketed the pastry. “I do have an important one for you though. Looks governmental and you need to sign for it.”
Having completed the transfer of letter for signature and with his bear claw safely secured within his pocket, Henry half slid and half skid down the stairs to fight his way through the storm. Angus’ questions about the housing development down the block were lost to the wind. Taking his certified letter, thermos, and unanswered questions into the house he closed the door. McGriffin sat on the couch and turned the television to the weather station which warned that the current tempest was only going to get worse. Pouring coffee from the thermos into the red plastic lid he opened the letter. It was from the Environmental Protection Agency and told a remarkable story.
A year earlier it was discovered that rabbits had somehow made it onto the Hanford Nuclear Reserve in Washington and drank radioactive water. The implications of that occurrence and the rabbit’s natural tendency to breed, well, like rabbits, have resulted in a steadily outward migration of the animals that have been tracked through the radioactive spoors they leave behind and have been found in several states. A number of areas in Northern Nevada have been affected including four properties listing him as the owner. Although he will be compensated at fair market value, the structures must be demolished to allow for the removal of six inches of top soil. There should be no danger to the community; however, the EPA will continue to monitor ground water in the area and the lots will remain vacant for at least a ten year period. Following their rehabilitation they will be turned over to the state and probably used as half-way houses to take pressure off the overburdened prison system. Should he have any questions he was certainly welcome to call their regional office.
Angus could not ever remember such despair. To think of awakening each morning and viewing vacant lots where his properties, not to mention his beloved Chateau, once stood was beyond belief. He could already see the debris and filth strewn about, the bums shuffling through leaving their own trails of detris and desperation. How could this be happening to him? Angus railed at whatever form of divine intervention caused this catastrophe.
After the storm subsided, Angus left the house and toured his various vacant properties. He gazed with love upon all of his achievements. It had been harder after Bernice had left to keep everything up to his all encompassing standards but he had made do and cut a few corners without it looking as if he did so. Now as he gazed lovingly around he saw how his improvements had brought the neighborhood up to the standard it always should have been while completely missing the irony of what makes up a neighborhood. Angus again choked on the bitter injustice of his situation. Without his due diligence, why even continue the struggle? No one else would care as he did.
When he got to the Chateau he stopped a moment to remember the dreams he and Bernice had once shared before she had so bitterly let him down. He teared up again to think of what would happen now. He slowly went upstairs for a last look down into the neighborhood he created. He saw his house along with his other three properties and had to grudgingly admit that even the properties that Bernice had sold were being kept up nicely which was surely an anomaly.
As he stood there, the minutes ticked by; Angus could see no other way around the situation. He did not have the funds to pack up and start over elsewhere and he could not imagine having to wake up each morning and look upon the blight that was his neighborhood. To think that the area could rally and come out of the situation just fine was incomprehensible to him. He slowly unwrapped the rope he had carried with him and tossed it over the open rafters.
It was a homeless man who found him the next day when he noticed the open front door and went inside in search of warmth. He ran out onto the sidewalk where he spotted Henry on his daily rounds and frantically waved him down.
When Bernice arrived a week later to clean out the house, she was very surprised to discover that Angus had never thought to change his will having been far too busy maintaining his properties for it to even cross his mind. Everything he had was left to her. Gradually recovering from her shock, she sat down at the kitchen table and began sorting through the mail. Halfway down the stack was a letter from the EPA apologizing to Angus as there had apparently been a colossal error made. The property records that were cited in their earlier correspondence to him were incorrect. As such, he should disregard that earlier missive as it does not affect him in any way. Should he have any questions he was certainly welcome to call their regional office. As Bernice sipped her coffee she couldn’t help but wonder what that had been all about.