M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Thursday, June 13, 2002  

We have neighbors on both sides of our house now, for the first time in a year and a half. It’s kind of an adjustment, like if when you move from an apartment at the end of the hallway to one in the middle. Except your apartment probably doesn’t have windows facing the next-door neighbors’ windows. It has occurred to me that I can no longer wash our north windows naked. I used to do that in order to keep my clothes Windex-free, but that’s all over now.

Don’t worry. I still used a sponge.

The occupants of the house to the north when we moved in were a sweet older couple. A few years ago, she retired. A year later, she passed away. Another year later, so did he. So it goes.

A few months later, their kids threw an estate sale preparatory to putting the house on the market. We woke up late that morning, so by the time we got up the police car was already there. Did you know that the police typically get called out to estate sales just to maintain order? I didn’t either. Apparently the boys in blue come out to defuse any possible contretemps that may arise over a collection of thirty-year-old potholders. Or so we thought at the time.

The crime scene tape that encircled the adjoining back yard later that day was a little confusing. How wild did that estate sale get, anyway?

It wasn’t until a few days later that we found out, via the neighborhood grapevine, what had happened.

One of the sale patrons, taking full advantage of the unspoken “Everything Must Go” vibe projected by the total accessibility of every area of the house, wandered towards the basement stairs, where he promptly stumbled upon an arsenal of weapons sufficient to arm several Latin American revolutionary forces. And their opponents.

Guns? Sure, plenty of guns. Also hand grenades. Also dynamite. Yes, dynamite. I know that stuff is hard to get. Apparently he got it before it was hard to get. Which meant it had been sitting in the basement for God knows how long, probably sweating nitroglycerin, twenty feet from our dining room table. Our next door neighbor, you see, was retired military. Demolition corps. I flashed back to our Halloween party, to which he’d shown up in fatigues and camo facepaint, draped in ordnance with a knife in his teeth. Good God I thought, that stuff was real! Suddenly I felt a lot better about the Post-Its and paper clips I’ve walked off with over the years.

Also in the basement was the assorted detritus of our deceased neighbor’s hobby—his avocation if you will. Some guys build model trains in the basement. Others build a darkroom and develop photos. No such pedestrian pursuits for our neighbor. No, he preferred to amass alarming quantities of hazardous chemicals and combine them experimentally. Perhaps he was trying to develop some new compound. Perhaps he was seeking the universal solvent. Perhaps he was trying to synthesize artificial protoplasm. Whatever the case, it wasn’t until after his death that we learned we’d been living next door to an amateur mad scientist.

Hence the police tape. For all anyone knew, any empty container in that basement might once have held fifty gallons of whatever melted Paul McCrane in Robocop, now long since escaped by seeping through the cinderblock walls and saturating the soil. Fortunately that turned out to not be the case, as the squads of moon-suited cleanup technicians dispatched by FEMA quickly ascertained.

(Okay, they were from the University, and I didn’t see a moon-suit. I’m just trying to punch this up a little.)

So why didn’t the surviving children notify anyone about this? Why didn’t they at least mark the basement off-limits for the sale? As far as we can figure, it just seemed normal to them. Sure, Dad spends his spare time futzing around in a roomful of stuff that could blow us all into a commercial flight path. So what? That’s what dads do, right?

Um, no. Not every dad does what your dad does. I certainly don’t assume that all dads like fishing and cars just because mine does. One guy does not a representative sample make. Especially one who heads downstairs after dinner to try to make some ice-nine.

We were later told that if all of those explosives, weapons, and chemicals had been…how shall I put this…destabilized…the resulting explosion could have potentially taken out the whole block. I’m skeptical about this. I have to think that the ground would have absorbed most of the shockwave. Much of that ground would have ended up in our rec room soaking up our liquefied remains under the charred splinters of our house, but the guy on the far corner would be safe until the fallout cloud reached him.

It’s good to get along with your neighbors under any circumstances. We liked our neighbors, and we were sad when they died. After we found out they owned their own munitions dump, we were gladder than ever that they liked us too. They could have decided to drop our house through the crust of the earth at any moment.

Anyway, the place is long since cleaned up, sterilized, purged, and voided of anything more exotic than Tilex. A couple of twentysomething students live there as of a month ago, and they seem just as nice as the old neighbors were. I’m looking forward to hearing about how they’ve set up a nice, safe meth lab.

posted by M. Giant 3:49 PM 0 comments


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