Friday, March 28, 1986
The voice in the phone says: "We have woodpeckers."
"Uh, excuse me?"
"Woodpeckers are making holes in the side of our house."
Her name is Pepper. She lives in Portola Valley Ranch, which is not a ranch but a highly regulated subdivision where you have to submit plans to the homeowners association before you can paint your mailbox. Or kill a woodpecker.
Pepper greets me at the front door. She is petite, black-haired, very pretty. No eye contact. She leads me through the house taking unusually short steps. Standing on the rear deck, I see that the woodpecker holes are in an awkward spot which will be difficult to reach even with a ladder. I'll have to build a scaffold. As I explain the job, I notice that Pepper's eyes are wandering in two different directions.
Aha. Of course. She's blind.
Pepper explains that the male woodpecker makes holes in the cedar shingle siding, hoping to attract a female. To discourage him, I must hang cut-up pieces of garden hose. The hose pieces look like snakes, supposedly. Snakes eat eggs. The female won't be attracted. The male will move on.
This is the upper middle class solution to woodpeckers. The blue collar solution would be to blast the little beasts with a shotgun. Which, most likely, would not be approved by the homeowners association.
"Do they look like snakes to you?" Pepper asks.
"Not exactly," I say. "But I'm not a woodpecker."
"The birds. Are they pretty?"
"Very handsome," I say.
She is a lovely woman wearing a wedding ring. Delicate freckles. She could only learn your face through her sensitive fingertips. Her lipstick is slightly awry. Don't even think about it.
This house, this protected neighborhood, is a very safe place to be blind.
Balancing on my scaffold of ladder, plywood and 2x4s, I replace shingles in the siding and install hose “snakes” on the roof and discover more holes up there, some with acorns stuffed inside. I jam metal flashing under the shingles, a little surprise for the next jabbing beak.
Red-headed birds are calling, swooping, clinging to oaks. They tap-tap-tap on the house next door where a cleaning woman is playing loud rock and roll. Carpenters up the street are shouting, cursing, joking - and also playing loud rock and roll.
It's hot on the roof. I'm shirtless, in raggedy shorts that catch on a nail and rip across the butt. Doesn't matter, she can't see.
I exceed my estimate, but fortunately the extra roof work will justify it.
People live here to get away from peckers like us - the cleaning woman, the carpenters, our loud rock and roll, our holes, our snakes. We intrude our colorful lives and do the work that needs to be done. Then gently, humanely - but firmly - we must leave.