Friday, May 18, 2001
A long time ago before a tree fell on his house, my neighbor George had a wonderful Australian shepherd dog. She was unspayed. George grew up on a farm in Illinois.
One day George came to my front door, obviously upset, and said incoherently: "Do you have a rifle you might shot my dog I gotta do something."
"George," I said, "I would never shoot your dog. And yes, I have a rifle."
As it turned out, he wasn't accusing me. He wanted to borrow my rifle so he could shoot his neighbor's dog, Gandalf.
Gandalf was an aggressive free-roaming black lab who was the bad boy of La Honda. I would have shot him myself after he latched onto my old German shepherd with teeth like a Vise Grip. Without time to fetch the rifle, though, I'd grabbed a handy two-by-four and whacked at Gandalf until he let go. I hit him so hard, the two-by-four broke in half. If it hadn't been such a low-grade piece of lumber, I would have killed him. After that incident, Gandalf stayed away from my house.
Today, though, Gandalf had torn a hole in a vent screen at George's house and somehow wriggled through the 6" by 12" opening, depositing red blood and black fur on the wires. Once inside, he had performed intimate activities with George's Australian shepherd, who was in heat and therefore confined to quarters. Now Gandalf was trapped in George's house, less eager to exit through that barbed opening than he had been to enter.
"It'll take me a minute to get the rifle," I said.
"I'll wait," George said.
At the time, I stored the gun in the attic and the ammo in the basement - separate - where my kids wouldn't find them. (And isn't it odd that I, the crunchy granola type, kept a rifle while George, the farm boy, did not? A story for another day.) By the time I brought the rifle outside to George, he'd changed his mind. "You really can't stop Mother Nature," he said. "Can I give you a puppy?"
"Not a half-Gandalf," I said.
So anyway, I'd forgotten about this incident and twenty years had passed. Then I got a call from Isabella about another house needing upscale lighting. By this time Isabella was popular and as a result I was crawling attics of the nouveau riche all over the Silicon Valley.
Isabella brought me to the home of Helena, a buxom blond woman. The house was a three-ring circus. In one ring, a couple of carpenters were replacing aluminum windows with wooden-sash models. Helena would pass by, tell the carpenters that two side-by-side windows were slightly out of alignment, and move on. The carpenters would spend 15 minutes removing and re-installing one of the frames, and then Helena would happen by and claim one corner was higher than the other. The carpenters with spirit levels would show that it was not.
Meanwhile a young teenage girl entered the home followed by five teenage boys, all of whom seemed older than the girl. They went to the kitchen where lemonade and peanut butter were put into play along with a radio and loud conversation. The girl seemed smiley but somewhat overwhelmed.
And in the third ring, Helena, Isabella and I discussed options for lighting.
Eventually we had a plan. Helena told the carpenters that their window was utterly unsatisfactory, then marched to the kitchen and ordered all the young men to leave. Respectfully, they departed. Angrily, the daughter said, "You're such a tight-ass." Then she ran upstairs.
Helena sighed. To Isabella she said, "She's fourteen and she's built like Barbie. I want her to handle it better than I did at that age. But I can't tell her a thing."
That's what made me think of Gandalf. "You can't stop Mother Nature," I said.
Helena looked at me like I was some random creep.
Maybe what I should have said was: Confinement won't work. Black wizards are out there.
Though I'd invested a couple hours in the estimate, I turned down the job. Helena wouldn't be any more happy with my lights than she was with the carpenters' windows.
At least I could walk away from it. Unlike the daughter.
Isabella to my surprise didn't try to change my mind. "It's true," Isabella said. "She's a tight-ass." And I was thinking: Later, Helena, you'll be asking to borrow my rifle.