Sunday, June 10, 2007

Is This Thing On?

In an earlier post entitled "Beware the Rake", I mentioned my long-time friend, Kitty. Kitty, you'll recall, lived in the country, the very outskirts of what was essentially a farming community at the time. (Now it's a trendy spot for Bay area commuters to find affordable housing. Never saw that one coming.)

I said (and some of you secretly scoffed, I know) that people on Kitty's street kept all manner of livestock in their front yards, especially cows. (Cows, unlike the diabolical Dolly, are basically placid creatures who barely notice anything but the three inches of grass in front of them. You won't catch a cow trying to eat your clothes off.) I was telling the truth.

Kitty's next door neighbor kept cows in his front yard, surrounded by a low grade electric fence about 4 1/2 feet high. Kitty assured me that the fence was never on. Why anyone needed an electric fence to keep in cows who didn't want to leave in the first place always mystified me. Especially if you didn't even bother to turn it on.

Turns out the fence wasn't for the cows.

We were more scared of Kitty's neighbor than of her parents and that was saying something. I can't even remember his name (Mr. Henry? Mr. Holmes? Mr. Hi, I Hail From Satan? Something like that.) but I remember his face. Long, narrow, and pale with deep wrinkles dug into a perpetual scowl. He hated kids. Hated noise. Hated just about everything. We knew for certain that if we ever messed with any of Mr. H's stuff, we'd be lucky to escape with a backside full of buckshot.

One afternoon when we were in sixth grade, Kitty and I decided to set up a poor-boy's waterslide in her side yard. We stretched a long black tarp, anchored by rocks, from one large oak tree to the next. (I know, I know - ending your slide at a tree trunk isn't the brightest idea in the box...) We dragged out Kitty's hose, positioned it at the top of our tarp, and started sliding.

On one side of our slide, Kitty's scrubby green lawn welcomed us. On the other side (the side we DID NOT WALK ON) was a nasty strip of thorny weeds and Mr. H's fence. A few cows stared at us as if to say, "Look at the little two-leggers who keep trying to kill themselves" but we ignored them. To speak to a cow was to invite a visit from Mr. H and a loud discourse on the ills of society in general and nasty, interferring children in particular.

Everything went well at first. Then, the inevitable happened. If fairies really do give out gifts at birth, mine was the ability to injure my head if even the remotest possibility existed. Naturally, sliding headfirst toward a tree trunk presented more than ample opportunity.

I crashed into the tree. It sort of hurt.

Kitty, who was paying less attention to me than to the excitement of her turn, failed to wait for me to exit the tarp and slid into me. That sort of hurt too.

We disentangled ourselves and Kitty launched herself off the tarp on the grass side.

Afflicted by temporary forgetfulness, I launched myself onto the thorny weeds. That hurt, no "sort of" about it.

I hopped off one foot and managed to impale the other. Not good. Both feet were full of tiny thorns and I was losing my balance.

I grabbed Mr. H's fence, the one that is always turned off, for support.

It was on.

That freakin' HURT.

My hand seized around the thin metal wire on the fence, my teeth clamped together, and however many volts of electricity Mr. Spawn of Satan had going in his fence raced through my body in a painful buzz.

Kitty doubled over laughing.

I stood there, helplessly latched on the fence, hopping up and down on thorn-impaled feet, unable to tell Kitty exactly what I thought of the whole situation because my tongue was suddenly too big for my mouth.

In a moment, I managed to unhook myself from the fence and fall back onto the tarp. I swear I saw a shadow move in Mr. H's house. I wonder if he was doubled over laughing too.

We moved the slip-n-slide to the other side of Kitty's yard. (Thus entering Dolly's domain but that's a story for another day.)

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