King of the Cul de Sac

By Steve Healey

“But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here, everybody’s gonna jump for joy”
– “Mighty Quinn,” Manfred Mann

Hot day. Mid-afternoon and I am on my hands and knees installing new landscaping lights. Sweat is dripping from under my boonie-style hat, a type I haven’t worn in decades. The broad-brimmed hat seems de rigueur for many of the more mature Prescottarians to survive the bright sun of a summer day in Prescott, Arizona, my new hometown.

Kneeling on a cushion, I’m trying to ignore the heat and accomplish the desired redesign of our nighttime lighting. I am installing new solar-powered lights. My partner and I chose them with the thought of nicely lighting our property at night while still producing minimum light pollution. Arizona skies at night can be as breathtaking as anything visible during the day. Protecting that nighttime sky from excess light pollution is a major goal for many homeowners outside the limits of metro Phoenix and Tucson. “Let’s keep the night dark” is the rallying cry of the enlightened.

As I lightly hammer another stake into the stony ground, I sense a presence behind me. In the time it takes light from that relentless sun to travel 186,000 miles – or about one second – I notice a giant shadow of a person projected on the sidewalk. He is partially blocking the brutal sun and casting a rather large darkness over me.

What immediately snares my attention is the outline of the shadow’s facial profile. It resembles a silhouette reproduction of the Old Man in the Mountain that had represented the state of New Hampshire before it got old and crumbled and collapsed. And like the Old Man in the Mountain, the ominous shadow standing over me also had a chin whose size rivaled the state of Rhode Island.

The shadow suddenly speaks, “Your workman did you a very serious disservice,”

From this first sentence, his stance, and his demeanor, I knew immediately I was in for a very condescending conversation from his point of view.

“Well thanks for the info, but who are you and what are you talking about?”

“I’m John Hoskins. I live across the cul-de-sac. You had a motion detector light installed and that is against the rules of the homeowners’ association. It’s stated right in the rules.” He continues, “I see you still have the detector covered with tape. You’re going to have to leave it that way until you take it down. Your handyman should have told you that before you let him put it up.”

“Well, I see. And if we don’t take it down?” I ask.

“The HOA will fine you. It’s against the rules.”

“OK. Obviously we weren’t aware of that rule. Are there any other rules that we are flagrantly violating?” The word flagrantly seems to catch him off guard.

“Well…uh…you received a copy of the rules when you purchased the house. You need to read through them.”

The Rules? He must mean the 1000 page sonorous tome in the closet that reads like a translation of Shakespeare’s Richard III written by a mechanical engineer and a lawyer.

“Oh. Well, Jim…”

“It’s John,” he reminds me.

“…we’ve been using that as a booster seat when my partner Anne’s granddaughter visits.”

Partner? His eyebrows shoot up faster than a cruise missile on liftoff. Anne? I can see relief in his eyes when he realizes that Anne is still usually a woman’s name.

“But I do have to admit,” I add, “it’s not at the top of my bathroom reading list. I guess maybe we need to study it a little closer. Are you on the homeowners’ association board?”

“Not currently,” he answers in a somewhat subdued, resentful voice.

I’m thinking that he had probably been one of the more revolting members of the association, there had been a revolution against him and he had been banished from the board. Apparently, old habits die hard.

“But you still act as sort of a watchdog for the group.”

“Watchdog. Well, I don’t think I would necessarily put it those terms.”

Attempting to put the conversation on a slightly less contentious level, I figure the weather is always a good neutral subject. Or, so I think.

“So tell me, James…”

“John,” he corrects.

“We just moved here from New Jersey and are surprised that people have been saying it’s been a relatively humid monsoon season. Aren’t monsoon seasons supposed to be humid?”

“I spent thirty-seven years in Alaska. I know humid. And you know what? This is not humid. These people don’t know the first thing about humidity. This is the high desert for God’s sake. Let me tell you…” And he proceeds to do just that.

Hmmm. So much for the weather. Thirty-seven years in Alaska? I’m wondering what kind of bet he lost that cost him thirty-seven years in Alaska.

Catching a break in his weather tirade when he stops to breathe, I interject, “Well, ok. I’ll tell you what, Jerry…”

“It’s John!”

“I need to get back to work here, but Anne and I will discuss the light when she gets home.”

“I’m not sure what there is to discuss. The light is against the rules. Period,” he repeated.

“And what if we feel the light is a security measure?”

He just stands there, totally still, as a slight smile begins to crack the corners of his mouth. “A security measure? You don’t need a light for security around here. All you need is a gun.”

And there it was. A Gun. That little three-letter word that invokes so many furious four-letter words. A Gun. Welcome to Arizona.

“Crime is low around here because nobody knows who’s carrying,” he continues, as the incongruous smile spreads from ear to ear. “Old Mrs. Evans across the street carries a .22 derringer. Same one she’s carried for the last forty-seven years. Actually scared off a bobcat – and half the neighborhood – just in the last week or two with that little pea shooter.”

The smile grows even bigger. “Mr. Singh next door – keeps a small barrel .38 in his turban and believe me – it’s not for shooting at any old sacred cows. And then there’s our own little militiaette, Julie, who holds the northern Arizona record for field stripping, cleaning and reassembling a Ruger P95 9mm. She’s faster than anyone else I’ve ever met.”

He continues his revelations about our friendly neighborhood citizens’ defense force. “And then of course there was Charlie Miller. Charlie used to live in your house. He didn’t have a gun. Got caught in a dust up one Saturday night between a bunch of cowboys and bikers down on Whiskey Row. He got shot and killed, but, because he didn’t have gun, he wasn’t able to take anyone with him. Damn shame to miss out on an opportunity like that. So, as you can see, security around here is very easily handled without the use of lights at night.”

In other words, he’s saying, “We don’t need no stinking motion detector lights,” to paraphrase the old Bogart movie.

I am tempted to ask him what kind of gun he carries. But I think a question like that from a stranger – especially an East Coast stranger – is akin to asking a woman her age or if she is pregnant. All things considered, I decide the best situation might be to end the conversation where it stands.

Ah. I notice a diversion. “What’s he doing?” I ask, as I see an older man with a cane and his wife’s Shih Tzu lowering himself onto a bench in a park down the street.

“What the….! Hey, you. Get outta there! You can’t just go walking through that park with your dog like that. Do you know how much time we spent arranging those rocks around the bench so they were placed just right? And you go and just walk on them?”

The fleeting smile has suddenly shifted to a dark, angry look that has only one thing positive about it – it’s not directed at me!

“Just because it’s a public park doesn’t mean you can just go walking through it,” he continues. “I’m going to have to report this…..”

Off he goes, with his epic chin in the vanguard, leading him down the street to defend the neighborhood from another of his perceived assaults on normalcy.

“Nice meeting you, Jay,” I call after him.

“It’s John, damn it!!!” his fading voice responds.

I wonder how he’s going to feel about the pink flamingos.

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