The Good Book
(Perhaps a tad crude in places.)
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Be reasonable, Margie. If we go to the late Mass, I’ll miss the kickoff of the Packer game. Father Windbag talks forever. His last sermon was 27 minutes long. I timed it.”
“Harold! Don’t you talk about a priest that way. Shame on you. I’m surprised you haven’t been struck down yet. You should pay attention to what he’s saying and not watching the time.”
“I’d take getting struck down over listening to him. It would be a blessing.”
“We’re going to the High Mass like always. Then we get the benefit of all those beautiful songs.”
Harold was never one to not speak his mind. He also was not a fool so he muttered his response in a mere whisper as he walked away.
“Beautiful songs my butt. They should put vomit bags in the pews for whenever the choir sings or Father Windbag talks.”
“What did you say?”
The next day, just as Rodgers was running it in from the five, Father Jansen, a/k/a Father Windbag, was preaching the virtue of “loving your neighbor.”
“You know that you must love God with your whole heart and soul. This can be hard because you cannot see God, you cannot hear God…”
No kidding. Harold was close to passing out. Father Windbag didn’t just have volumes to say; he was painfully slow in his delivery. Harold was thinking he should have brought his little radio and earbuds along. That got him through an evening of clog dancing just two months ago.
“Jesus also commanded that we love our neighbor…”
Harold went to Catholic Grade School. Mass everyday. Religious instruction everyday. He could give a sermon on the topic himself. He didn’t wish harm to come to the elderly priest, but he would have no objection to a relatively minor medical emergency.
“Love thy neighbor as yourself. God is in all of us. By loving your neighbor, you are loving God.”
Harold thought about making a run for it. He could be home before the end of the first half. No, that was fanciful, wishful thinking. The price would be too high. Maybe for a playoff game, but not for a regular season contest.
“Greet one another with the kiss of love.”
1 Peter 5:14
Harold raced into the house without noticing the moving truck parked next door. He had rejoiced when the troublesome Mr. Nelson and the quarrelsome Mrs. Larson moved away. Be careful what you wish for.
“We’ve got new neighbors moving in. It looks like a middle-aged couple.”
“We should go over there tonight to meet them.”
“We should bring them a housewarming gift.”
“Oh, we could bring them a plate of my special, decorated, frosted cutout cookies, and then get them something for their house later.”
“Sure…no, wait. Not the cookies. They’re my favorite.”
“Just a few. Remember what Father Jensen said, ‘Love thy neighbor’. Well, we’ve got new neighbors, and this would be a good chance to show our love for God.”
Harold was having a hard time connecting a love of God with giving up a few of his favorite cookies. But ‘Peace on Earth’, or at least ‘Peace at Home’, matters.
After the moving truck left, Margie put four of her famous super-sized frosted cutout cookies on a paper plate and headed for the door. Harold’s lobbying efforts for two cookies were unsuccessful, but he at least managed to move the Welcome Wagon’s departure time to post-game.
Margie, cookies in hand and Harold in tow, approached the house next door. A man in his 50’s, balding, unshaven, and sporting a world class beer-belly answered the door.
“Good afternoon! I’m Margie Carson, and this is my husband, Harold. We live right next door, and we just wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood.”
“Well, that’s awfully neighborly of you.”
The portly, disheveled, man began to laugh hysterically.
“Oh, that’s a good one. I said it’s neighborly of you to welcome us to the neighborhood. Get it?”
The female counterpart, plastered into plus size yoga pants, still two sizes too small, joined in the laughter.
“Barney, you’re such a stitch! Living next door to Barney you’re going to be entertained all the time. He’s always coming up with such clever things. You’ll see.”
Harold went back to the self-preservation, muttering mode.
“I can see that.”
“Well, I’m Barney Taylor, and this is my lovely bride, Mabel.”
Barney extended his sweaty, dirty hand in Harold’s direction. Harold had no choice but to accept the disturbingly limp gesture. He had only known these people for mere minutes, and he was already thinking of grabbing a couple cookies (with his left hand) and hightailing it back to his house.
“So, we’re Barney and Mabel. Sometimes I’ll refer to us as Bar-bel. Get it? It’s the first part of Barney and the second part of Mabel…Bar-Bel. Sometimes, to really shorten it up, I’ll just say were B-M!”
More hysterical laughter from the new neighbors.
“Oh, stop it Barney.”
Harold was thinking Father Windbag would bring relief.
“Here’s some cookies I made. I thought with moving and all, you might like a nice treat.”
Barney grabbed a cookie and started munching away, sending crumbs flying at Harold as he didn’t allow eating to interfere with talking.
“Wow! This is the best cookie I ever had. You must be a great cook. I’m surprised Harold here isn’t fatter than he is.”
Harold could only grin and bear it.
“Say, my brother and his wife are coming over later to help us get organized. You wouldn’t be able to spare a few more of your cookies, would you?”
Margie smiled broadly. Harold was in danger of doing serious damage to his lip.
“Sure, I’ll come back with a couple more cookies.”
“They’re bringing their kids.”
“Oh…and how many kids do they have?”
“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the
will of God you may receive what is promised.”
Harold’s mood had not improved by the time they finished supper. Finding one lonely looking (broken) frosted cookie in the cookie jar didn’t help.
“I can’t believe you gave them all my…I mean, your cookies. There’s just one left. Makes me wonder why Barney’s brother stopped at seven. I bet if he would have known about Barney moving next door and your cookies, they would have had one more so they could have gotten all the cookies.”
“I can’t believe you’re so upset about some cookies.”
“They weren’t just cookies, Margie. They were my favorite cookies.”
“Were you not listening to anything Father Jensen had to say this morning?”
Harold went to his super safehouse, that is, muttering without sound; the thoughts stayed in his head.
No, I was too busy missing the Packer game.
“Sure, he might have been a little pushy, but it doesn’t matter. They are our neighbors. We show our love for God by loving our neighbors.”
“I happen to know for a fact that God does not eat cookies.”
“Don’t you think it was all too coincidental to have Father Jensen talk about loving our neighbors and then that same day new neighbors show up? It’s like they are a gift from God.”
Oh my God, where is that vomit bag?
“Trials and tribulations. The challenges we face bring us closer to God. Your reward will be in heaven.”
I'd rather have the cookies.
Margie noticed activity outside the kitchen window.
“Harold, they have a dog.”
Great, a freaking dog.
“A couple just brought a dog over, a big one. And a whole bunch of kids. Yep, there’s seven of them. Oh, Harold! Come see this. It’s so adorable. Each of the children is eating one of my cookies.”
Annoyed, frustrated, irritated…take your pick…Harold looked out the window. Kids were indeed feasting on his cookies, all save one who was feeding his cookie to the dog.
“Yes, that certainly is… adorable.”
God dammit! Those little %&#! kids and that #&%8* dog are eating my cookies!
“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job.”
Early the next Saturday morning, Harold stepped out onto his back porch to enjoy the sunrise. As he leaned over the porch railing, he could see the tip of the sun just above the tree line. The splendor of the beautiful scene was substantially diminished as he also noticed a very large dog pooping in his backyard. As the dog was very large, so too was the size of the unsightly deposit.
“Good boy, Rambo! Good boy!”
Harold’s new neighbor was effusive in his praise for Rambo. Harold was far less impressed. A large dog had just established his back yard as its personal pooping ground. This had “nip it in the bud” written all over it.
“Good morning, Barney.”
“And a good day to you too, my wonderful new neighbor.”
Get to it, Harold.
“Say, Barney, I have to say something to you about your dog.”
“Beautiful animal, isn’t he?”
At this point Harold cast a nasty look in Rambo’s direction. It appeared as though the dog responded in kind.
“Well, you probably didn’t notice, but your dog just did his business in my yard.”
“Oh, I saw. It was a whopper, wasn’t it? I was worried that the move might screw him up, you know, that he’d have an accident in the house. It was good to see him going outside.”
“Uh…that big poop is still sitting right there. I was kind of…”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it. That stuff decays pretty quick. One good rain will take care of it. You might not want to go barefoot for awhile though. Well, I’ve got to run. Nice seeing you, Harvey. Tell your wife the cookies were awesome.”
Harold was steaming almost as much as his new yard ornament. “Harvey”, no cookies, and a giant poop in his yard. He was longing for a return of the Larsons.
“The guy is a real jerk. Who let’s their dog poop in their neighbor’s yard and then doesn’t pick it up?”
“It’s only doggie-doo, Harold. Just get a shovel and throw it in the bushes at the back of the yard. I’m sure it won’t happen again.”
Harold continued to suffer a series of unspeakable indignities at the hands of his new neighbor. Insult was lavishly added to injury in the form of biblical messaging from Margie designed to make Harold a better person. “Judge not lest ye be judged.” “Forgive the sinner.” And of course, “Love thy neighbor.”
On day two, Barney borrowed Harold’s ladder, slipped on the first rung, and fell to the ground screaming in pain, leaving Harold to clean out his neighbors’ gutters. Harold’s irritation grew exponentially when he saw Barning loading his golf clubs into his car later that day.
One sunny, hot afternoon, just four days after the arrival of the plague known as Barney, Margie was weeding her flower garden and Herb was on dog poop patrol. Barney appeared distressed as he stood near the lot line seemingly fishing to be noticed.
“Are you ok, Barney?”
“I’m fine, Margie. I’m just upset about my lawn. It’s getting pretty shabby, and my new lawn mower isn’t here yet.”
“Well, you can borrow ours. Harold, get the lawn mower out for Barney.”
Harold saw it coming.
“Thanks. I’m not sure my back will hold up, but I’ll give it a try. My doctor sure wouldn’t like it, but we’ll see how it goes.”
“Oh I’m sorry. You have a bad back?”
“Yeah, really bad. I blew it out at work.”
“We don’t want you to hurt yourself. Harold will do it for you today. Won’t you Harold?”
Sure. Then why don’t you ask them if they need their house painted, and maybe a new roof?
Harold mowed while Barney and Mabel watched from their deck. It was a sweltering hot day, and Harold was constantly harassed by flies, those quick, biting ones. And swarms of mosquitoes did not take kindly to being disturbed in the long grass. Harold had about had it with the “little acts of kindness” he had been conscripted to perform when he saw Barney waving at him.
“Harold! Try to get closer to the trees and the back fence! You’re missing a lot of grass!”
Harold gave Barney one of the nastier looks a guy as nice as Harold could come up with. Barney got the message…sort of.
“Geeze, Mabel, what’s wrong with that guy? You’d think I asked him for a kidney or something. What a jerk.”
“Yeah, that was uncalled for. I hope he’s not as bad as our last neighbor.”
It was an exhausted Harold that finished up the mowing. He was soaked in sweat and suffering from a multitude of insect bites. As he headed back to his yard, he glanced back at Barney and Mabel sitting on their deck and sipping their ice cold lemonades. Harold would later say it was the little umbrellas in their drinks that pushed him over the top.
“Vengeance is mine.”
“That’s all I can stands, I can stands no more”.
Can evil sometimes lurk in the hearts of good men? It could if you lived next door to Barney Taylor.
With his wife preaching ( demanding) acts of kindness, and Barney more than willing to take full advantage, poor Harold was in a tough spot. “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” was written for circumstances like this.
The abuse was likely to continue, but maybe, just maybe, Harold could find a way to take a little of the sting out of it. Harold recalled the advice of his late parents- “When God gives you lemons, make some lemonade”.
Harold also recalled the guiding spirit of his devious, mean-spirited college roommate- “payback.” This would do nothing to improve his plight, but he might feel better about it.
He fell back on his military training- conceive, plan, strategize, execute. Harold (when his wife wasn’t looking) researched topics such as “Pranks”, “Nasty Pranks”, “Devilish Pranks”, and “Dirty Tricks”. He discarded those that might cause physical harm, but he embraced those that would bring a little inconvenience, emotional trauma, and mental anguish. His burdens were lessened by the sheer joy of anticipation.
Harold started off small, easy. He signed Barney up for every bit of junk mail he could think of. He volunteered Barney’s services for a host of political campaigns, and requested information from fifteen different religious organizations. After noticing that it was Mabel who usually retrieved the mail, he paid $2.00 to get a catalog of “realistic” blow-up dolls sent to Barney. Every time Harold saw the postman at Barney’s door, he smiled as he knew he likely had a part in it.
Through diligent research, Harold discovered (remarkably) a company in Minnesota that sold skunk spray, not to deodorize the smell, but a spray of actual skunk smell. Rambo’s visits became less disturbing as Harold always gave him a slight spritz of the noxious odor before he returned to Barney’s house.
“Hey, Harold, do we have skunks around here?”
“I don’t think so, Barney. Why do you ask?”
“Rambo has been smelling like a skunk lately. It stinks up the whole house.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.”
Heh, heh, heh.
But Harold needed a masterpiece, something grand. He considered slipping Rambo a little Ex-lax but feared that could harm the dog. He also discarded the idea of putting a dose of the laxative into some of Margie’s famous supersized frosted cookies as this could damage his wife’s reputation as a fine baker. He considered sending a stripper to the Taylors' 25th Wedding Anniversary party, but the cost was prohibitive. Harold wracked his brain trying to come up with a way to place a remote control fart machine receiver under their deck in the area of Barney's chair, but deemed it too risky. In the name of public safety, he also quickly jettisoned the enticing, time-tested idea of plopping one of Rambo’s steamers in a paper bag, placing it at Barney’s front door, setting it ablaze, ringing the doorbell, and then skedaddling.
Unwittingly, it was Barney himself who presented Harold with the idea and the opportunity. With Barney’s back acting up again, Harold was cajoled into spreading fertilizer on the Taylor lawn. The night before, Harold visited his local Home depot and grabbed a bottle of Killzall, a non-selective herbicide that kills everything and prohibits growth for a year. Harold would use it selectively…and joyfully.
Harold was getting impatient. The label said give it a week, and he implemented his scheme seven days ago.
Payday! Harold was an early riser. This particular morning, the sun had yet to appear, but from his bedroom window he could clearly see the impressive result of his art work under the streetlight in front of the Taylor home.
There are only a handful of truly historic events where the artist, the performer, the creator, has been able to step back and fully appreciate the magnificent fruits of their efforts- Patton viewing a field of destroyed enemy tanks; Montana watching Clark pull in “The Catch”; Jackie Joyner-Kersey clutching another Gold Medal; Michelangelo observing the splendor of the Sistine Chapel; and yes, Harold looking down on his masterpiece in his neighbor’s yard. There it was, in all its glory, a giant wiener (not the kind you get at the ballpark) outlined with dead grass on the Taylor lawn. It was aimed directly at Barney’s front door.
There were times when Harold would feel a little immature, perhaps even childish, about what he had done. Fortunately, such moments were few and far between. Most of time, taking in the view of the remarkably accurate design on Barney's front lawn only brought smiles, chuckles, and outright laughter.
God gave him the lemons; Harold made the lemonade.