Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Landscape Mafia

This morning when I went outside to get my paper there was a dead/half-eaten not fully feathered baby-bird on my front walk.

It reminded me of the Landscape Mafia story.

When I lived in Phoenix, one of my (short-term) roommates was mental ill. Or at least definitely, mentally UNSTABLE. Of course we didn’t realize that when we agreed he could live with us.

Within days (ok, really hours) it was apparent that he was “different” than your average bear. But – hey, we were suckers – and so we had Steve live with us.

How different was Steve? Well, he’d been in a pretty bad auto-crash at some point in his past – and had some brain damage issues. NO SERIOUSLY! I’m not sure if it was because of the accident – or it’s just the way that he WAS, but he believed in EVERY conspiracy he ever heard. He was also a … a …. “vibrant” evangelical, conservative Christian. I’m not sure where he grew up, but his accent and religious beliefs always made me think of Kentucky Serpent Handlers who call on the Holy Spirit to protect them from snake bites.

Between the evangelical serpent-handling beliefs – and the conspiracies of the Devil, daily living with Steve was much like crossing a field with buried landmines. You never knew WHAT would set him off. There was the time I brought home a box of books. He was sure it was the Devil trying to impregnate our house with evil spells, because there was a stylized image of a dove on the box. And it “was the devil trying to use the image of the peace dove to lead us astray!” That box had to go – and perhaps, just to be safe, I should throw away all the books in the box too!” I wasn’t attending church back in those days, but I told him in my most “don’t fuck with me voice”, “My God is stronger than any cheesy image on a cardboard box. If I acknowledge that He is powerless against such a stupid thing have I given the Devil far too power and significance in my life. You can chuck the box. But the books are staying.”

We went through these same types of conversations about the security cameras in Walgreenm’s, the trademark for Proctor-Gamble, and versions of the Bible that weren’t KING JAMES the only “reliable” source for God’s TRUE WORD. (and some other day I’ll tell you about the EVIL OF The Pill Bible!!!”)

Besides Steve, the Christian psycho, I also had “Mr. 80% Man” as a roommate. He is one of my two most-all-time-favorite-roomies. In fact, he’s the reason I moved out of an apartment and into a house. He got his name because he did a great job on 80% of any project he undertook, be it cleaning, yard-work, restoring furniture, or something in his chosen profession. I mean, 80% of everything he did was PERFECT. It’s just the last 20% that killed me. I mean, why make only 80% of something perfect?

So – Mr. 80% Man was a landscape architect. At that point he was working for a small, single discipline firm. They had some fun projects – but most of the stuff was kind of “ho-hum”, like designing landscaping for strip-mall parking lots. It was soul-sucking design, if you want to know the truth. He also owned a cat. I have no idea what this cat’s real name was before he moved to the 11th Avenue house. Once we moved in together, I immediately renamed him “Herman”. All our friends, and eventually Mr. 80% Man, followed my lead and called the cat Herman from that point forward.

Herman and I had a truce. He was allowed in the house as long as he responded to the name “Herman” and never stepped foot in my bedroom. A week or two of constantly being squirted with water from a spray bottle and the message sunk in. He stayed away from my room – and from me. We were both happy.

However, he wasn’t nearly so considerate with his owner. Herman was always trying to find ways to lavish attention on Mr. 80% Man. One of his favorite ways was to gift Mr. 80% Man with Lizard parts. Tails, legs, or torsos were frequently dropped on his bed and pillow to show Herman’s undying devotion to Mr. 80% Man.

Sometimes the chosen gift didn’t make it all the way to the bedroom. A few times I found a baby bird flapping around the kitchen ceiling in a deranged manner. Somehow Mr. 80% Man managed to remove these hysterical fledgling flyers – and life went on.

UNTIL THE ONE DAY I came home from work and Steve was pacing around in the carport. I pulled into the garage, gathered my stuff from my car, closed the garage door and headed toward the carport and ultimately the kitchen door. “Hey Mit!” he called as his 6 foot 6 body stepped in my path, “I don’t know if it’s safe to go into the house.”

“What do you mean, ‘Don’t know if it’s safe?’ I said trying to get around him – but he kept blocking my progress.

“I think we’ve been marked.”

Squinting up at him in the bright sun, “Marked? What do you mean, ‘Marked’?” I asked.

“Someone left a message at the back door. They might have booby-trapped the house. Do you think we should call the police?”

Now – I don’t know what time of year it was – but I’m willing to bet two things. First, it was HOT, because “Hello! We live in Arizona!” Secondly, if it was after work, the only thing I was interested in was getting in the house and pouring a glass of Scotch, so interruptions were not kindly appreciated. Short of temper, I asked him to explain himself, and he better be damn quick about it.

“Someone left us a message,” he told me in his most earnest voice.

“What type of message?”

“A warning! Just like in “The Godfather!” he told me.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I’m pretty sure YOU ARE WRONG. Now get out of my way.”

“No! No! Really. In the movie, when they pissed off the Godfather, he had his guys leave a horses head in someone’s bed. This message was JUST LIKE THAT, Mit!”

“There’s a horses head in the house?”

“No! But I found a dead bird laying on the kitchen/backdoor doormat when I came home!”

“And?” I said.

“Maybe Mr. 80% Man pissed a customer off, and this is a warning to him!”

This was so inconceivable I stopped dead in my tracks. “Steve. Do you know what Mr. 80% Man does for a LIVING??” He shook his head “no”.

“He’s a landscape architect. I don’t think if a client is pissed at him over a bad design they’re going to come to our house and LEAVE A DEAD BIRD ON THE DOOR MAT as a sign of their displeasure!! Now get out of my way!”

Later that night, as I told the story to Mr. 80% Man he looked at me and said. “Oh. Sorry. That was kind of my fault.”

“You pissed off someone and they’re threatening us with dead birds??”

“No – not that part. The part about it being outside the door. Herman caught another baby bird and brought it in the house. I came home at lunch and didn’t want to deal with it, so I smashed it with a broom, and then threw it out the back door. I didn’t put it in the garbage or fling it in the ally or yard.” In a sheepish voice he said, “Sorry.”

“Well I don’t care,” I said. “You’re the one who’s going to have to deal with the police when they show up to finger print the house,” I teased him.

So now, whenever I find dead birds in my yard or on my sidewalk or front porch, I think if the Landscape Mafia, and what slight has caused them to send me the dreaded, “You’ve pissed us off” message. Hmmm. Maybe it’s time to water the cactus?


mamie said...

great story!

G Liz said...

I've heard some crazy roomie stories before...BUT NEVER LIKE THIS!!!!

I hope I don't fall into this category!!!

Love ya!

Anonymous said...

I'd forgotten about Herman's antics - fun recollection ! tp