When we moved to this town, Garry was the first person of color and as far as I know, I was the only Jew. I got comments like “Wow, I’ve never known a person of the Jewish persuasion before.” Garry just got stares. Hard to tell whether they were staring at him because they’d seen him on TV or because he is brown. Both?
Our situation was complicated by our neighbor, Ned. A big guy. He rode a Harley. I love Harleys but there are Harleys and then, there are Harleys. This was a chopped Harley and it was really loud. When Ned started his bike, the vibration alone could knock me out of bed. Ned was kind of massive. Tattooed. He had a bunch of like-minded skin-heady friends. They had loud parties outside in the summer with lots of beer. We didn’t expect to be invited, nor did these appear to be our kind of parties.
Moreover, Ned flew a Confederate flag. Prominently. We learned by asking around — which how you learn stuff in the Valley — he had always done this. It was part of some family roots thing tying them to their original home state of Georgia. Personally, I think it’s time for the south to move on. The war is over. You lost. Get over it. But hey, I’m from New York and clearly don’t understand the issues. It was ironic we would have as our neighbor the only house in the Valley flying our nation’s favorite racist flag. It made us twitchy. We were after all, the poster couple for hate groups — a man of color who worked in media — married to a nice Jewish girl from New York. Wowzer. This was not going to bring forth the love.
Garry is pragmatic. And feisty. He didn’t survive 40 years as a reporter by being shy. So on a fine summer’s day with music blaring out of Ned’s boombox, Garry looked at me and murmured his version of fighting words: “THIS is ridiculous!”
He marched down the driveway, through the woods that join the two houses, then up to Ned’s front door. Garry knocked. Loudly. When Ned finally heard the knocking over the music and answered, Garry said: “Hi. I’m your neighbor. Garry Armstrong. Do we have a problem?”
Shortly thereafter, the flag disappeared along with the noxious black jockey statue. Turned out, Ned was a plumber, so he fixed the bathroom pipes which were in awful shape. The whole skinhead thing dissolved in the face of one brown-skinned guy who did news on Boston TV. Ned also took the one picture we have of our entire family together. Usually one of us is missing because someone has to hold the camera.
Eventually Ned got into drugs or something, we were never sure what. His wife left. His life fell apart. One day, he disappeared. Fortunately, he returned our extension ladder before going. There are new folks in the house. They aren’t particularly friendly, though they have never opened real hostilities so I guess it’s good enough. They object to our dogs barking so much. Hard to argue with that. I’d object too. But hey, they’ve also got dogs. Big dogs who do their own share of barking.
I miss Ned. No one fixes pipes like Ned did and he always gave us a big discount. He turned out to be a funny guy and a pretty good neighbor. Who’d have thunk it?