THE BIKER WHO PLUMBED

When we moved to this town, Garry was the first person of color, and I was as far as I know, the first (only?) Jew. People said stuff like “Gee, I’ve never known a Jewish person before.” Garry just got stares. Hard to tell if they were staring because they’d seen him on TV or because he’s brown. Both?

Our situation was complicated by our neighbor Ned. A big guy. Rode a Harley. I love Harleys, but there are Harleys and then there are Harleys. This one was chopped and really loud. When Ned started his bike, the vibration alone could knock me out of bed. Ned was massive. Tattooed. He hung with a bunch of skin-head friends. They had raucous parties with lots of beer. We didn’t expect to be invited, nor did these seem to be our kind of party.

Neighbor in winter

Ned flew a Confederate flag over his house. Prominently. We learned he’d always done this. It was part of some family roots thing tying him to his original home state of Georgia. Me? I think it’s time the south moved on. The war ended a more than a century ago. Time to get over it. But I’m from New York so I probably don’t understand.

It was ironic that our neighbor’s house was the only one in the Valley flying a confederate flag. We were the only mixed-race couple in town. It made us twitch. We were a poster couple for hate groups — an ex-New Yorker man of color who worked in media, married to a white Jewish woman, also from New York.

black jockey racist statue

Garry is pragmatic. And feisty. He didn’t survive 40-years as a reporter without having grit. One fine summer’s day, music blaring from Ned’s boombox, Garry looked at me and murmured his fighting words: “This is ridiculous!”

He marched down the driveway, through the woods joining our two houses, to Ned’s front door. Garry knocked. Loudly. When Ned finally answered, Garry said: “Hi. I’m your neighbor. Garry Armstrong. Do we have a problem?”

Shortly the flag disappeared along with a noxious black jockey statue. Turned out, Ned was a plumber. He fixed our bathroom pipes. The whole skinhead thing dissolved in the face of a brown-skinned guy who did news on Boston TV. Seemed it was less important who Ned was than who Ned, with a little help from friends, was willing to become.

Eventually Ned got into drugs or something. We were never sure what. His wife left. His life fell apart. One day, he vanished. Fortunately, he returned our extension ladder before going.

New folks live there now. They are neither friendly nor actively hostile. They object to our dogs barking so much. Hard to argue with that. I also wish they’d shut up. But hey, they’ve got big dogs who do their own share of barking.

I miss Ned. No one fixed pipes like Ned and he always gave us a huge discount. He turned out to be a funny guy and a pretty good neighbor. Who’d have thunk it.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all of us!

22 thoughts on “THE BIKER WHO PLUMBED”

  1. That was very interesting. Also did an excursion into Internet in connection with Gary Armstrong. Very interesting life your other half has led. American reporters are not so well known in Europe (unfortunately).

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    1. There is less about Garry on the Internet than one might expect, but he retired 13 years ago. He is only now beginning to really participate and that’s because I really need his help. I don’t think he has ever Googled himself. Which is odd. Doesn’t everyone check once in a while to see if we exist? I’ve known him since before he got his first professional media job — until we started living together in 1989, I had never seen him on TV. I’d just heard about it, yet we’e been friends and more since 1964. Go figure.

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  2. Heart warming story, Marilyn; it says a lot about the preconceptions we all have about other people. Ironic ending too! xxx

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    1. It wasn’t that we had misconceptions about Ned. We were right on. What we didn’t know was how very open he was to changing. Sometimes, it isn’t about what you see, but what could be. People can change, sometimes, if the right influence comes into their world.

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    1. You’d never guess it just looking at him, but his quiet demeanor hides one hell of temper … and an Aries/Taurus determination to go at everything head first. The years have taught him hitting things with his head can be painful, but left the underlying Garry surprisingly unchanged 🙂

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  3. The changes some people will make when they are faced with reality. I find it very interesting. I’ve never had a “good” neighbor, but Ned sounds great. And I would think you and Garry would be fun to live next door to, and our dogs could have “bark-off” contests. 😀

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