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.
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.
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.