I’m Larry, This is My Brother Dale, and His Other Schizophrenic Self, Dale.

Part III: Someone’s off their meds.  (click here for part I or here for part II
Scary evil satanic tree When you find a number of trees skinned of all their bark on your property, a little soul searching is necessary.  Did I get punked?  Is this some satanic ritual I’m not aware of?  Do trees shed their bark when they’re growing?  Are there a thousand bears living in my backyard that got the urge to test their claws? The answer is most likely that it's the creepy guy next door, Dale.

Of course, Dale didn’t know how it happened.  My dad, who ALWAYS knows when someone is lying, knew better.  But somehow, even this, my dad was able to forgive.  There was no internet in the early 90s, so we weren’t sure if adult trees could even regrow a whole trunk of bark.  Maybe we would just be the odd family that bought the old church building with the satanic looking trees. 

How does one even go about skinning nine trees in one day?  Is there a tool I’m not aware of? 

Before we could even adapt to our naked tree line dividing our property, Dale painted the trunks of the trees Sunrise Orange.  The same color of his house.  I started to prepare for the legions of macabre Satan worshipers who would show up wondering when the goat sacrifice ritual would take place.  “Uh, sorry, pentagram boy, we just have a weird neighbor, please don’t hex my house.” 

Anakin Skywalker, hayden christensen, evil look before becoming Darth Vadar
It's always best to judge creepy people not on how scary they look but on how they act.
Or in Hayden Christensen's case, how well they don't know how to act.  

Dale tried to deny the painting of the trees as well.  It was just an odd coincidence that it exactly matched the color of his house.  Again my father pleaded with Dale’s parents to do something.  They actually tried to convince us that maybe Dale didn’t paint the trees. Really.  My father, who once worked in the State Hospital that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was based on, recommended that Dale be institutionalized for his own safety.  The Van Weerdheizen’s wouldn’t agree:  too expensive. 

Dad explained to us kids that Dale probably suffered from a personality disorder, most likely schizophrenia.  He explained that they are usually set off by strange events, and are usually more harmful to themselves than other people, but reiterated that we should be wary of him as all times.  So far Dale hadn’t done anything threatening to anyone.  He had merely de-beautified our trees, lowering our property value.  But we were living in a travel trailer.  My dad was more concerned with getting us inside an insulated home before the Northeastern winds and bitterly cold winter hit, than anything to do with landscaping. 
Dale's home drawn in the style of a fifth grader
Dales home and truck before any "modifications."  note the trees on the left side before his artistic touches.
And yes, I did draw this.  I was a great C- student in Art.  

Turns out we wouldn’t have to hire a landscaper.  Dale was one, as well as an arborist and artist.  While we were away one weekend, he topped all nine trees of their greenery, giving them the perfect, plain  orange-red totem pole look. 

Now my dad was mad.  The trees were now dying and worthless from both an economic and beautification standpoint.  My father hired a surveyor who told him that the trees were 90% on Dale’s property.  We had a small case, if we wanted to take him to court, but it probably wouldn’t be worth the time and effort.  Didn’t matter.  My dad wouldn’t sue him or anybody anyways.  I wouldn’t call my parents environmentalists by any stretch, but they are definitely nature lovers.  The loss of nine nice trees that essentially blocked our view of Dale’s house was a big blow to their Emersonian ideals. 

Made up Indian tribe receipt
My family loves to visit museums on vacation.  
Now our home looked like a museum to the most boring Native American Tribe of all America.  They topped trees, painted them rust colored, and never got around to carving a thing into them.  The Klammedup Tribe.  The tribe that had nothing to say about anything. 

Dale’s parents finally intervened.  They agreed to chop down the remaining aspects of the trees.  When that was done, Dale went to work again.  De-rooting by shovel, all nine trees.  This project took him months.  The trees weren’t as deeply rooted as the first tree he unearthed, but there were after all, nine of them.  The labor carried him through the frozen earth of winter, but still he carried on. 

We weren’t as fortunate.  The church-house was only partially framed.  Corey and I had moved into a rough sawn room with no insulation, allowing extra space in the trailer for our family's newest addition, my baby sister Natalie.   Five months in a trailer with five people had put everyone on edge.  Combining the cries of an infant with a weirdo next door was pushing us close to murder.       

Dead Yoda ghost Return of the Jedi
Turns out the ghost
was merely Yoda. 
So, my family braved the record-low winter in that trailer, while Corey and I slept in a room with cracks exposed to the elements and creaky old walls that felt haunted.  We cowered under our three shared sleeping bags with a cheap portable space heater blowing under the covers, to escape the cold and ghosts.  It’s amazing this set up never caught on fire; but Corey and I would’ve gladly accepted the warmth of a blanket fire.  And nothing extinguishes the paranormals like a blazing inferno. 

When spring came, the snow thawed, and we had a huge moat between our yard and Dale’s.  His dedication to rooting out the trees left us with a ten foot wide, three foot deep and forty foot long trench of fresh earth.  The tree roots were carelessly thrown in his back yard where his lawn met the forest, a perfect fence against any wildlife seeking to drink from his trench water. 

The water that filled and drained in the trench bothered Dale.  He didn’t have the necessary soil this time to fill in his massive tree grave.  If only he had access to some sort of groundcover like rocks or… Eureka!  Cement is made out of rocks!  Dale, already a pro at sledgehammering his cement-work, was standing on a goldmine of precious rocky mineral elements: his driveway.      

It was like the logic of a kindergartener playing with Duplo Legos.  Jason's (a five-year-old) internal monologue:  I need a piece to keep building my castle, but there are no more big blocks…oh, wait, Bobby’s castle has plenty of big blocks, I’ll just take a few of his blocks to build my castle.  Oops, accidentally broke Bobby’s castle.  Bobby’s crying.  I’ll shut him up with a good kick to the shins. 

Dale’s chunks of cement didn’t fit like Legos though, they were huge and chunky.  The driveway was professionally done.  Probably a three thousand dollar job in today’s dollars.  And Dale was using it as junk filler.  He slaved away, swinging that sledge day and night.  He would work a few hours on his parent’s farm and come home and smash away.  Crazy people were once really productive, that is,  before the internet.   The noise was beyond annoying.  My adolescent friends used to come over and just watch him work, dumbfounded, just as we were when watching an episode of Baywatch.   

“Why are you doing this, Dale?” my friend Brian would ask. 

“I have to fill in that hole, Corey.”  He’d answer, even though he’d never met Brian, and Corey was nowhere in sight. 

I have to fill in that hole.  Maybe people with extreme versions of OCD understand that logic.  I sometimes wonder if our moving next door set something off in Dale.  He was a creature of habit. He had forged a trail through our backyard to his parents house (even though the street was just as effective).  A trail that brought him within five feet of our travel trailer everyday.  He didn’t care, even though we did.  If we left something in the yard it was an inconvenience to him.  I once left my bike in the path on purpose and watched him swear at it before pushing it out of the way.  I think change of any kind, was threatening to Dale.

We heard rumors.  I can’t substantiate this story, but a few people who had gone to HS with Dale, said he was normal then.  He was athletic and almost popular.  He had a girlfriend, and when they were both nineteen he proposed to her on top of the Ferris wheel at the county fair.  She said no.  He disappeared for a few days, and was never the same. 

Black and White Ferris Wheel with smoke fire in background
A rejection of any kind can put a normal person in a funk.  But to an undiagnosed schizophrenic, it can start a black
cloud of delusions and deteriorating realities:  Read this for more information on the disorder.  

I looked at him differently then.  A human.  A broken down human, stupidly laboring away; chipping away pieces of a professional driveway to throw in an unneeded hole.  As the months passed, his cement chunk filler had done the job.  All that was needed was a few cubic feet of soil to cover over the pieces and you’d never know trees once thrived there.  But Dale had twenty feet of driveway left.  He kept adding to the pile until it was now a mound, and then a kind of ancient rock wall.  The finished product was as ugly as they get.  The broken down ancient rock walls in Ireland have a beauty that weathering and time have only enhanced.  Freshly broken chunks of cement, carelessly tossed onto a pile with pieces of rebar and iron mesh have no artistic merits. 
Rock wall and soil in Ireland
As beautiful as Ireland is, one has to wonder why they bothered making
these rock walls.  I can see my ancestors fighting now, "Now Grian
McDuck, I'll not have your sheep grazing on my rocky unharvestable
pasteurs.  Me lil' girl Abigail likes to chase Leprechauns here, and I'll
not have her coming home with no sheep cac on her boots."

As entertaining as Dale was, his antics were growing tiresome.  Even as we saw him as a man desperately in need of medication or therapy or love or support or family, he was trying his damnedest to set us off.  The noise of digging or sledging, the middle finger always pointed our way, his complete lack of regard for our property rights, all were signals or challenges to us that we weren’t welcome. 

It’s funny how those who are the most helpful are the ones most often victimized.  My dad tirelessly communicated with Dale and his family.  He called his medical friends, therapists, and psychologists  who all offered to see Dale pro bono.  Dad researched breakthroughs in medical science and behavior therapy and showed it to the Van Weerdheizens who scoffed at it like it was snake oil. 

So we made do.  Dad looked at his new augmented ragged pseudo-rock fence, and decided to make lemonade.  He threw some soil on our side of the cement hill, and then sprinkled in some wild flower seeds. 

A few weeks later when those flowers sprung up, Dale’s eyes went blood red like a wild hog cornered by the boys in Lord of the Flies. 

He walked to his carport, grabbed his sledgehammer, and viciously wailed away on his 1989 Toyota pickup, over and over and over again.  “That’ll teach them to plant flowers!” I heard him between swings and crashes and dents and curses. 

That’ll teach us all right. 
End part III  (next up, the axe, the .22, the Cops, and The End).  

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