Schizophrenic Neighbor Makes for Crazy Fun Times

sad depressed pet rock goggly eyes
Nobody ever remembers the other
victims of vandalism: Rocks.  

One of the greatest memories of my youth was watching my crazy neighbor Dale self-destruct.  I was in middle school, and didn’t realize there was a medical term for the type of erratic behavior I saw, so I called him a psycho.  Not like Hitchcock’s Psycho, no, Dale was the kind of imbalanced guy who would throw a rock through his own front window to get back at the waitresses at “Bob’s Burger and Brew.”  

The Beginning: 
Al Home Improvement Tool Time Richard Karn
Okay, maybe Dale was a
little less lovable looking
than this guy.  But he wielded
a yard tool just as effectively
Dale’s Nissan pick-up truck rolled into our house late one night.  It was surreal, and our first experience with the neighbor who looked like a malnourished Al from Home Improvement (red flannel, suspenders, beard and all).  In Northern Washington, earthquakes are rare, and the house jostled only for a second.  I was in fifth grade and thought maybe Mount Baker had erupted (I had just learned the science behind volcanoes).  Our panicked family all met in the living room, when my dad pronounced after looking out the window, “There’s a truck in our front yard with our front pillar in the payload.”  Sure enough, Dale’s truck, probably left in neutral, had rolled down his driveway, across the road, and smashed into our front porch, knocking our white Greek style pillar into his brand new truck bed like it had been laid there perfectly by Home Depot employees.  Dad went across the street, woke up Dale, who then walked across the road, inspected the scene, and asked, “Who’s going to pay for the damage to my truck?” 

1989 Toyota pickup stock grey
A stock 1989 Toyota pickup, a classic design.  Dale didn't think so.  His modifications
will not be featured on any of the future Fast and Furious movies.  

My parents realized what I didn’t.  Something was wrong with this guy Dale.  My father eventually repaired the front pillar with his own time and money, and told us kids to try and avoid Dale.  But my brother (three years older) and I couldn’t. He was after all, just across the street.  We used to wait by the road for the school bus, when Dale would wave to us every morning. He'd say “Hello” with a crooked smile perfectly gentlemanlike, before his waving hand would morph into a lewd shape:  the middle finger.  Yes, Corey (my bother) and I were flipped off, for three years, nearly every day before school.  But rather than be offended, we thought it was hilarious.  Dale was inventive in his birdie exchanges, sometimes bending over, like he was going to hike a football to us, and then his hand would reach up the backside seam of his Wrangler jeans, and extend the infamous finger skyward.  Some people with long, thin, gangly fingers are destined to play the piano, but Dale, it seems, used them to obscenely tell us immature boys he didn’t like us. 

Seattle Mariners line graph of expected wins per season
Even my favorite baseball team, the Seattle Mariners, honor me with the "digit"
as it fails to make the postseason year after year.
But, strangely, Dale did like us.  His flippant finger was not aimed at any mischievous act on our part.  We weren’t bothering his lawn, or shooting birds in his backyard, or meddling in his affairs like Dennis the Menace, we were simply waiting for the bus.  Sometimes, after the morning salutation was committed, Dale would attempt to socialize with us, unaware of the social norms he had just violated.  He called us both Corey.  Whether we were together or I was alone, or whatever, it was always Corey (the story of my life).  “Hey, Hey, Hey, Corey.  Check this out.  Those girls from Bob’s…see if they will like this…”  And then Dale picked up a golf ball sized rock, and accurately pitched it straight through his stained glass front door window.  It was awesome.  Maybe it was because I was just entering middle school, and the idea of destroying something on purpose, vandalism, seemed like the most amazing of any of the felonious acts, but for seconds, Dale was my hero.  And then I remembered he was crazy.

Girls mud wrestling fighting hair pulling
Ladies, Ladies, Ladies, we can solve this probl...
Oh, nevermind, you seem to be doing a better job
yourselves.  Work it out, work it out. 
Now, I’m not writing this story to mock the man.  I’m merely reshaping the memories from my pre-teen self, the way I remember them then.  I didn’t know the man needed help, and I wasn’t initially concerned with him getting help.  He was just funny to me, then.  Like a court jester.  There is a redeeming quality to this story, but that comes later, after many, many, too many, jaw dropping moments.  And I began to crave those moments, wishing they would happen more often.  There’s enjoyment in watching somebody else self destruct.  It’s entertaining to watch a person go ballistic at a retail store when they refuse to return a product.  It’s a highlight when two girls suddenly start pulling hair and calling each other names, especially when they accidentally fall into a mud pit.  Evolutionarily speaking, we may never advance past the Roman gladiatorial frenzy that comes from watching people go animalistic on each other.  And that’s a sad human flaw.  One we haven’t evolved away from. 

Boo Radley Scout Art To kill a mockingbird
Just thought this was cool.  Here's the link
And I was no different.  Despite my parent’s repeated warnings, Corey and I engaged Dale in conversations.  We asked him sardonic questions, and tried to get him to “open up” about those mysterious waitresses that so tormented him.  To ours, or maybe Dale’s credit, we never actually initiated a physical outburst from Dale, just got some strange quotes to tell the eager ears at our school.  Our classmates lived vicariously through mine or Corey’s retelling of our neighbor’s antics.  They--like most young adolescents--didn’t believe us, and they were ready to brand us “LIARS” like so many young developing boys fall victim to in efforts to gain notoriety.  But a few of our close friends were invited over, and they saw snippets of what we saw everyday, and it backed our legendary claims.  Our neighbor became  the Boo Radley of our time, even if he looked and acted a whole lot more like Bob Ewell. 

Unlike Mr. Ewell, though, Dale was a hard worker.  A brute.  You give the man a yard tool, and he went at the task like an ox.  He decided he didn’t like his driveway anymore.  Actually, he decided many times he didn’t like his driveway, it was a recurring theme.  But the first time he went into renovation mode, the victim was a large tree in the middle of his paved driveway.  We’re talking 100 foot fir tree with 1500+ board feet of usable lumber.  Something an urban arborist would call an actual logger to fell.  When my father saw him smacking away at this tree with a basic Craftsman ax, he asked, “Do you know what you’re doing?”  Dale responded, “I’m cutting this down.  I don’t like it anymore.” 

Logging truck accident tip over logs in yard Oregon
Okay, it probably wasn't this awesome.  This happened to an
Oregon family.  You can read her gardening blog here
Gotta love that gung ho attitude.  Yet my father, like a vigilant neighborhood watchman, wasn’t satisfied with that answer (or perhaps he realized that the tree’s trajectory could dissect our home in two).  Dad eventually convinced him to stop (and hopefully hire a professional).  When I left for school, the tree proudly stood with the ax protruding from its trunk, like a proud Civil War veteran showing off his war wounds.  That tree was majestic.  It sprouted up through the middle of Dale’s driveway like an immovable fortification.  The driveway split in two, so that one could enter or leave from either side.  I’m not sure why it so dissatisfied Dale, but maybe it had something to do with a blind spot at the end of the driveway. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t good enough.  The tree deserved better.  When I returned home from school, there laid the evidence of a once proud being, conquered by skinny amateur lumberjack.  There was sawdust across the road, which meant that Dale had either been helped, or someone quickly removed the evidence of a giant log blocking traffic on our road.  The tree trunk was not a clean cut.  It was hacked and chipped, and only looked somewhat better than the job a beaver does.  But throughout Dale’s yard laid huge logs, at least eight 10’ increments many which were close to four feet in diameter.  All cut professionally, with a chain saw. 

We guessed, cause our entire family was out that day, that Dale had ignored my Dad’s advice and hacked at that tree all day. The debris showed it must have fallen close to perfectly into the abandoned church's property next door to his, before it slowly rolled to a rest partially across the road.  Either family, somebody from the state, or Dale himself then dissected the log into the parts now sporadically laid across his lawn.  It must have been a huge scene for a number of hours. And there probably should have been an investigation, a fine, or a strong admonishment from somebody in the government.  But I missed all that.

Stupid school.  Stupid school made me miss one of the most entertaining events my street would ever know.  I wanted to camp out in my yard like Corey Feldman did in The Burbs, to see what Tom Hanks or the Klopek family would do next, and never miss another moment.  I didn’t miss much, though, as the tree falling incident was just the beginning of the deforestation process Dale's ax would wield in our lives. 




  1. Can't wait for the next installment!

  2. We want the sequel! If it doesn't happen soon, I'll write it myself. Here's a hint: electricity and corn - two separate but equally entertaining stories. There will probably be about 20 segments to this story but every one worth the read and better than the one before.

  3. Settle down my anonymous minions (was that too disparaging?)... I've been throwing out a blog every couple days. It usually takes me a day to think up a new one, but I know there will be at least one more (maybe two) of these. Relax.

    And, There will be corn. There will be electricity, and most assuredly, there will be orange house paint and sledgehammers.

  4. I had fun reliving these memories again--and then my inner gladiator was wondering why you were spending so much time on the tree when that was the least of the bizarre things. Then I saw "end of part one." More good stuff to come!