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Not in my backyard
Not in my forest.

Dear Haven was large, old, gray, white, and rambling. It had sat so long in its location that you were not sure, on arrival, whether it or the land had come first, or if they had just happened along together. Paint peeled on the large white columns supporting the entrance, shutters hung diplomatically askew, and the drive and house were surrounded by years of dead brush, the foundation of yet another summer’s generation of small wild roses. Old lilacs, now barren of their spring blossoms, overwhelmed a porch painted gray, and a large white door, embossed and sagging, welcomed Grace and Wilson’s arrival.

The old cottage was large but there was no convenient place to park. Piles of rotting firewood, piles of junk, old broken boats, tarps, and ripped black visqueen filled a circular drive which could have been palatial but instead looked like it should have been behind some outbuilding and not the entrance of a large estate. A few guests had found parking for their Jeeps, Mercedes, and Volvos, between the piles and this only added to the chaos.

“Look at this mess” Wilson said. “These people should worry about this”, he swept his arm, “worry about themselves and not about me, not what I’m building”.

Grace just nodded, a slight frown twisting her lips. She then emitted a horsy laugh.

“I told Janet she couldn’t have this year’s party unless she straightened things up, but that was last year, now it will be next year”.

“Well, where I am I supposed to park”, said Wilson.

“ I guess back by the road, next to all those other cars, but wait let me drop off my salad.”
“You stay, I’ll park”, he said.

“ You better come back”, she said, “I know you!”

Damn, he thought, now I can’t leave. Thinking this, because it was exactly what he had intended, drop her off and split, screw these people. He was not in a diplomatic mood, and even if he had been, Jesus, these people bored the shit out of him...all noise and silliness. And just as Grace was slamming the door and heading towards the entrance with her salad, he heard music, well, no not music, a tortured piano was what it was. Pianoforte, Piano-Fucked, he thought. He had heard the woman, Janet play once before.

“ Don’t leave me”, said Grace. “And be sure to bring that set of plans, your drawings, don’t leave them in the car.”

“Yeah, Yeah.” He said.

The Boyne City road was a quarter mile away, so after trying to turn around and backing over some firewood and an old boats spar in the process, Wilson went to leave his car at the side of the road. He almost did just drive away (there was a bar just down the road) but he didn’t and instead he pulled behind the other twenty or so cars parked there and meandered back towards Deer Haven.

Tall oaks and birches mixed with pines, red and the occasional towering twisting white, shadowed the road. Unlike the adjacent property where he was supposed to be building, which was meadow, this land cleared in Paul Bunyan times, a hundred or more years before, had been allowed to reforest. And Janet and her husband Conrad had kept the trees, the stumps, the brush, and wet swamp, here and there, about them. They thought of themselves as environmentalists, on some great crusade, saviors of the earth and sky, and perhaps they were.

But like many who encourage preservation, their motives were muddled, because while they wanted no development where Wilson was, he hoped, soon building; they of course lived next door. Yes, they would preserve, and yes, they would keep things as they should be, and yes in doing so, they would have no new neighbors. And if they could have kept any new homes from the Lake (their lake) entirely, they would have done so.

At any rate as Wilson walked back to Dear Haven he questioned their wisdom
because the Wainright’s had kept the woods so deep that their entrance drive, for all its potential view, might have sat on no lake at all.

The reality was the woods were so overgrown, so brush filled, so catawampusly out of control that the general feeling was one of primeval clutter rather than pristine forest. To Wilson’s mind, these woods deserved instead of any additional preservation the attention of a chain saw.

He could hear the noise of a party, but no one welcomed him at the door. The foyer was empty too, but above, behind it, and before the entrance to the larger house, a few couples chatted perched against the second floor hall railing. He nodded and moved inward towards the sound of banging and sour notes. The room was full of people, old hippie types, older then he, ex-beatniks really, and then others dressed in blazers and floppy summer costumes, a banker, a couple realtors, zoning officials, but mainly aging “freaks” from the sixties, all listening to a long scrawny woman before a piano. This was Janet, and either her audience was polite or tone-deaf because the noise which assaulted Wilson’s ears was that of a piano so out tune, so atonal, that only a deaf Stravinsky might have appreciated it.

Janet was intent on her playing, Grace among her audience, and any others not listening to her were outside. So, he wandered to a bar and poured himself a small scotch and tossed it down, then grabbed a beer.

The old cottage was full of guests listening, dust, small cobwebs, and the haunting of generations, and he realized that Janet was striking the proper keys. To bad, it is so out of tune, he thought. But then listening a bit more it dawned on him that while he could tolerate the piano’s poor tuning, what bothered him were the notes, which although correct were played with no sense of the music what-so-ever...As if the actor in the Shakespeare play knew the proper words, but completely failed to sense their meter, soul, or necessary cadence. He walked out one of the homes west French doors so no one would see him frowning, in passing, breathing deep the cottage.

It smelled of old, of generations of family fights and frolics, loves and despair, their drunks, their parties, their lives, their summers, and their departures; for almost a century. There are different smells of old; there is the graveyard and the compost heap, the odor of failing humans at the end of the line. And there is old house old, the odors of decay and upkeep, and generations of polishing... Mold and wax, mildew, and shut up spaces, opened to the sun but only in the summer—never quite fully aired. In a way it was a comfortable smell because it was the that of memories. And it crossed Wilson’s mind that it was this the Wainrights were holding on to, their families past, holding it tight to battle their impermanence, and not the land at all.

From the back porch where he stood their property fell away to the west and toward the Lake. Guests who were ignoring the piano playing, or simply caught up in their own conversations sprawled on deck chairs, and sat about in old wicker scattered the length of the porch, one hundred feet and more.

Railings that peeled, pitched, waved, and wobbled ran along the porch edge to keep those either unaware or wasted from tumbling off and landing in the brambles, ten feel below.

There were a few guests leaning on these, looking out into the trees and over a meadow gone back to brush and sumac. Where the lake should have been there was only forest except for occasional patch of blue peering through the greenery.

“What are you doing”, she said. It was Grace suddenly at his elbow. “Get back in there and look like your enjoying her performance. You idiot”, she whispered. “You’re supposed to be building goodwill.”

“I was”, he said, “that’s why I came out here. So I wouldn’t start howling.”

Grace grabbed his elbow and dragged him back inside. The piece should have been at a crescendo but somehow Janet had missed this so the finale’ just sort of dwindled off, until Janet finished with a loud bang and flourish. Her guests clapped. Wilson felt the hypocrite as he politely joined the clapping, once, twice, then he stopped and went back to the bar and grabbed some more scotch and another beer.

“She’ll never learn how, will she”, said a voice behind him. The voice now became a man next to him. “Never.” It was the president of the bank. “She’s out to stop your project, you know.”

Wilson clicked his scotch to the fellow’s gin. “Yeah, I heard.”

The bankers name was Leonard Feely, and he was what a banker should be. He had appraised Wilson years before, Wilson and not his portfolio and agreed to loan him early capital. Something Wilson was always appreciative of, although lately he sometimes wondered if he would have been better-off without the loans in the first place. Then he would not have built the home that was not selling... The home that indirectly had caused him to need to politely listen to the terrible music of moments before.

“She’s out to stop you”, said Feely again, a knowing smile on his face as if he were the narrator, the conductor of the little town, watching. “I recommend that you restrain your normal noise and tiptoe at the moment. Just show her what a perfect plan you have done.”

“I don’t know about perfect. Have you seen it,” said Wilson?

“No, but it is one of yours isn’t it ... tiptoe. Of course. I am on your side. You owe me money. Have to mingle.”

Feely walked away. The best way to have a banker on your side is to owe him money. And this was true in Feely’s case because even though the banker might relish, and respect their money and their connections to the past, Wilson knew the Wainrights kept their dough in Chicago. So yep, thought Wilson, it is good to be indebted to the local bank.

Good it may have been, but it did not make his next moments any easier as Grace approached with Janet. “Nice playing, said Wilson, although I think your piano could use a tuning, it’s tough to keep them proper, so old and close to the water.” He looked at one of the corners of the room where generations of spiders had been spinning. “It could just be dusty, you know.”

Now, Wilson thought of this as diplomacy, no comment about the lack of musicality just a comment on the piano needing some tuning, blame it on the dust, he thought. But Janet did not take it that way and she frowned at him across her nose.

“But you liked the performance, didn’t you said Grace.”

Wilson, stealing a line from, “Amadeus”, quickly replied. “Yes of course, when I hear you play I can only say, Wainright”. He could not help himself but to his amazement, she bought it, saying “ Oh thank you so much.” But Grace had caught the reference and she warned him with eyes, which would have muzzled him if capable.

Janet was long and tall, scrawny, and the chords of her neck were pronounced beside her Adams apple before they met the wattles of her neck. She stood, taller than Wilson by an inch or two and her eyes and hair were black-- the eyes natural, the hair dyed too dark and lustrous for a women in her late fifties, and her skin was blotched her and there the result of too many seasons. She looked slightly down at him.

“Were not happy that you’re building”, she said. “ I don’t like it and Conrad hates it. It used to be his you know, well, the families, until his sister got it and sold it to Longbottom. We tried to buy it, but Muriel (Wilson took Muriel to be the sister) wanted too much money for it. They haven’t spoken since.”

“That was terrible of her”, said Grace. “Just terrible.”

“Well I don’t know what to say”, said Wilson. I mean I’m only the builder, the architect. You should talk to the Dick Stevens. He hired me. He talked me into it! I came back from Colorado just for this house. What can I say? I need the work, we’re starting soon.”

“I’m not sure you will be”, said Janet. “You may just have to find another job.”

Bitch he thought, you don’t even work, you clip coupons. At this point, Grace interrupted,

“I told Wilson to bring the plan. It’s a good plan, Janet. At least you know him, you know it will be a good job”.

“I’ll look at it,” she said, in an imperious tone, as if she might have been the Queen of Hearts and capable and deserving of lopping off any heads she chose.
“I’ll look at it after dinner” she gestured towards a table smudged with waxing and set for sixteen. “It is sit-down here, where-ever you want, buffet, take your pick. The food’s ready.”

Janet nodded towards another table equally smudged full of platters of eggplant, ratatouille, some weird looking green concoction, a Caesar salad, a platter of sesame chicken, some cold meats, pickles and a large wooden bowl full of torn pieces of baguette.

“Wilson, can you open some of the wine.”
“Sure”, he said.
“Red and white”, she said.

Wilson and Grace chose to sit at the table. Conversations were of boats and water, the last outrageous rock concert where “ too many from too many other places had run amok”. But the food was good, and if you were there listening, you would have heard more munching of teeth and gums, then erudition. However before the dinner passed completely; the same old stories that many had heard time and again starting dribbling from the mouth of Conrad Wainright...Yale and youth and the good old days Bla- Bla- Bla. But this was not enough for Wainright, who, at the end of dinner rose banging his spoon against his glass.

“Attention all, attention. I have written a poem for the occasion.”

He said this looking around the room, his eyes momentarily stopping to frown at Wilson. Oh no, thought Wilson, as he smiled back at Wainright. His poems are worse then her playing.

Conrad Wainright, a poet in his own mind and few others had over the years published a few volumes of poetry through a minor eastern press (his cousin owned it) and in his fifty years of writing he had even made the New Yorker now and then in the silly section—This, more likely the result of connections than talent. But you could say this for him. If Robert Frost had been a mediocre, no, a bad poet, there would have been a great resemblance between Frost in his latter years, and Wainright. Because Conrad was an old gray haired curmudgeon, cantankerous, often unpleasant, and very full of his genius.

Wainright rumpled his pockets and pulled a wadded bit of legal pad from the interior of his shabby old sport coat. He placed glasses on his head, which sat crooked because one of the bows was wadded in place with duct tape.
“Attention, Attention”, he repeated.

When rapacious demons
Seize the land
Then nothing’s safe for
God or man.

When developers come to
Haunt our souls.
I imagine them as evil trolls

A mighty blight upon our land
Always growth-expand- expand
Well I like things, just as they are

He turned towards Wilson, finishing while thrusting his glass in his direction.
And it is my hope
You won’t get far.”

Some small chuckles followed this, Grace snickered, Janet laughed, Feely coughed politely, and Wainright who had been trying to be serious appeared perturbed.

Wilson, quick with rhyme and in his and the rest of the world’s opinion no poet at all, stood, stared at Conrad, and said, even as Grace was kicking him under the table,

“Nice poem, now let me see.” He took a sip of wine, looked about the room, saying, “I have one too”.

Grace hissed, “sit down” and then she shut up because Wilson had the table’s attention. He was thinking.

Rose’s are red
Violets are blue
So, you don’t like my project
Well fuck you.

And he surely would not have said this. He should have just said “nice” one more time, taken notice of Grace’s repeated kicks under the table, and sat back down. But perhaps it was the two scotches and the wine, maybe the pretension of the piano, or just all the junk in the drive. Maybe it was the demon come to play. But for some reason this is what he said.

And when old money sits
So sadly by
It is in dismay
I say, oh my
For how could you let
Such a-once-fine-place
Became a rambling-wrecked-rotting-disgrace?”

Then, he added, turning, smiling, towards Conrad. “Of course, I am no more serious than you were.”

Janet frowned, Conrad bristled and a few tittered at this. Grace immediately stood and said, “let’s help clear the table”. Conrad went to the scotch and then muttering to himself went out to the back porch. Suddenly, Wilson was alone. The party moved from the table and then Janet said, “Well let us see this plan”, grabbing the rolled up prints Wilson had left at the room’s entrance. Wilson pulled Grace towards him, whispering, “Tell her that I brought them as a courtesy, I don’t want all these people looking at them. This is no hearing”.

But a hearing was what Janet apparently wanted, so she unrolled the drawings on the table saying,

“Look everybody this is what Wilson wants to build next to us”.

But the problem for Janet was this, as her guests started to glance at the plan and ask Wilson questions, most of them liked it. They certainly understood why Janet and Conrad did not want it but most admitted that it was good plan. And Feely did not hurt in this, coming over and praising the design, as the best and better than they could expect, and who more qualified than Wilson to build it. And Wilson, who had planned to just grab the plans and leave as soon as he saw what Janet was about, left them on the table for her guests to peruse, saying little. But thinking the idiots like it more than I do.

Grace came over. “See, they would have hated your first one, the good one, old saddle -potato head architecture, it sells!”

At that moment, there was a crash, and one of the guests came running in off the porch.

“Conrad fell, he was leaning his back against the railing one moment and now he’s on the ground. I think he’s hurt himself.”

At this a howling and cursing came from outside. “Damn porch, damn old house, Damn, Damn.” Then “Janet, Janet”.

Janet rushed out the door as did everyone else, all forty of them, rushed out to stand on the deck and peer over the edge at the pile that was Conrad, clearly in pain, his leg bent backwards beneath him. “Help”, he said. “Help”.

“Is it broken”, said Janet.

“Is it broken”, said the others.

“I don’t know if it’s goddamn broken, I can’t move it.”

Conrad was starting to whine between his howls of pain; first bluster-cursing then a howl, and then a whimper and this repeated.

“Get an ambulance”, yelled someone.

“Janet, Janet”- more howls.

Feely, the banker was on his cell phone calling the hospital, looking for Dr. Scott.

“What do you mean he’s not there”, he shouted into his cell. “Sailing, what the fuck’s he doing sailing? Call him on his boat? You call him on his damn boat! Get someone. I’m at Wainright's, yeah that Wainright. I don’t care if he is a rude old man. Get someone now!”

“ Scott, that quack”, howled Conrad, “Get someone else. Get me some whiskey.”

One of the guests jumped off the deck and tried to help Conrad with a sip of Whiskey.

“Stop, stop that”. Conrad grabbed the bottle

“Don’t worry, said Feely, “he’s sailing”. It was Monday night, and that was the night for evening sailboat racing. Scott was a racer thus unavailable.

“Ok, good, good. We’ve got someone”, said Feely, leaning over the edge of the porch staring down at Conrad watching him invert the bottle for another swallow.

“Finkwalter, alright, he’ll do.”

“Finkwalter”, said Janet, “who’s he?”

One of the guests said
“Oh he’s that new kid, just out of Michigan.”

She grabbed the phone from Feely,
“You”, she said, “you, who am I talking to! Well you, get an ambulance here, right now, my husbands dieing”.
“Get the ambulance, hurry!” shouted someone else.

Conrad continued to howl. Wilson tired not to laugh, and right after he had said the place was a wreck, he thought. The silly old fart, the railing had probably wobbling like that for years. He remembered telling them both Conrad and Janet that they should fix it at that dinner two years before. But the man looked in pain so he tried to summon some sympathy or at least the affect of sympathy. He did not compose another rhyme. So they waited and stared and waited and stared, Conrad’s howls dwindling to whimpers and then just pained acceptance that his fine old house would treat him so badly. And they waited some more.

It was the bridge of course. It was stuck. Feely learned, when he called back, stuck because the drawbridge operator had been in a hurry and the sailboat had been in a hurry, and they had somehow become stuck together. The skipper had tried to sneak through just as the bridge closed. And the bridge operator had been playing chicken with him and now they were, it seemed, all tangled and entwined together-- shroud to strut and strut to shroud.

It took an hour for the certified bridge fixer to show up, and then half an hour to untangle the two. And by then the line of cars stretched two miles or more in waiting, so the Ambulance, flashing lights or not, had no way to pass through the town. The road only two lanes and bordered by shops or water. The whole enterprise took an hour and a half, plus the half hour to get started in the first place. By which time, Conrad was rip-roaring drunk and alternating between angry indignant howls, and caterwauling Boolah-Boolah’s. The old goof was now painless, twisted, beneath the edge of the deck with a few people beside him. Others were looking down and giving advice, and the rest of the party, had retreated inside, waiting to see if they could help, when, if the ambulance should ever arrive.

Eventually this happened, and not just the ambulance, a fire truck too, came roaring down the drive flashing lights, sirens, to pull to a stop in front of the house. And these were followed by volunteers who had heard the commotion and been drinking at MacGuilties bar, just down the road.

There were the volunteers milling, the guest helping, the Emt’s scampering, and Conrad howling. But eventually Conrad was on a stretcher and in the ambulance, yelling for his whiskey bottle, which the EMT had confiscated. And all this would have been alright except that first had come the ambulance and then the fire truck and then the firemen and then the pickup trucks full of volunteers. One two, three, four, ten vehicles in line, and there was no place to turn around. Now there was great confusion, as everyone tried to leave at once and before the Ambulance. First the pickups, and some of these guys were benefiting from their visit to the bar, drunk is what they were.

“Hey Charlie, get that thing out of the way!”

“Just a second George your tangled on that tree.”

“Fuck, I’m stuck in this swamp, here.”

“It won’t take long to jack you off of that stump.”

You get the picture. Before the mess was settled and Conrad was on his way, two Mercedes one Jeep and half a Volvo had been smashed in the chaos. But finally, lights flashed, the fire truck Aoogahed, and Conrad was headed to the hospital, with Janet and Grace following in the Wainright’s old Vanagan. Just as they were leaving, she yelled at Wilson. “Drive back to my house, no, just go to yours, I’ll call”

Feely was standing next to him shaking his head.

“Well, they liked your house plan, the guests anyway.

He should have fixed that railing years ago.” Feely chuckled for a second. “Hey, there’s a silver lining in everything, at least Wainright won’t be able to tromp around your site and harass you, and Janet will be too busy with him. Let’s go have one for the road.”

The two men went back inside. Most of the guests were leaving. Feely toasted Wilson, and looked about the room

“Not a bad old place...really. Not a bad old place at all.”

| Good Will To Men- From A Builders Tale | The Emergence of Conrad Wainright |
| It Be Just Alright: An Island Journey | A Builder's Tale | Oh To Be An Indian | Captain Passion | Roland's Orange Cart | Roland's Orange Cart | The Pumpkin Festival |
| FICTION | It Be Just Alright | Add stuff | Debra A Hobohm In Memory |
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