I certainly did some destructive things in my neighborhood when I was young. I share here only one of them.  I felt ownership of every square foot of land within five miles of the Millstone that wasn’t developed by 1957.  Every new house was an unwarranted invasion of my world, an offensive and unprovoked destruction of what had once been a perfect acre for play.  One such house was the Hansen house.  I expressed my inhospitality toward them with an assault on a tree they had planted.  It was a maple or an elm or something.  I recall that it was perhaps eight feet tall, not a seedling.  I took the time to remove every single leaf from that tree, a matter of probably fifteen minutes of spiteful labor.  I don’t know how they explained to themselves why their new tree failed so completely and so abruptly. Someone taking the time to pick off every single leaf without damaging the stem and branches is simply too random and just plain old weird to occur to them.
    Here’s another case of vandalism: Mrs. Hansen was another mother with a particular loathing of all of the boys in my family, not least of all because we had a part in renaming her boys from perfectly good names, Chris and David, to ugly and demeaning monikers they probably had to leave Rochester to divest themselves of: Fudd and Dude. She thought that maybe she could protect her house and children by erecting a barrier across the path that ran from the foot of the path that led up to the Brown’s house to what was known as Camp Oak, the little area that commanded the heights over the Private Road, now known as Balsam Court.  Camp Oak, if not actually owned by the Hansens, had probably been claimed as a security buffer zone by them.  The barrier was sturdy and must have taken some time to construct: Two 4x4s planted in the ground with a 2x4 cross piece.  “Keep out” was the closest sign she could find at Frerrich’s Hardware Store to the sign she really wanted to tack to her barrier, “Eat shit and die, you horrible little monsters.”
    Of course that barrier was the Maginot Line writ tiny. Did she really think that any one of us would walk up to her barrier, actually staying on the path as we walked, encounter her barrier, read the sign, “Keep out”, and think to ourselves, “I feel remorse for all that I have done to her children, including knocking out Fudd’s front tooth by launching a baseball sized fragment of Minnesota riverbed limestone toward his mouth at pointblank range, so I am going to go home, study hard, eat my vegetables, and never leave my home except to go to school, until I graduate, and then go far away and stay far away for the rest of my life?”  The erection of that barrier she had to know would not function as a physical barrier of any kind.  Yes, the path was well-worn and mostly by our Ked’s clad feet, but we were off paths in those days more than we were on them.  Putting up a “Keep out” sign was probably as close as she could let herself get, in the context of 1960’s Rochester upper middle class decorum, to what she really wanted to do, which was to tell us to eat shit and die.
    Whatever her intentions, she spent money and time to put up a barrier eighteen inches high and three feet wide with a “Keep out” sign affixed to it.  My last memory of the barrier is of Dan pushing against it with a red, Toro, ride-on lawnmower. The steering mechanism was a bar you pulled toward yourself in the rider’s seat.  You pushed it left or right to turn.  To go forward you just pulled back on that bar, which meant that as Dan encountered the barrier with the lawnmower, pressure against the barrier by the bar forced the lawnmower to continue forward until either the barrier would be uprooted and pushed aside or the back wheels of the lawnmower would turn against the sod until the tractor ran out of gas.  I don’t remember the outcome.  I suppose the mower could have conked out.  You couldn’t put the thing into reverse while it was running forward.  None of us or combination of us were strong enough to pick up the mower to move it back from the barrier or turn it on the path. So I don’t remember the result of Dan’s efforts, except that I think it involved Mrs. Hansen.
    So here are my questions: How did Dan get to the point where he was sitting on the lawnmower on a footpath with the bar pressed against the barrier and the back wheels of the mower spinning against the sod?  Was he in his room or sitting at the table on the screen porch eating Cheerios when a plan occurred to him?  Did he leave the house with a plan?  Did he get the mower out of the shed, gas it up, and drive it a quarter of a mile including across the Private Road and into the ditch and up the path? That’s a long time to sustain a plan that wasn’t really thought out all the way to the end.  Especially for a boy who must have been no more than eight years old.  Yes, this was the same barefoot boy who at eight years old was driving the English Ford around the neighborhood, but still.  I just don’t know.
    I remember Mrs. Hansen sharing her feelings with Dan about his attempt to undo her work on the barrier. But there must have been a moment when she was standing in her yard and a little pleased with herself for having expressed herself with her “Keep out” sign – maybe she even imagined that she had resolved the whole issue – when she saw a boy riding up the path on a freaking lawnmower. Until then she may have ceded to herself that a small barrier like that wouldn’t stop children, but I doubt that she had imagined that a neighborhood child would actually have a motorized response to her attempt to protect her children and house. And maybe her young trees too, if she had decided that picking off every damned leave was just so vindictive and irrational that it had to be one of the Sullivan boys. For Christ’s sake, no tree drops all of its leaves in May.

Haitian Home
A Haitian home

    I wanted to see the inside of a Haitian house, but was not willing to ask.  Partly I felt that a request to see inside of someone's house was like asking for a free ticket to the zoo.  I didn't want to be the gawking, well-fed American.  Nor did I want to embarrass anybody.  Just as unemployed Americans preserve their dignity by referring to themselves as "between jobs," a Haitian is entitled to privacy until he gets back into a real home. Of course, the owner of this home was not between jobs and was in his real home.  My guide, however, knew the mother who lived in this house well enough to request a tour.  The word "tour" misleads because it suggests movement. 

Haitian Home
Inside a Haitian home

    From the foyer of this house I could see into every room.  Doors, including the front door, were draped cloth.  Walls were boulders and concrete, which in Minnesota would not pass code.  No windows were necessary because the roof did not join the walls.  Air, light, and insects entered at the eaves.  The tenuously attached roofs work well in the annual hurricanes: lose the roof, keep the house.  (A counterintuitive tip on how to nail corrugated steel onto your roof: Sink your nail at the crest, not the trough, of your sheet.  Starting a nail at the crest is harder and much noisier, but a nail punched through the trough will create a hole through which the rain will enter.)  The floor was the earth itself, no element of construction was a right angle or even a straight line, no surface was painted, there was no running water, bathroom, electricity, vacuum cleaner, telephone, or washer-dryer, and yet this Haitian home was tidy, inviting, and apparently enough for the owner.  The sense of domestic sanctuary was enhanced, perhaps even created by, being out of the pummeling Haitian sun.  I have been in American homes, more expensive than whole Haitian villages, that felt less comfortable, safe, and gratifying to the owner.