My neighbour and I are building a fence.
When I moved into this place almost twenty years ago, there was a vacant lot next door. Then a family came along planning to build a house. I thought, “I better put up a fence.” I don’t know why I thought that. That family now lives in another house across the alley and the third family in the house next door is rapidly expanding. The fence was crumbling.
So, we made plans. We ordered lumber. We gathered tools. We were going to build a fence.
Today, as I was scraping the gumbo off my shovel again I said to my neighbour and my other neighbour “Could you imagine being one of those people that came here a hundred years ago and had to try to plough this crap with just a horse (if they were lucky) and then try to raise a crop in it?”
And I thought, as I slapped a mosquito that had escaped the influence of the coil: We’re not building this fence.
Here’s a partial list of who is actually building our fence:
The neighbour girls and their Maman who pulled out every single nail from the boards of the old fence so no one would step on one.
The neighbour girls’ Papa who gave us advice with his home builder’s experience.
Al from down the block who brought over his laser level when all we asked for was a sixteen foot board to balance a bubble level on.
My older brother who taught me almost everything I know about carpentry and stuff.
Gord’s father, who gave him a crappy cordless drill which was the inspiration for buying a good one.
But wait. It goes deeper.
The guy at The Keg and Cork (“The Long Hair”, I call him) who suggested I try the dollar store for string when Canadian Tire and Staples were lacking.
All those people involved in manufacturing, shipping and retailing the tools we used.
And the folks at the lumber yard.
And the sawmills and the facility that pressure treats the fence posts.
And the loggers and truckers.
And the people who made Al’s laser level.
And Theodore Maiman, who built the first functioning laser, and all those other physicists, engineers, and machinists back to that Einstein fellow, who made the laser possible.
And Mr. Robertson (a Canadian, by the way), who invented the best screw in the world, a screw on which I insisted when Gord went to pick up screws.
And Chief Pappaschase and his people, who made the immediately pragmatic but ill-advised decision to trade their claims to the land the fence is on for a bit of pretty much worthless paper about a hundred years ago.
And Al Gore, who invented the Internet, on which Gord depends for his livelihood.
And golfers, including my now departed friend Angus, who over two decades provided me with my livelihood, and all those German soldiers at Ortona who somehow managed to let Angus and some of his buddies in the Loyal Eddies come home.
And the Japanese couple who invented the mosquito coil.
And Louis Hébert, the first European farmer at Quebec City, the great-great . . . great grandfather of the neighbour girls who pulled so many nails.
And . . .
We’re not building a fence. We’re continuing a truly great and awe-inspiring human community.
And now the absurdly petty moral of this story:
Anyone, anywhere who actually thinks that U.S. President Barack Obama was saying anything other than “You’re continuing a truly great and awe-inspiring human community” when he said “. . . you didn’t build that . . .” is either obscenely arrogant or obscenely ignorant, or, more likely, both.
Maybe next time the President should use the immortal words of John Donne: “No man is an island, Dumbass!”
It’s gonna be the best good neighbour fence ever!