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Thursday, May 12, 2005

bigleaf maple


Topic of the week *has* to be felling and girdling, as defined by the distressing letter from Vic Martino and Maggie Smith ( "Call neighbors before cutting") detailing the chainsaw massacre on their property, nobly supported by the Police Blotter report of

"Trespassing on Beck Road. A resident [Martino] reported that his neighbor had hired a tree service to trim a tree that was clearly on the complainant's property.

Healthy tree branches were cut, and one damaged [Martino's] fence. The incident is under investigation."

I must say, I'm impressed by the very mildness of the Martino-Smith letter, although I confess to a chill running through me as I read the disgraceful tale:
  • Neighbor commissions three professionals to "cut some dead branches from a maple tree on the property line"
  • Neighbor sees no necessity for discussing these plans with the Martino/Smiths, even tho' adjacent neighbors were contacted over similar tree cutting which turns out to be for the sole benefit of improving views from the culprit's house.
  • Nor did the tree trimmers pay Martino the courtesy of introducing themselves and explaining their commission - even tho' it involved one of them trespassing 25 feet up a tree on Martino property.
  • According to the view lovers, they saw no necessity to discuss with the Martino-Smiths either their plans or the timing.

"Why did they not speak with us?" asks Martino, describing their failure as "disturbing" and calling into question their whole motives over this appalling incident.

Well, I think I can shed some light, being cut from the exact same cloth of moral cowardice as Martino's craven neighbors. I know exactly the feeling of having the guts to face neighbors from whom I expect little opposition but keeping my guilty conscience well clear of the Vic Martinos in this life, even to the extent of glossing over the need for the tree cutters to worry about a little trespass or wreaking damage.

If it had been me, I'd've made damn'd sure I was nowhere around when Vic came out *and* I'd've cobbled up some cock-and-bull story for the chainsawer to affect innocence while fobbing Martino off as they got on with the job.

I see nothing "inexplicable" about failing to communicate before giving the cutters the green light. Story of my life when I suspect I'll be contradicted or nay-said: far easier to slither around behind people's backs, achieve what I want and then wring my hands in confusion at their puzzling ire.

Maybe such dishonesty does guarantee "a troubled outcome" but what do the spineless care?: Vic and Maggie's maple is pruned, the offending branches lopped, the neighbor has his view.

All of which reminds me of an incident dear to my heart that took place around Christmas 1993 in the Hong Kong seashore village of Stanley.

We lived in a first-floor apartment whose balcony enjoyed a splendid seaview and from which there was a drop of 15 or so feet to the road below.

Our neighbors to the left were a gourmet restaurant whose annual display of Christmas lights rivaled in splendor even those Baker Hill artistes.

To power the lights, they needed to run a large cable across our balcony ledge which involved some agile kitchen porter maneuvering the wire across our property.

Year after year, I demanded that the German proprietor at least have the courtesy to send someone round to ask permission and let us know what was going on. To no avail. Who were we, mere residents, compared to his international clientèle? Besides, what was I going to do? Sue him?

15-yr old Harry on BainbridgeBut let us leave the distasteful story of Stanley's Restaurant and talk of my faithful dog, "Harry" - no longer with us but a true survivor, living to the grizzled age of 15, six more years than is usually given to his breed of Labrador/Lurcher.

That's him there, faithful old boy, in the arthritic autumn of his years.

Harry with meat, Stanley, Hong KongBut back in 1993, Harry was in his sleek fittest prime and, altho' a complete softie by nature, utterly lethal when gnawing on red meat. One slid the bone across and stood well back, making very sure not to give him *any* reason to believe that you might be approaching to share - or even remove - his feast.

See that expression there? The lean mean stare? That body was a coiled spring and any teasing tone or another 2 steps would buy you medieval retaliation.

Because of the children and visitors, the safe way to bandy meat around was to chuck it out on the verandah and shut the door behind Harry as he followed it out. Disbelieving friends would approach the glass of the door and leap back ashen-faced at the sheer ferocity of Harry's reaction.

Young Harry snarling with meat, Hong KongI took the two photos shown here when it was just him and me - Alpha male master - in the house. And I did not press the point with him.

See where I'm going with this?

  • Holmes family finishes carnivorous meal and chucks bones out on verandah for killer hound's contented gnawing pleasure.
  • Meanwhile, next door, Obergr├╝penf├╝hrer Manager instructs his staff to start installing the Christmas lights cable.
  • Hapless coolie edges along railing of darkened balcony. With a primeval roar that must have changed little since sabre-toothed ancestors prowled the land, out of the gloom springs this black-as-sin "creature".

    God, I wish I'd been there to see: the guy must have flung himself as far as possible from Harry because when I looked out he was writhing in the middle of the road, a good eight or ten feet from the building.

    By the time I got down, the guy's kitchen cronies were gathering round, soon to be joined by the German maître d' who huffed and puffed about calling the police and vowed to prosecute and have our dangerous dog put down.

    The young man seemed more bruised and shocked than hurt but his pals were telling him in Cantonese to lie still in case anything was broken.

    I just laughed and laughed and said I wished I'd seen it, at the same time pointing out to the kraut that it was exceedingly selfish if not dangerous to place an employee in that situation without first checking the lie of the land. I assured him that I was equally eager for the local constabulary to arrive and pronounce on the legality of trespassing in this way. When the bobby turned up, he was a young chappie whose lack of English made it easier to converse in Cantonese:

  • What did this gwei-lo (gesturing at the German) think he was doing sending an unsuspecting local across private property, risking him being nabbed for trespassing?
  • On top of which, so dangerous to put him in harm's way, sneaking up on a highly-strung pet. Aiyah! Why, my dog could have had a heart-attack, besides which look what happened to the young man? He could fallen on his head and been killed.
  • A full report was called for to allow the restaurant's insurance to pay in full for his injuries - and who knew *how* much more for 'emotional distress'.

    "Wai, pung-yau - oy, pal - " I growled in sotto voce Cantonese, "you stay down there and a bit of moaning and groaning wouldn't do your case any harm neither."

    By now Herr manager had caught on that he was being left out so he started ranting on about my vicious dog, who by then had finished (or had removed) his viande and was doing his blank-gazed cuddly toy imitation, wagging tail and peering down at Massa, 9-year-old Georgina stroking him on one side and 2-yr-old Anna tugging at his whiskers on the other.

    I assured the bruised electrician - and translated for the Teuton - that he could count on me as his witness to clinch maximum workman's compen for being put in such a dangerous situation, and that he should make sure the police report was detailed.

    The restaurant would certainly have had insurance, if only to cover diners, but it was highly unlikely they'd ever educate their lowly staff as to their rights.

    My mention of workman's comp seemed to come as an intriguing and welcome concept to be milked for all it was worth. As for "emotional distress", I think I translated it as sudden unexplained bouts of unhappiness, inability to sleep and when he could bad dreams of falling, fear of dogs, unexplained uncharacteristic difficulty in satisfying his girlfriend (cheers and jeers: very popular that one).

    Suddenly we were shaking hands and patting backs and apologizing for any bad feeling, glaring in concert at the exasperated Manager who hadn't the faintest idea what was going on but was none too happy about the copious notes the policeman was taking or the mysteriously friendly reception I was getting.

    With a final cheery wave up at the girls and a tail-wagging Harry, all concerned parted ways.

    I know this is scant comfort for the disgraceful behaviour of the Martino-Smith's running-dog neighbors, but I sense a karmic come-uppance eminently pleasing to all.

    It's been fun just remembering my good old boy and digging out those photos in salute.

    "Under investigation", indeed, mes chers! I have full confidence in the editor keeping us abreast with reportage of the full grisly details, and I look forward to blog-casting the outcome. Os!

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