It was our first day in the new house. We had plastered and insulated and painted and moved our shabby furniture in, and my father arranged our pots and pans on hooks over the woodstove, where they would be easily accessible for cooking. Our six forks were lined up in a drawer, and our toothbrushes perched in my silver christening cup (long ago tarnished) next to the kitchen sink. As the shadows lengthened, he proposed that we go on a walk, exploring our new town.
We left the side door open, figuring it would get some air while we were out, and bushwhacked through the nasturtiums to Caspar Road. Taking a right, we ambled past Caspar Street and the Caspar Inn, to the end of the road. We climbed the fence onto Caspar Lumber Company Land*, and strolled out across the headlands, dotted with bored cows, towards the ocean. Those cows were occupying some expensive real estate, but they didn’t seem to mind. In later years they would frequently get loose, with invariably entertaining results.
As I navigated cow patties in my Keds and chattered to my father about our new house, dodging gorse bushes and pointing at trees, he began to look rather morose.
Suddenly, out of a depression in the grasses, a deranged and filthy figure rose, waving a Heineken in one hand and a cigar in the other. He seemed as startled to see us as we were to see him, and for a moment we stood in silence, all looking at the cows together.
“Oh,” he said, finally. “Are you here for the Warsaw Pact?”
My father took a moment before replying.
“No, actually, we’re not,” he said.
“Oh,” the man said.
We had just met our first neighbor, George.
*In high school, I executed a rather complicated prank utilizing the Caspar Lumber Company’s no trespassing signs–I happened to have access to the print shop where the original signs had been printed, and I reset the type with one small difference–“Prosecutors Will Be Violated”–and reprinted the signs on thick creamy card stock on the old Heidelberg windmill press (Heidi, for short), carefully replacing each original sign with a doctored one. Although the Caspar Lumber Company is long gone now, every now and then a hiker will be stumble across a sign that begins “YOU ARE ENTERING CASPAR LUMBER COMPANY PROPERTY. NO TRESPASSING. PROSECUTORS WILL BE VIOLATED.”