April '10

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In a little town called Purley, not far from London, lived a man named Nigel Varley. Nigel was a cantankerous man. He lived alone in a small house with a very nice garden up front. No one really knew how old Nigel was. In fact, no one knew much about Nigel at all, not even his neighbors. He lived like a hermit, always keeping to himself. Except for the occasional visit to his mother, who was naturally a lot older than he, Nigel never socialized.

Nigel was a short, stocky man, with thinning white hair and a thick moustache which hung down in a permanent frown from the edges of his mouth. He owned and managed a small store in Purley, selling and repairing photographic equipment. Because little else occupied his life, Nigel took great pride in his store. He loved working undisturbed in the back room, tinkering with an old camera or recording devices. In fact, only one thing mattered more to Nigel than his store, and that was his garden.

It’s well known that the English love their gardens. And Nigel was no exception, except that he took it to the extreme. He spent many hours each week tending to his petunias and hydrangeas. The fence to the right was lined with a generous selection of pink and red roses, tulips, daffodils, and many other varieties of flowers. The center of the garden was occupied by a patch of grass, cut to perfection once a week. To the left stood a majestic birch tree which gave the front porch ample shade during the humid summer months. A flat stone path ran down the middle of the garden, leading to an old-fashioned mailbox where the lawn met the sidewalk. The entrance was accented by a beautiful rose-covered trellis. Nigel’s neighbors often stopped to admire his lovely garden. 
On Saturdays the shop was open for only a few hours, and Sundays it was closed. So weekends were Nigel’s time to putter in his garden, and he would stay out there all day long spreading manure, spraying insecticide, or lovingly pruning his roses. He even scared off the birds who dared to pick seeds from his lawn. Two or four-legged creatures had no place in Nigel’s life. Especially dogs. The thought of a spaniel or poodle running wild in his garden gave Nigel nightmares. The only pet Nigel afforded himself was his goldfish, Petunia.

Nigel didn’t like people, and he resented having to be around them. He hated customers at the shop who chatted about the weather or their latest vacation. He wished they just gave him their camera or video recorder to repair, or bought whatever they wanted, and left. As an only child, Nigel was left alone for hours on end while his parents worked, and at school he never played with other children, preferring to watch them play their games from a distance.

Over the years, Nigel developed an eye for observation. At parties he would quietly sit and watch people, passing the time imagining odd habits or personality traits they might have. This developed into a fascination with spying, which led young Nigel into photography. He learned how to use a camera and develop the negatives, and experimented with different film stocks. After finishing school, he found work in a camera shop, and there his interests grew to more sophisticated cameras and a whole range of photographic equipment. When the owner of the shop retired, Nigel bought it.

Nigel’s business thrived. The odd paradox was that he had to deal more and more with people as his business grew. There started his interest in gardening. His garden became a sort of sanctuary, a place where he could be alone and at peace.
One night Nigel was walking home from the shop. He was in a particularly good mood. He’d struggled all afternoon taking apart an old Houghten Autorange 820. The rotating focusing wheel on the lens bed assembly was jammed. But through diligent work, and thankfully few interruptions, he’d succeeded in fixing it. Whistling a happy tune, Nigel enjoyed the fifteen minute walk from his shop. He owned a van, which he used primarily for deliveries, but he preferred to walk to and from work. It was good exercise, plus it gave him the chance to spy on his competition. Nigel’s garden was widely judged to be the best in the neighborhood, and he intended to keep it that way. Mrs. Wilson was his closest rival, but her roses couldn’t compete with his. The leaves curled open in a vulgar fashion, he observed, smiling contemptuously as he passed by, and the stems were woefully thin. Clearly Mrs. Wilson used an inferior fertilizer, or gasp, none at all! Across the street lived the Lemleys. Nigel scoffed at their garden’s pathetic floral arrangement. Who in their right mind would place shade-loving foxgloves beside sun-worshipping roses? What amateurs! And here we have Mr. and Mrs. Stoneshaft, with the tacky dwarf sculptures with wheelbarrows and rakes, placed all around, made to look like they are working in the garden. Then Nigel smiled when he saw his beautiful geraniums up ahead. They stood out like a mirage in the desert, he thought.
As he rounded the corner onto the walking path, something caught his eye. He looked closer, and froze, shocked by what he saw. There, in the middle of his garden, was a large pile of dog poop! Enraged, Nigel ran into the house and returned with a plastic bag to remove the offensive boil from the beautiful face of his lawn. After disposing of the bag, he hosed the area, thoroughly soaking the spot, thereby removing all evidence of the disgusting thing that had festered there for God knows how long. Could the neighbors have seen it?! The thought horrified Nigel. He hurried back into town and bought a NO LITTERING sign, which he planted in the middle of the lawn.
Nigel had a miserable evening. His day was ruined. “How can people be so ignorant?” he grumbled, moping aimlessly around the living room. So uncaring for other people’s property. He tried to calm himself down by reading a magazine article about the feeding habits of the South American garden beetle, but it was no use.
Nigel didn’t sleep well that night. He dreamt about dogs running across his yard, and he himself was a scarecrow, helplessly hanging from the birch tree while the creatures did their filthy business below. The morning alarm rescued him. Tired and in a foul mood, Nigel dragged himself out of bed. After a quick shower and an unpleasant breakfast, he marched out the door and down the path through the garden. As he reached the trellis, he shot an angry glance at the NO LITTERING sign, and to his great surprise, there was a fresh turd, right beside the sign! Nigel stared in disbelief. The insolence! His temper rising, he stormed back into the house and repeated the clean-up act from the previous evening.  Then he hurried off to his shop, thinking very nasty thoughts on the way, without even the slightest glance at Mrs. Wilson’s garden.

Immediately after opening the shop, Nigel called the Purley city councilor to file a complaint. The pompous voice of Mr. Clivesdele explained that there was a fifty pound fine for littering, but one must have positive proof of identification before the councilor could levy a fine.

“What kind of proof?!” Nigel spat into the phone.

“Well, eyewitnesses, photographs, that sort of thing,” replied Mr. Clivesdele, which got Nigel thinking. He brusquely thanked the councilor and hung up the phone.
Nigel returned home that night with a plan. Even before he rounded the steps, he spotted a new deposit on his lawn. This time he wasn’t shocked. In fact, Nigel welcomed it, because this made his resolve all the stronger. With gritted teeth, he cleaned up the mess, brought out one of his best cameras, a Pentax LR3, fitted with a powerful 135 mm telephoto lens, and set about finding the best spot from which to capture the offender on film. The living room window had a perfect view of the front garden. Nigel moved his recliner smack dab in the center of the window, knowing that with the lights turned off he’d be well hidden from view. 

Nigel planned to get up early, so after a quick dinner and a brief read about planting honeysuckles in July, he was in bed by nine o’clock sharp. Despite his exhaustion from lack of sleep the previous night, he was jumpy with excitement. He could hardly wait to get up and carry out his plan, and it took several hours of anxious tossing and turning before he dozed off.
The alarm duly went off at five-thirty, and Nigel sprang out of bed, driven by the thought of revenge. He took up his position in the recliner. The camera rested on a tripod, focused on a ten-foot radius around the NO LITTERING sign, wide enough to catch the perpetrator on either side of the sign. He took the lens cap off, set the flash, checked all the settings and the batteries, film loaded properly. Satisfied all was ready, he sat back and waited, smiling diabolically.

It was still dark outside. A street lamp several houses down dimly lit the garden, but it was difficult to see much beyond the fence. Nigel craved a cup of tea, but he dared not risk leaving his spot. Instead he savored the capture, gleefully anticipating the moment. He waited patiently, and waited, and waited some more.

A car horn startled Nigel. He sat up, and squinted from the glaring day light outside. The living room clock read ten past nine. “Crap!” he shouted, and indeed, as he left the recliner he spotted another little mess on the lawn. An hour later, having cleaned the garden, bathed and devoured some burnt toast, accompanied by a steady flow of cursing, Nigel arrived at his shop with a stiff neck and a worse mood than the previous day. The customers seemed to sense his mood and avoided him, which was just fine with Nigel.

Try as he might, he couldn’t concentrate on work. Dreadful images of a mangy and unkempt mutt circling the NO LITTERING sign played in his mind. The nasty creature sniffed the smooth, even grass, then turned and squatted down ever so slowly, tail raising up… Nigel sighed aloud, startling a customer. He apologized, but the woman quickly left the shop.

Nigel closed the shop early. As he locked up, the roving security camera over the front door caught his eye. He watched it going back and forth, as an idea formed in his head. For the first time that day a smile formed on his face. Then he unlocked the door and hurried back into the shop. He gathered a stack of equipment, loaded it in the van, and drove home, where a pile of doggie doo awaited him.

Brimming with confidence, Nigel set about putting together his fail-proof booby trap. Using the Phillips 12TX system, he worked diligently, making sure everything worked. He hid a tiny electronic box by the hedge, which sent an invisible infrared beam across the lawn, near the sign. When the beam was broken, the video surveillance system would be activated. It was well after two in the morning when he was done. After testing the system twice, and satisfied everything worked, he had a bowl of soup and slumped off to bed, and slept almost at once.

Several hours later Nigel woke up. His eyes were red and baggy, and every muscle ached. But he was fueled with pure adrenaline. With a confident bounce he threw on his robe and entered the living room and eagerly peaked out the window. To his great disappointment, there was no dog poop! He checked the video tape, but the security system had not been activated. He raced outside and examined the area around the sign, but it was unsoiled. The entire garden had been left untouched by canine nether regions. No signs of human footprints either. This should have gladdened Nigel, but instead it upset him. If this was a victory, it was a hollow one. Whoever the culprit was, they were cunning. Rubbing his chin thoughtfully, Nigel retreated back into the house. He wasn’t throwing in the towel yet. He was determined to catch the intruders in the act, and triumphantly present his evidence in court. Nigel reset the system, got dressed and left for work. Walking with purpose, he told himself to be patient. He’d get his man yet, and victory would be all the sweeter.

That evening he couldn’t wait to get home and check the video. Passing Mrs. Wilson’s garden with suspicious eyes, he wondered if she was behind this. Unable to compete fairly with him, might she have resorted to vandalism? He glanced at the Lemley’s house. Could it be them? Or the Stoneshafts? I wouldn’t put it past them, he thought. He’d seen the look in their eyes as they strolled by his garden, mumbling quietly to each other, then smiling when they saw him, and faking a friendly, “Cheerio, Nigel!” But they couldn’t hide their jealousy from him.

To Nigel’s bitter frustration, the garden was again clean of dog litter. Somebody was playing him for a fool! He stomped into the house, and after a dreary evening, went early to bed. The next week went pretty much the same. Nigel set his system twice daily, but neither dog nor man put foot in his precious garden. Nigel had no choice but to accept the fact that the episode was over. Nothing to do but pack it in. He hadn’t won his glorious victory, but he hadn’t lost either, and his immaculate garden remained a symbol of his pride. That night he destroyed the NO LITTERING sign, dismantled the surveillance system and packed everything into his van, and returned it to the shop the next morning.

Friday night was Nigel’s night out. That was his weekly dinner date with his mother. They always ate at the same restaurant, a little diner around the corner from the old folks home where Nigel’s mum lived. Nigel always talked about his garden to his mother, and she listened dutifully, though she’d lost interest in the subject some years ago. He didn’t mention the intruder, however, because the episode still upset him. He returned home shortly after nine o’ clock, had a little night cap, and went to bed thinking about the weeds he would pull by the rosebush the following day.

Nigel always rose early on Saturdays so he could spend an hour in his garden before opening the shop at ten. After a lovely breakfast of eggs and ham and two cups of coffee, he put on his overalls and headed into his little paradise. But his sunny mood quickly turned dark when he discovered a fresh, extra large dropping on precisely the spot where the NO LITTERING sign had been. He stood there transfixed, staring in disbelief at the offensive thing. You might have expected Nigel to explode in anger at this time, but he did no such thing. With admirable self control, he quietly removed the turd and cleaned the area. Then he went inside and changed out of his overalls and walked to work. Passing Mrs. Wilson’s house, he couldn’t help notice the freshly planted tulips that complemented her hollyhocks. He hurried on to the shop and packed the surveillance system on the van, closed the shop early, and went straight home.

With great care and diligence, Nigel set up the system again. Tonight he would get his man, he was sure of it. The thought even made him smile. He bought another NO LITTERING sign, placed it in the same spot, and tested the system. Everything was go. Then he put the recliner back by the window, and prepared for a long stake-out. He made a thermos with tea, filled a cooler with sandwiches, cheese, potato chips, doughnuts and scones. Around his neck hung two cameras, and on his lap were a pair of binoculars. Let the bastard try it again, he thought, settling into the recliner. The time passed slowly, but Nigel was determined and waited patiently. He’d fought in North Africa under Monte in the War, fighting the Germans led by Rommel, the Desert Fox. He knew a thing or two about patience. They’d won then, and he’d win now. Patience, Nigel, he told himself.

Occasionally a child ran by, triggering the system. Nigel quickly rewound the tape and reset the automatic control. He checked his watch. It was well after five, and the anticipation was becoming unbearable. Dusk was setting in. The tea was gone, as were the potato chips, and only a few doughnuts were left. Nigel hadn’t been very hungry, he’d eaten out of boredom. And now he had to use the bathroom. But what if the perpetrator came while he was on the crapper? No, he couldn’t risk that. He remained in the recliner, firmly dug in . He would not be denied tonight.
Then it happened. A dog! A monstrous German shepherd had wandered onto his lawn. The surveillance system kicked on. Nigel perked up. Yes, he could see a clear image on the monitor. The dog sniffed the ground near the sign. A short distance behind him stood a silhouetted figure, partially hidden in the shadow of the trellis. The moment of truth had arrived. Nigel started trembling. “Come on,” he whispered, “do it!” The dog squatted down and started doing the dirty deed. And that was all Nigel could take. “Yes!” he shouted, springing out of his chair. In a flash he was on the lawn, charging the dark figure, screaming, “I caught you!” He ripped the sign from the ground and hit the intruder over the head with it, yelling, “Can’t you read?!!” She dropped her cane and fell back, hitting her head against the trellis, and lost consciousness. The German shepherd was all over Nigel in an instant. Some neighbors, reacting to the horrible racket, quickly arrived on the scene.

Nigel’s mother came to visit him in jail the following day. “How long do they intend to keep me here, mother?”

“The trial starts next week.”

Nigel stared angrily at his bandaged arms. “How was I to know the woman was blind? I can’t believe they’ll lock a man up for defending his own castle!”

“But you attacked her, my dear. It’s all very clear on the tape.”

FLIP note: Frans Vischer is a veteran character animator and storyboard artist. He lived in Purley for a year in the '90's. This original story is his property.

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