My father, who was a lawyer, delighted in telling the story of how a woman came to him as a potential client in her divorce case and told him, “I want you because I’ve heard you’re the meanest man in town.”
I don’t know for sure if my father deserved that superlative reputation, but I do remember a feud that he had with one of our neighbors.
The neighbor, who lived across the street from our side yard and whom we had no interaction with other than the feud, was parking his car on the grass on our side of the road. This wasn’t neatly manicured lawn grass, but my father was irritated that the car was so visible to him, and he considered the neighbor’s action a kind of trespassing.
I never did know the actual legality of the situation. I suspect that where the car was parked was technically road shoulder right-of-way since my father never called the sheriff. But maybe he just preferred to settle matters like real men did in the Old West. He and the neighbor never exchanged a word. Not one. Like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, they let their actions do the talkin’.
QUIT HITCHIN’ YER HORSE TO MY HITCHIN’ POST: So my father bought several 3-foot-wide, 2-foot-high sections of wooden white picket fence like you might edge a flower garden with and put them out every few feet to block off the alleged parking space.
The next morning the fencing had been pulled up and moved to the side, and there was that damned parked car again. It was clear: That sod-buster was tryin’ to jump my father’s claim.
We put the fences up again as soon as the car left, and again that dratted sidewinder pulled them up. This pattern repeated several times until one day we found the fences smashed to bits as if they’d been run over—or maybe trampled in a stampede. Round one to the neighbor.
I’M CALLING YOU OUT, PILGRIM: In round 2 of the feud, my father upped the stakes. We had a fallen pine tree log as thick as a telephone pole, about 10-12 feet long, and my father had me and a couple of my brothers roll and drag the thing to the disputed territory and then had us nail about a hundred big nails in it, making it more difficult to roll and making it something you wouldn’t want to run a car tire over. Furthermore, a giant nail-covered club-like log sends a different message than dainty little white picket fences. This was clearly more than a physical barrier; it was a warnin’.
For a few days, this new tactic seemed to have worked, but then there was that infuriating car again and absolutely no sign of the studded log. This was low-downer than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut, but round 2 went again to the neighbor—that fence-breakin’, log-thievin’ parkin’ rustler.
Another man, a less macho man, might have backed down at this point—but not the meanest man in town.
DRAW, YOU YELLOW-BELLIED SUNUVABITCH: So my father emptied his six-gun, which is to say he ordered 6 truck loads of dirt and had it dumped at high noon all along the side of the road, creating a 6-foot-high bank, a Boot Hill if you will, making parking impossible short of dynamiting. Final round to my father. That parking space literally six feet under.
So at a tender age, I learned something: The key to winning a feud is commitment. No matter how petty, stubborn, or ornery your enemy might be, you have to be even pettier, stubborner, and, above all, ornerier.
In other words, if you want to feud like my loco deadeye dad did, you should be committed.
Bill Spencer is author of Uranus Is Always Funny: Short Essays to Make You Laugh.