Friday, September 10, 2010

Part Two of Another Dollar Word-ing Story - The Guard of the Gate

The following is an example of the Dollar Word rules in action.

Has it ever come up before on this blog that I grew up in a gated community? Wait, wait, it's not what you think. While the lake community in question is very nice, it's hardly the highfalutin' assortment of chateaus one imagines. The gate, when I was growing up, was actually a person, usually a retiree or a part-time student, someone for whom this was just a job or for whom this was a way to act out bizarre fantasies of authority. In fact, it still is, except now there's actually a gate for the gate guard to guard, to put down (with a remote control) when intruders approach and to raise when a resident car sticker is spotted.

But back in the late '80's, all the gate guard could do was wave at people, flagging down cars without residency stickers and, when they slowed down, approach them with a clipboard and collect their information: Who are you visiting? What's their address? What's your name? What's your address? And then, instead of asking for a license plate number, the gate guard sloooooooooooowly will walk around the car and slowly, painstakingly, copy down the plate number. They still do this, too, before they'll raise the stupid gate and let you in. Even if you have a resident in the car, who shows the gate guard their membership card or their ID (with an address on it), they will go through this whole extensive process.

You can imagine what a pain this is during rush hour. Because it's actually a BIG gated community. There are probably at least a hundred households, at least a hundred people waiting to go home behind those few people giving their information to the guard.

Now, you might be wondering how this was enforced before there was a gate. If the guard just waved to people, surely it was possible for them to keep driving. Except some of the guards had (and still have) a habit of throwing themselves in the path of oncoming traffic. One would have to choose &mdash stop the car, or hit the gate guard. It was (is) always the mean ones, the power trippers (the ones who are Triple Platinum Elite Frequent Fliers on Power Trip Airlines) who did this.

One summer in the late '80's, a very mean old man was the gate guard. He wasn't merely crotchety or cranky in an old man way. He was, from what I remember the grownups saying, rude and abrasive. (Keep in mind that I was a preschooler in the late '80's.) Perhaps his worst offense was that he regularly stopped cars that had community residence stickers on them.

I vaguely remember what he looked like. It's been more than two decades, so it's a little hazy, but I imagine him looking not terribly sinister. Just like someone's grandfather. A thin, white-haired old man. Except that his eyes were black and soulless. Or maybe it's just that I only saw him with sunglasses on.

One story in particular that I remember overhearing (as a four-year-old) was picked up secondhand from a sociable neighbor who regularly had us all over. Family and friends from outside of the neighborhood were also invited on big events such as birthdays and the Fourth of July. The neighbor had a teenage niece with acne. At the time, I didn't know what "acne" was, but she described to us how it was painful and this niece had to go to the dermatologist; I guessed, as a four-year-old, that it was some kind of rash. Anyway, the gate guard stopped this niece when she was on her way to my neighbor's barbecue. As he was copying her information onto his clipboard, he suddenly looked at her, stopped writing, and asked, "What's that on your face?" He reportedly gestured with his pen, crossing the barrier of her partway-open window and may have even touched her face with his pen!!!!!

"And you know," her aunt added, "acne is painful!!!!"

In my last memory of that gate guard, it was night. It was very late, perhaps midnight. My father was driving my mother and me home from somewhere. We were both bobbing in and out of sleep. As we approached the gate, the braking of the car awoke us both. When I opened my eyes, the mean old man gate guard with the empty abyss-like eyes was approaching the drivers' side. My father rolled down his window.

It is possible that further conversation between the two men occurred, but I do not remember it. Keep in mind that I was only four. In my memory's version of events, when the mean old gate guard's face was visible looming in the driver's side window, his eyes as black as the midnight sky, my father let out a growly shout, "I live here, FUCK!"

Any of his attempts to sound tough were spoiled by what happened next. From the back of the car, behind the driver, floated a high little voice: "Daddyyyyy, you owe me a dollar!"

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