One summer some years ago my parents lived in a duplex apartment a few doors down from my family. Out of town relatives came to visit the both of us for the weekend. The number of visitors overflowed our guest accommodations so my daddy set up their Cox Camper in our side yard to make room for everyone. For those of you who might not know – a Cox Camper is basically a large tent on wheels and this particular camper held two large double beds so everyone had a comfy place to sleep. The weekend was grand and after the crowd had gone my husband and I relaxed in a pair of lawn chairs that evening enjoying the quiet. Suddenly there was shouting and indefinable loud noises from our next-door neighbor’s house. It seemed the noises and shouting came first from the front door and then from the back. The sounds would quiet momentarily and then resume. After a time a squad car appeared with flashing blue lights and a couple of policemen went to their front door.
Our neighbors at that time were a couple about our age that I will call Donna and Denny – friendly and usually reserved. However, Denny was known to overindulge on occasion and sometimes turbulence ensued. He moved out and then in again on a regular basis. And sometimes the cops came to visit. We did not have easy visibility to the goings on there and were usually on the periphery of whatever took place with only a vague sense of whether the weather was foul or fair. On this particular night we had a nearly ringside seat and fell prey to curiosity. We repositioned ourselves quietly into the convenient camper for cover and lay down on the large bed with an advantageous window to secretly spy on the unfolding scene.
The police presence brought a few loud and angry words from inside their house but soon things seemed calm and the police drove away with no passengers so we assumed all was well. But not for long. The back door burst open and Denny spilled out and onto the porch, stumbled down the stairs, and was propelled into the yard muttering to himself, clearly still angry. In the blindness of his rage compounded by the unfamiliar darkness he was completely oblivious to the clothesline directly in his path and his neck met the wire at such a velocity that his body flew into a perpendicular line – his feet and head on the same latitude – and for a split second his entire body was suspended horizontally about 5 feet in midair. It was pure slapstick comedy at its best – like a cartoon come to life! Only we didn’t dare laugh aloud – owing to Denny’s current state of anger and inebriation. Instead we convulsed into laughter as quietly as possible – clamping hands over our mouths. Denny’s midair suspension was only momentary and he landed with a great thud onto his back. This setback only fueled his drunken fury. He sputtered and growled and rolled around on the ground for a time but eventually managed to right himself. Weaving and cursing he grabbed his clothesline nemesis with both his hands and commenced to try with all his might to tear it out of his way. Denny had not considered that whoever installed this clothesline had permanence in mind. The line was made of wire and the wooden posts had been encased in cement. That clothesline wasn’t going anywhere and it held its ground as solidly as any gallant knight on horseback. It allowed Denny some leeway but in the end insisted on holding its firm position and took Denny with it, hurling him to the ground a second time – much less gracefully than on his first trip down. You’d think the humiliation would have made Denny give up but I suppose he determined that he wasn’t going to be beaten by something so mundane and ordinary as a clothesline. With an animal yowl he rose again to do battle with the dastardly clothesline. This time he widened his stance and grasped the clothesline with bear like paws and proceeded to yank forward and backward with strong hurling motions, cursing all the while. His movements only succeeded in setting the wire into an equally strong gyroscopic motion that sent Denny into a spinning free-fall backwards where he came to another tremendous thud onto his back and was left looking up haplessly into the night sky. Being utterly and supremely defeated by a clothesline was more than Denny could bear. He howled and cursed some more and then dragged himself up to standing. He swayed and lurched toward the clothesline but thought better of launching another attack this time and made his way warily around the post to an unsuspecting outbuilding where he kept tools and whatnot. My husband and I stuffed pillows into our mouths to stifle our laughter and listened to Denny hurl tools and swear words around the toolshed until at long last his tirade subsided. Eventually he shuffled out of the shed mumbling with much less energy. Considerably subdued he moved on down the street into the night. The clothesline had won. The end. The show was over. We closed the camper and went to bed. The next morning that clothesline stood quiet and unassuming as usual. But there were a few people a bit wiser about the power of that clothesline than they’d been the day before.
Over the years something or other triggers our memory of the clothesline incident and my husband and I can see the whole scene replay itself in our minds. And this time we laugh right out loud.