At an angle across the road from my home is a two-family rental house and a freestanding workshop owned by a local homebuilding company. The view from my window is not an eyesore but neither is the property a delight.
The building company uses the shop to fabricate custom work and to store materials. The rear of the shop faces a waterline buried under a packed dirt walking path. Between the path and the shop is a hiding ground of construction debris.
Weeds spring up among spare bricks and leftover slate tiles and unused concrete blocks. Black drainage tubes coil like a nest of giant snakes. There’s a sad pile of scrap lumber, and orphaned iron railings, and cracked windows and damaged parts.
I can’t see this jumble from my house, but if I walk or run down the waterline path, which I often do, the trash and the treasure both are on display.
For me, the treasure comes in the form of four concrete blocks that I could use to construct a solid base for a new rain barrel I’m going to install. I could buy blocks at a building materials store. They’re cheap. But it’s the time of COVID-19, shopping is on an as-needed-only basis, and re-use of materials is environmentally better than buying new.
Or I could ask. I know the owners of the shop and am pretty sure they’d be happy to give me a couple of blocks.
I don’t ask. I’m going to sneak over by way of a dark night and help myself.
I start cooking something up.
The next day at the end of my run I stop there and choose the four blocks I want and I arrange them in a line so I won’t have to dig them out and make guesses when I come back at night.
There are two ways to get there from my house. Walk around one block and take the entrance to the waterline from the road, then go past the first house, then the rental house, then arrive at the rear of the shop. About 200 yards. The other way is to cut between two houses, mostly lawn with a few leafy maples, and 50 yards shorter, but you have to walk on the same side as the entrance to the two-family, and they keep lights on and are usually around in the evening.
I should wait until later, after the neighborhood is asleep. No, I’ll be asleep then too.
Four concrete blocks. About forty pounds each. Could I carry two in one trip, make two trips total? One in each arm, like suitcases. They were heavy. I was unsure.
At full dark I head there over the long way, along the road, my eyes adjusting. No cars, no people. I turn left onto the waterline trail, walk along the rear of the houses, beyond the yellow pools of their suburban floodlights.
Behind the shed the blocks are lined up in the grass, their gray faces glowing. I squat and pick up one and then the other, one in each hand, and so heavy I head straight for the shortcut between the two houses instead of taking the long way as planned.
Just before I’m in the pass between the houses I set down the blocks to rest and catch my breath. Headlights appear on the road. A van sweeps into the parking area. It’s going to stop on my side.
I pick up the blocks and push through the darkness and then the light. I duck under a maple and almost lose my footing in the depression between land and road, but I pass unnoticed. I set the blocks down again. My heart is pounding and my shoulders and arms tingle with fatigue but my hands are the worst from trying to keep a grip.
I lift again and make it the rest of the way across the street and up my driveway. I drop the blocks. Their weight had overwhelmed me. I hate the thought of making another trip.
The van has parked and shut off its lights. I return by the long way again. As I’m getting close there’s someone on the side porch of the house next to the shop knocking on the door, opening the metal screen and knocking again, this time hard on the frame. It must be the driver of the van. I’m thirty yards away in the shadows and can’t be seen.
The door to the house opens and whoever was banging disappears inside. I think they do. They might be standing just inside the door. I listen for a minute.
There’s no way I’m walking between the houses now. I have to go around. This time I slide a forearm through the gap in each block and lift them that way. A lot easier. I need only one rest stop on the way back.
Now I’ve got my blocks. And lessons learned. One: Should have used a wheelbarrow. Two: It takes a thief.