War is coming to the Slaughterhouse, or at least maybe a bit of light skirmishing. And it can all be traced back, allegedly, to the feline threat emanating from our backyard.
No, I’m not talking about Pepper the Kitten. He’s only 11 weeks old and we don’t allow him outside. Instead, our neighbors are rattling their sabers because of the other neighborhood cats, all of whom seem to enjoy hanging out in our back garden. This isn’t because I leave pork chops out for them. No, they are there for one reason—the neighbors have six bird feeders in their tree. And yes, these bird-loving neighbors are the same ones who are complaining about the cats.
Anyone else feel a Catch-22 coming on?
The neighbors are both retired, and devote themselves almost entirely to their “avian paradise.” They spend a lot of time in their garden, rearranging garden gnomes, hanging up underwear to dry, and filling bird feeders. Occasionally, a pair of colorful European parakeets drop by. But mostly, it’s only doves, sparrows, and crows. When I open my back door, this dull menagerie takes flight, usually dive-bombing me with crap and feathers as I scramble back inside. The doves also like to hang out on our dining room roof, which overlooks the tree with the feeders. The roof is made from this cheap plexiglass. You can vaguely see and hear the little dove feet click, click, clicking across it all day, as they preen and sex each other senseless between feedings. Pepper enjoys this show. I do not.
The wife next door saw me in the garden a few weeks ago and immediately launched into a tirade about the cats. It was in Dutch, so I only caught about 30 percent of it. I asked her politely to slow down, but she wouldn’t, or couldn’t. Still, I managed to get the gist. “The cats are in your back yard threatening our birds, they’re pooping and peeing all over the place, and you need to work a lot harder to scare them away. Ik begrijp het, en ik zal het doen. “I understand, and I’ll do it,” was about all I managed before she stomped off. What I really wanted to say was this: Het zijn uw verdomde vogelvoeders, mevrouw. “It’s your damn bird feeders, ma’am.” I came up with it, finally, about 20 minutes after our encounter.
You may be aware of this already, but there are only so many hours in a day. Obviously, I can’t and won’t sit there 24/7 waiting for a random cat to show up in my backyard, a cat I am then supposed to get rid of because it terrorizes the neighbors’ birds, which I not only hate but are also the main reason the cat is in my yard in the first place. Wind your way through that, and you’ll see the ridiculousness of what she was asking me to do.
But, in the interest of peace in the Slachthuisbuurt, I bought a device that emits high-pitched frequencies cats supposedly hate. This machine, I quickly discovered, was solar-powered, which is of limited utility in the Netherlands. It only worked on sunny summer days, and even then only intermittently. The neighborhood cats quickly learned to sit just outside the range of the motion detector that triggers the noise. Cleverly, they happened to also choose places where they could still see the birds next door. There would be four cats, sometimes five, in a semi-circle in my back garden, all with visions of avian death in their glittering eyes. I waited, impatiently, for a witch to show up with a cauldron.
Meanwhile, the neighbors inched toward simmering rage.
Then, a few Saturdays ago, I woke up to find that they’d gone “Full Trump.” At 8 am, they began installing a barricade of green garden mesh on top of our shared brick wall. They worked on it non-stop until 6 pm. Why it took them so many hours to do it, I’ll never know. There was endless fiddling to bend the pliable metal into shape, and then constant hammering to secure it to the bricks on their side of the wall. By beer-thirty, they had what the Donald might call “a beautiful green wall that you can see through and that nobody can climb.” I was sure a public statement would soon follow proclaiming Birdland totally safe and secure. Belgium, I assumed, would be paying for it.
The next morning, as I sat enjoying a cup of coffee and (unsuccessfully) ignoring the sounds of the doves fornicating on my roof, I watched as one of our neighborhood’s biggest cats skirted the perimeter of my deterrent device, took two leaps straight up the shared brick wall, and then laid down on the green mesh barricade not two feet away from the tree and the bird feeders. Ten hours of precision craftsmanship completely flattened in seconds. As the startled birds took off, they showered my plexiglass with droppings and feathers. War, as they say, is hell.
Later that day, after a storm moved through, I noticed that one of the neighbors’ beloved garden gnomes had fallen from the brick wall into our garden. His tiny ceramic hand, holding a coveted mushroom, had been shattered. Was it the storm? Was it one of the cats? Or was it just a bit of “bad luck?” I gathered the gnome’s remains together and then started looking up the vocabulary needed to ease this situation, which had now officially gone to DEFCON 3, with hints of 2 on the horizon.
But the truth is that I couldn’t wait to reach over that crumpled mesh and say, with the faintest hint of a smile: Sorry, je tuinkabouter heeft een klein ongeluk gehad. Ik denk dat het een van die voegels was. “Sorry. Your garden gnome had a little accident. I think it was one of those birds.”
Dispatches from the front lines to follow in the coming weeks.
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