Nothing unexpected happens in Maple Grove. The neighbors prune their trees and cut their hedges. A stranger can tell what each house does for a living based on the cars in the driveway. The Prius and the Nissan Leaf belong to educators. Their house is blue with purple trim. There is a Rainbow Peace sign stuck into their rose garden—apparently, they are still living in the 60s, and they believe everyone should love each other; in fact, it would be a good idea if the government forced people to do that. They all live in the same row, and are seen huddling in circles, passing grass, and listening to rock music with their hair blowing in the wind.
A few streets down are some rusted-out trucks. The picture window is always open, displaying a pirate flag. The guys out front are bald, big, and have bellies that stick out from beneath their Metallica t-shirts. There is always a firepit and a conversation. The rest of the houses belong to retirees, and people who want suburban life. Most of the houses were built in the 1950s—they are the one-story ramblers with brick or stone siding.
This particular story concerns two neighbors; one with an enormous yard, and the other with a tall hedge. The hedge is over 10 feet because Bob Schramm has put-off trimming it due to his other projects. He has built two decks, put in a hot tub, and installed a Choi pond with waterfall. Lately, he is having trouble with the racoons.
“I know how to solve your problem,” Richard says.
“Stakeout with a bee-bee gun; I still have mine when we were kids. Just give me 24 cans of beer and I’ll pop the bastard!”
Bob trusts his brother like a best friend, and in the morning, Richard has killed something, but it’s the neighbor’s cat. He couldn’t see straight and still managed to shoot it. That’s what three tours in Vietnam will do, along with paranoia and regular flashbacks.
Bob has three daughters and a wife who changes her religion every year, and who insists that everyone adopt the appropriate prayer before each meal. She was Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, and now Jewish. They adopted a boy with a traumatic brain injury. His name is Christopher, but everyone calls him Chip. He has to wear a football helmet to protect his brain from further concussions, and as he grows up, half the side of his body becomes more and more paralyzed or neurologically affected.
The green house with the big lawn next door always has new renters. There was a steel worker, long-haul trucker who shot himself, young guy who owned two pit bulls and worked from home, and the latest guy. He is approximately 37, good looking, and single. He remains single, which causes the neighborhood to talk.
“I think he’s gay,” Marilyn says. “He always has male friends over, but I never see him with a girl.”
“No…no, that’s not it; I heard he’s a sex offender. I checked the neighborhood database, and I think his house is the sex offender house,” Margaret says. They get to gossiping, and pretty soon, they are ready to convict Adam on circumstantial evidence and their expert eye-witness testimonies.
It does not help that Adam is a bit eccentric, and by eccentric, I mean curious. He grows cucumbers in terrariums, plants zucchinis and tries to get them as big as he possibly can; then he gives them away on Halloween. He has his own sense of humor. In the summertime, Adam pays Christopher to mow his lawn. It’s a push mower that Christopher has to operate with one hand.
“The boy,” as Bob calls him, takes-off his shirt, exposing his pasty-white belly, and long curly brown chest hairs. As he walks the mower around the yard, he tilts to one side. His pants come down, exposing his crack. Christopher has to stop and pull up his pants with his one good arm, which causes the mower to die. Then he has to yank the cord to get the thing started again.
“Hey Chip, would you like a root beer?” Adam asks.
“Yeah!” Christopher yells. He limps over.
“That’s some work you’re doing; it’s over 80 degrees,” Adam says. “How are you holding up?”
“My dad told me I have to wash the cars, after.”
“Well, that should cool you off. Have you played Grand-Theft-Auto?”
“I’ve got it on virtual-reality, if you’d like to try it out?”
Christopher consents and they go inside. The setup looks like a dentist’s chair. It’s grey and molds around the person who lays in it.
“The cool part about this chair is that it can help you to sense the game,” Adam says.
Pretty soon Christopher is shooting gangsters, stealing cars, and having sex with prostitutes. It’s a great time. He barely notices the electricity, running the length of his leg. He can’t see the blue light because he has on goggles, but his whole body looks like Luke in the Return of the Jedi after being electrocuted by the Emperor.
Strange thing is that Christopher walks better after that. His special education teachers in the 21 Program notice that Christopher is getting all the answers right. He even corrects his teacher. That never happens, and it makes Ms. Gray self-conscious that someone with an intellectual disability is helping her teach.
“When you go to college and get a Master’s Degree in Special Education, then, and only then, can you give me instructions in how to teach,” she says.
Christopher isn’t fazed by her insecurity. “I think I’m going to study chemical engineering,” he says.
“Yeah, like that’s going to happen,” she scoffs.
He goes home for dinner. His mother is saying the Jewish prayer, and then he corrects her.
“Mom, you’re supposed to say, ‘King of the Universe’.”
“Honey, it’s ‘prince of the universe.’”
“Mom, I’m pretty sure it’s ‘King’.”
She checks. “By god, you’re right. What’s got into you?”
“I don’t know. Can I go play videogames with Adam?”
“Okay, but come back home in one hour.”
That fall, Christopher goes to college—community college and he starts taking chemistry classes. In one quarter, he is on the cross-country team. He plays videogames as much as he can and has major discoveries in the chemical field. His parents always say not to trust strangers and that videogames will rot his brain, but not taking their advice has worked out. Perhaps, the worst vice is advice, and in only 6 short years, Christopher has his PhD and the Nobel Prize.