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Two-Dollar Duck

I suppose two dollars is a reasonable assessment of value for a 20-year old plastic duck decoy, a fair price to pay, I think, at a yard sale. I got it from my brother years ago, a hen mallard, and mounted her on top of my mailbox. I liked her presence there, spreading her charm and her (de)coy duck-smile to passersby. Now and then I am sure she evoked a smile in return. There's something about ducks that can do that. I think, too, that she represented a small piece of our personality. One day, about two years ago, I came to collect the mail and discovered that someone had ripped her from her perch and left her lying on the ground. Why would someone do that? It seemed a personal affront and stirred in me an anger for the perpetrator.

I restored her to her perch and all's been fine until last week when I picked up the mail and immediately noticed that my duck was gone. !!@#** was all I could say. This time, however, the perpetrator had also turned thief and carted her off. I searched up and down the roadway, through nearby vegetation and other likely places without success. The anger at my duck being ripped off returned; not only ripped from her perch, but stolen as well. She was my duck, dammit, and I liked having her there. I felt a certain void at her absence and again wondered, who the hell would do something like that? Who the f**k would steal my duck? An appropriate rhyme for the occasion. I could write a whole Dr. Suess book on that theme, R-rated for language.

But here we go: quirky timing and fate combined to bring about her return. It was only a couple of days following the theft when Lolly and I, along with our pooch, Mo`o (pronounced moe-oh, Hawaiian for lizard or gecko; water spirit) returning from a seaside walk along the pasture-lands east of Ho`okipa and a stop at Mana Foods in Pa`ia, pulled into our driveway. Lolly got out to open the gate and then it happened—the time sequence was uncanny. Had we stopped for a pedestrian, taken a different route, extended our hike, had a longer or shorter check-out line at Mana, driven either faster or slower, or for any number of possibilities not arrived home exactly when we did, the three or four-second window to spot our duck as it passed by our driveway on the back of a bicycle would have been lost. But Lolly spotted it and called out, “Hey! Where did you get that duck?” Then she came around to my window and said, “Our duck's on the back of that bicycle!”

I turned in time to see it disappear up the roadway and thought, yeah, sure looks like our duck. I left Lolly at the gate and drove around the driveway turn-around in pursuit of the duck, Mo`o still in the back seat.

The idea never occurred to me that this relatively simple and straight-forward rescue of our stolen duck would result in cops, charges of assault and one of the most unpleasant and frustrating encounters I've ever had with another human, all over a two-dollar duck. I easily overtook the bicycle and noted that, yes, that's our duck, strapped to a bicycle luggage carrier mounted over the rear wheel. I recognized the lichens that had grown on her as I passed the cyclist who was still working hard to get up the grade.

Places to park or pull off the road are a hard go on Kaupakalua, the two-lane country road on which we live. That county maps identify it as a state highway is sort of a joke. But I thought this would be a brief encounter. So when I reached the top of the grade on level road, I borrowed a neighbor's driveway, got out of the car and crossed the road to face the oncoming traffic lane in which the cyclist, a woman, was traveling. As she approached, I held one hand aloft and gestured to her to pull over. Fat chance. As she reached my position, she swerved out into the oncoming lane and tried to go around me.

“Hey! I just need to talk to you. That's my duck on the back of your bike!” But she kept going.

I managed to get in front of her and grabbed her handlebars, stopping her progress, saying again, “Hey, hold on. That duck was stolen from me. I can prove it to you.” Then all hell started to break loose.

“You're crazy,” she yelled. “Get away from me!”

“Give me my duck and I'll go,” I said, nonplussed. And things soon escalated to personal insults and charges of assault.

“You're assaulting me!”

“No, I am not. I just want my duck back.” She claimed she found it on the road, about 3 miles back.

“Fine. I'm not accusing you of stealing it. I'm just telling you that it was stolen from me, and if you doubt that I can prove it to you.” But she's not having any.

Now she's yelling to neighboring houses, “He's assaulting me! Call the police!” Traffic is starting to pile up behind us but soon passes us by, one by one. Then she starts screaming that I tried to push her into oncoming traffic.

“Bullshit,” I tell her.

A neighbor lady comes from her house, set back about 100 feet from the roadway across a field with a few horses. Her dogs are excited by the ruckus and she yells at me, “You're disturbing my dogs. You better leave her alone or I'll call the police!”

“Please do, call them! I'm only trying to recover my stolen property.”

She gets 911 on the line. They want to know my name and where I live. I tell her and she relays that information to the 911 operator. Then a horn starts honking from the driveway where I parked my car. I go over and apologize to the man exiting the driveway in his car. I briefly explain what's going on and who I am.

“Hey, you Peter's braddah, yeah? I meet you when we pave Peter's driveway.” He says no sweat, leave the car where it is. “Good luck with the lady, brah. Hope you get your duck.”

Throughout all of this I am keeping an eye on the cyclist who I imagine is over 30 and under 50. I am determined that she is not going to pedal off with my duck. Her face is contorted with a mean-spirited hatefulness that seems to radiate from her, her forehead lined with trenches that speak to rage and appear to be permanent.

Then she starts in on me again, “Look at you, you weak old man.” Her contempt is palpable. “I bet you live in one of these crappy old houses around here.” I am too stunned to reply. Old man? Weak? Crappy house?

Nonetheless, she seems to know that this weak old man is not going to let her leave with his duck. She has no response to my claim of ownership, only that she found it on the road, which should have been enough for her to return it to me. It wasn't her duck. I probably told her what I think of her, but I don't remember exactly what that may have been, other than to remark that I've encountered many a nasty and unreasonable person in my day, and that she occupies a rung at the very top of that ladder.

Now she's got her cell phone out and she's calling 911. I hear her tell the operator that she's being assaulted by a crazy man. She describes our Honda to the operator and goes over to read the license plate number to the phone, but she's stymied by our plate, one of those custom plates that I got for Lolly more than a decade ago that cites the name of our home: ULULOA. She can't pronounce it, has a hard time spelling it.

Now there's more honking from the driveway and the wife of the fellow who I apologized to wants to know who the hell is in her driveway. I explained again and tell her I am there with permission, but she wants me to move and points to a spot that will almost get me out of the traffic lane. And, of course, our pooch Mo`o is still in the back seat. We're only a couple hundred yards or so up the hill from our driveway and I decide I should get Mo`o home and Lolly is doubtless concerned about what might be going on. I've been gone for about 15 minutes on what should have been a 2-minute errand.

I tell the cyclist—I called her “sweetheart” for some strange reason that probably has something to do with cynicism and Humphrey Bogart—and told her I am going to take my dog home and to tell the cop I'll be right back if he arrives in my absence, but most of what I said was lost in a petulant response you might expect from a spoiled child: she starts chanting or singing some nonsensical gobbledegook-gibberish, intended not to communicate anything but to drown me out, to keep my words from entering her personal space; I am not worthy of her attention.

At that moment I have to admit that the thought of assault was appealing, but I knew full well, without question, that I must deny myself any such satisfaction if I wish to continue my membership in a civil society. Additionally, the thought of going to jail doesn't sit well with me. Been there, done that.

I drop off our pooch and tell Lolly that I have encountered the Queen Bitch of Maui and may be facing a charge of assault, but was confident that I would return.

I wasn't gone more than a minute or two and, sure enough, the cop arrived in my absence and now his car is in the driveway where mine used to be. I pull off the roadway as best I can into the spot the lady pointed out to me. The cop has his notebook out and is taking down Queen Bitch's description of the Great Assault. I stand off by my car, patiently awaiting my turn. I can't hear what she is telling the cop. Her bike is laid down by the side of the road, the duck still strapped to the carrier. She empties her backpack, searching for her ID which she finally comes up with. My turn with the cop.

I was telling the cop the story of discovering the theft and seeing our duck go by on the back of this woman's bicycle. I told him that I never touched her, I only grabbed the handlebars to keep her from fleeing with my stolen property, that she refused to talk with me or have a conversation other than hurl false accusations and call me names. Queen Bitch has inched forward to hear my conversation with the cop and attempts to interrupt.

“Be quiet!” I tell her, vehemently, right in front of the cop, “This is my turn; you've had yours.” She shut up and the cop doesn't say a word.

He asks if I have ID which I hand him. He says, “I suppose you have a receipt or something that will prove this is your duck?” I could hardly wait for this.

“You see the lichens, that fungus -like stuff, on one side of the duck? It will match, identically, the lichens on my mailbox where the duck was mounted. It's just down the road. Take the duck off the bike and look at the underside. You will find 3 screw-holes where it was attached to the top of the mailbox.”

At this point the Queen Bitch just couldn't hold it in. “They all have that,” she sneered, trying to somehow disprove my claim of ownership and that she possesses some kind of duck decoy expertise.

“No, they do not,” I said. “The holes are random and will match, perfectly, the three screws that are still upright up on the top of my mailbox where the duck was mounted. Let's go have a look, shall we?”

Just then another cop arrived. Backup. But the first cop was already satisfied that it was my duck. He is reporting the incident to Cop Control Central through something like a cell phone mounted on his shoulder. He gives my name wrong, using my middle name as first, and I correct him. He gives me back my ID and I tell him if there is an assault allegation against me, then it's only fair that a charge of theft is alleged against her; she's certainly behaving like a thief. Queen Bitch is unable to present any witnesses or wounds, and now seems to accept a quiet defeat. She removed the duck from her bike and put it down on the side of the road where the cop and I were talking.

The cop tells me that the allegation in his report will be harassment, not assault, and that there's no proof that she stole the duck. You could say that I harassed her in the same sense that a stranger might take offense at the suggestion, “Hey, it looks like you've found my volley ball.” I'd do it again because I am a stubborn fool when I think I am right.

“You got your duck back,” said the cop. Damn right I did, officer.

Back home I am relating the two-dollar duck massacre to Lolly. When I come to the part about Queen Bitch calling me a weak old man, she can sense that I found that bothersome. “Look at me,” she says, surveying my face. “Why don't you shave off your beard? It's as white as the hair on your head.”

Later, after the deed is done, Lolly says, “You've taken 10 years off of your appearance! It's the silver lining.” Well, as long as she thinks so. So far no one else has noticed. Other than me. After wearing that beard for at least the last decade, I'm wondering who that guy in the mirror might be.

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