The guy next door with the rake


People tell me things. I really don’t know why, but they do. I suspect it’s because I listen. Of course, growing up in Lackawanna was a never ending fascination. We had Arabs before anyone did. We had Serbs, Croats, Sicilians, Italians, (Yes they are different), Poles, Irish… you name it. I grew up  believing that everybody has a story and some of those stories are fascinating. In Colombia, you can bet your ass most are.

Which is why the guy next door with the rake is driving me crazy.

It’s a challenge trying to describe the place where I live. Medellin is in a valley, but most of the valley has long since been overpopulated. As the city grew, the only option was to build up the side of the mountains and the Andes, even though they are green, tropical and warm, are steep. There’s very little flat land and very few lawns.

The area where I live is a series of villa’s surrounded by 9 strands of barbed wire and 5 full time security guards that walk the premises all night. Each villa is separated from its neighbor by a 6-9 strand barbed wire fence and very thick shrubs, which are cut constantly by a small army of landscapers. As you can imagine, these guys look like you’d expect coffee plantation workers to look. Small, wiry, dark and strong. They carry machete’s and spend their days hacking, smoking, coughing and singing.

To get to my studio, which is literally buried in the ground in the farthest reaches of the compound, you have to go down a cobblestone street with ten-foot-high shrubs on either side, like going through a tunnel, for about 100 yards.  The old man with the rake is on the right side.

His place is huge, especially for Colombia, probably 7,000 square feet with a long brick driveway. It has a tile roof, common here and is two story white stucco.

The man himself is old, perhaps 80. He has an old mutt that looks at least ten years older, in dog life, than he is. In the morning, the dog walks the length of the lawn, maybe 100 yards, to take a leak against a tree next to the driveway. It’s a long walk for the old boy and it’s a struggle. It’s easy to see he’s riddled with arthritis.

And all the while, the old man rakes. If you don’t find this strange, let me give you a few more clues.

In the morning, the gates open and a veritable army of servants pour in. Maids, child care people, gardeners, contractors and dog walkers. The old man himself has, as far as I can tell, three. They sweep his driveway, constantly trim his shrubs, which grow like weeds in this area and weed whack his lawn. (they don’t have lawnmowers here, they weed whack acres of grass)

But they don’t rake. He rakes. He rakes all day long.

He’s an ornery old bastard. I’ve been here a month and the first time he said hi to me was today, though he didn’t smile. I suspect he also wonders who I am. “Who’s the weird American that speaks English to my dog,” is what I’d guess he’s thinking.

His lawn is at least two acres. Even though the trees here are evergreens, leaves fall all the time. There are avocados, mangoes, limes and tangerines, although the locals call them oranges and these cover the ground all the time. I guess that squirrel that stole my underwear eats like a king. The old man rakes these all up.

This morning, he was raking under his bamboo grove. It’s actually stunningly beautiful. He has a man that trims and cuts constantly, as bamboo is one of the fastest growing trees in the world, but leaves fall between the trees. Each tree is about 5 inches thick and maybe 25 feet high and runs for about a hundred feet. It’s a bitch to rake, but he was struggling through it.

I’ve been at this too long to try and venture a guess as to who the guy is and how he ever got enough money to build a place like that. Most westerners would say drug dealing, but I know a few of my neighbors and they’re all legit. One guy was a textile executive; another has a chain of breakfast restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete idiot. There are certainly drugs here. When I was in Hooters last night, I asked out loud, “is there a lot of coke around here”, and three guys answered in unison, “why, do you want some?” (Spoiler, they were two Americans and a guy from Panama. The former NFL football player wasn’t interested in coke. I know that because one of the Americans tried to sell it to him. So if you read about an American that’s killed in Medellin, don’t fly off and carp about how violent it is here.)

That said, eventually the old man will talk. They all do. Maybe his story will end up in Joseph Schneider Traitor-Patriot volume 6. I hope it’s a great story. He so reminds me of the character Clifford, in the fourth book in the Schneider series. Clifford is the retarded guy that mops the church floor. The real life Clifford, the guy who got hand jobs from the nun, was actually a composite of two guys I knew in Lackawanna.

This guy’s not retarded though. He’s sharp as a tack. When he talks, I’ll fill you in.

Paul Schwartzmeyer

Medellin, Colombia,

September 23, 2016.


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