“His evil influence,” declared Jim, “goes all the way up this block.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, June 14, 1947.

“One man,” growled Jimmie Frise, “can ruin a whole neighborhood.”

“Meaning,” I murmured, “Mr. Fidler.”

We were sitting on Jim’s top step watching Jimmie’s next door neighbor, Fidler, hot at his task.

Fidler had just finished trimming a group of little ornamental bushes along the front edge of his terraced lawn.

“It is the hour,” pursued Jim; in a low voice,” “when every normal man should be sitting on his top step awaiting the call to supper.”

“Fidler,” I pointed out, “is mad about gardening. It’s his hobby.”

Fidler had just finished trimming…

“But does a man need to be so mad,” protested Jim, “as to come tearing home from work, change his clothes and rush madly out into the garden? Look: He even changes his clothes!”

Fidler was dressed in a white shirt and brown canvas pants.

“You don’t object to a golfer,” I submitted, “changing his clothes and adopting the uniform of his hobby?”

“Golfers,” said Jim, “are decent and discreet about their hobby. They have lockers out at the golf club, where they keep their golfing clothes. They don’t flaunt themselves in the face of the whole neighborhood. A golfer can quietly go golfing, and not a soul in the district will guess what he’s up to. In fact, many of the most ardent golfers wear formal business suits and go to a lot of trouble to conceal their intentions…”

Fidler was now down on his hands and knees, industriously grubbing at something along the edges of the shrubbery.

Across the street, Mrs. Anderson strolled out onto her verandah and gazed about. Her eyes settled on Fidler, and after a moment of thought, she stepped down off her verandah onto the lawn and began idly examining the borders against the house. It was the hour when the fried potatoes are quietly hissing on the top of the stove and the stuffed pork tenderloins are coming to the right brown in the oven.

“Oh, George!” we heard Mrs. Anderson call musically.

After a moment, George Anderson in his shirt sleeves, with the open newspaper by his side, came to their door. Mrs. Anderson beckoned him, and he came reluctantly down the steps.

“See that!” hissed Jimmie. “The whole pantomime, right before our eyes. She wandered out while the supper is cooking, saw Fidler; and now see what’s happening!”

Mrs. Anderson was pointing here and pointing there.

Her husband stood, the newspaper behind him, moodily following Mrs. Anderson’s gestures.

“Poor Anderson!” sighed Jim. “And all on account of Fidler.”

Fidler was now on his feet, with a big double handful of earthy junk, which he carried industriously to the side drive and we heard the garbage can lid rattle.

“Busybody!” muttered Jim, bitterly. “When I think of the number of man hours that guy has been responsible for in this one city block! I bet I’ve done 10 or 15 extra hours on my lawns and gardens on account of him…”

“Aw, well, you’re right next door to him,” I reminded. “His evil influence,” declared Jim, “goes all the way up this block and I bet you into the next block. Maybe women who live three or four blocks away have come walking by here, pushing their baby carriages. And have seen Fidler out there putting on one of his exhibitions…”

“After all,” I soothed, “every man, every householder, is obliged to do a certain amount of work around his house. For his own sake.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” exclaimed Jim. “I think every man should do a little work around the garden. Maybe two or three hours a week, during the start of the season. But this guy Fidler is at it from daylight to dark. From April to November. He’s consumed by an awful passion. He rakes and he digs. He plants and he sows. He changes and shifts. One year, it’s a perennial border along that far side of his place. This year, it’s this corner patch of evergreen and flowering shrubs. He never leaves well enough alone…”

“He’s what they call a horticulturalist, Jim,” I explained. “He’s just as important to the world as an agriculturalist – only on a smaller scale. Such men make the world beautiful. With the world gone nuts on science, isn’t it kind of beautiful to see a man like Fidler who, for the sheer love of beauty – beauty with no money angle! – toils and labors with joy…?”

“Joy!” scoffed Jim. “Do you realize how much trouble and nagging and quarrelling this guy Fidler has been responsible for – just in this one little city block? Wives nagging. Husbands growling. And, as I say, hundreds, maybe thousands of man hours of labor, hard, back-breaking labor… Pssstt! Look across the road!”

Mrs. Anderson had just suddenly remembered the stuffed pork tenderloins and was hurrying up the steps. Anderson stood gloomily looking around him. Then he slowly followed his wife, his shoulders humped, the newspaper dangling behind him.

At the top of the steps, he paused and looked back. He looked across the street, to where Fidler was coming from his side drive with a wheelbarrow. Anderson stared long and cold at Fidler. Then he happened to catch his eyes. He shrugged wearily and went indoors.

“Anderson will be out, right after supper,” prophesied Jim feelingly.

“What I can’t see,” I said, smelling the fried tomatoes and bacon that the Frises were having for supper, “is why you ruin your supper by sitting out here brooding like this. If you think Fidler is wasting his time, what about you ruining your digestion by sitting out here griping?”

“You remember helping me fertilize this lawn,” queried Jim, nodding to his front grass.

“And not a bad job we did,” I remarked. “It’s coming along very nicely, considering that we just about burned the stuffing out of it with commercial fertilizer.”

“I’ve got to roll it,” said Jim hollowly.

“Get some kids to roll it,” I suggested hastily, at the same time rising; for my supper too would be ready.

“Kids can’t do a proper job,” announced Jim, “Fidler says so. It’s Fidler’s roller we’re going to use.”

“Oh, you’ve got Fidler to help you?” I queried.

“No, I phoned your wife, as soon as I got home,” explained Jim, “and asked her if you were free tonight…”

“Jim, get Fidler,” I urged. “He KNOWS about gardening. And besides, he’s your next door neighbor. Think how he must suffer, seeing your neglected premises…”

“I’ll see you right after supper,” said Jim rising in response to a call from within. Supper was ready.

So I walked up the street and around the two blocks thinking how far the influence of a man like Fidler can reach in one small neighborhood. As I walked, I noticed the influence of Fidler very strong up to the corner. Once around the corner, I could see the Fidler influence waning steadily; until at the next block from the corner it was obviously a different regime entirely. There was no Fidler for two solid blocks. And I knew of no other for the two blocks beyond my place.

We had speckled trout, – a gift from a bachelor friend – asparagus, home fried potatoes and strawberries with cream. Then, with some old clothes I changed into, I sauntered back to Jim’s. After all, friendship is friendship: And trout and strawberries set very flattering on the stomach. I felt like befriending somebody and it might as well be Jim.

Fidler and Jim had just dragged the lawn roller out of Fidler’s side drive and were trying to haul it up the little terrace that divides Jim’s lawn from Fidler’s.

“Roll it,” explained Fidler, when we got the dang thing up on Jim’s level, “roll it first straight back and forth. Then change, and roll it crossways. You can tell if the rolling is sinking in. If not, then roll it kitacorner. See? Diagonally, from this corner to that. Then back again the other diagonal. See?”

“It’s been nice and damp the past week,” I enunciated. “I imagine one rolling will be ample.”

“Not at all, not at all!” cried Fidler, who now had large leather gauntlets on, and was obviously about do some trimming in his rambler roses out on his back fences and pergolas. “A little rolling is worse than none at all. Give it a good, sound rolling. It not only smooths the appearance. It breaks down all the worm casts, and all the solid chunks, beneath the turf and sod… No, no! A thorough rolling…”

So he went back to his roses, and Jim and I, after glancing across the street to see Anderson already squatted down unhappily underneath his living room window ledge, took hold of the roller and started to haul.

Fidler’s roller was solid concrete. A large drum of steel, filled with concrete. It was more practical, Fidler held, than one of those rollers you fill with water. It weighed a ton.

It was all Jim and I could do to get the thing moving. And once you had it moving, it was harder to stop. You had to brace yourself for the start. Then brace yourself for the stop.

Jim’s property slopes slightly towards the sidewalk. And on the Fidler side, marked off by a terribly neat little box hedge, there is a short, steep terrace, about two feet down – to Fidler’s impeccable lawn.

We did the straight up and down passages of the roller. And then the straight across passages. It is 10 passages the long way. And eight passages the cross way. Each time we arrived at the edge of the terrace down to Fidler’s, Jimmie and I both slowed carefully and brought the roller to a sound, sturdy stop a good foot from the verge of the little declivity. I cannot say what thoughts were in Jim’s mind, as we crossed and recrossed. But I imagine they were the same thoughts as in mine; for I could feel him slightly trembling, as, our arms pressed together on the roller handle – trembling slightly each time we heaved that mass of concrete to a cautious, over-careful stop.

Jimmie and I slowed carefully and brought the roller to a sound, sturdy stop…

We rested. And there was Anderson across the street, staring at us.

He waved his trowel up street and down. “Quite a community out tonight,” he called. We looked up and down. There were about 10 of the neighbors out, in one pained attitude or another.

“A heavy job you got there,” called Anderson.

“And tricky,” I added.

“A lot of responsibility,” he said oddly, bending back to his task.

I looked at Jim and Jim looked sharply away.

We seized the wide grip of the roller and started the diagonal.

This diagonal rolling is harder than you would suppose. At the corners of the lawn, it is a very short roll. Back; then forward. At the middle of the lawn, it is a much longer pull. Longer, even, than the longest pull on the full length of the square.

The first centre diagonal passage was completed, forward, then back. The second centre diagonal was the longest of all. We started to push.

Now, maybe we were tiring.

Or possibly we were perspiring. Our hands may have been slippery with sweat. Or it is conceivable that Jimmie and I, being of decidedly unequal size, were not exerting a properly balanced pressure on the handle of that heavy roller.

But the fact of the matter is that, within about six feet of the end of that second long diagonal passage of the lawn, and precisely at the moment the roller was aimed at Mr. Fidler’s beautiful new triangular patch of perennial and ornamental bushes at the front of his lawn, that monstrous mass of cement suddenly went out of control.

Jimmie swears my hands let go of the handle bar sooner than his. I swear that it was the sudden weight of the mass, consequent on Jimmie letting go of it, that caused me to lose my grip.

With the smoothness of a roller skate, the roller sped for the small box hedge at the terrace.

With a sickening squash, it rolled the little hedge flat.

And suddenly gaining momentum from the terrace, it leaped, it fairly leaped, for Mr. Fidler’s triangular ornamental shrubbery bed.

Mr. Fidler had two such beds. One nearest Jim. The other  – which we cared little about – at the far side of the Fidler property, up against the other neighbor’s premises.

Given a sort of waggle, as it leaped down the terrace, the roller, after squashing the one ornamental bed terribly and writhing flat, seemed to skid up on one edge, and steer straight for the second triangular bed.

All this happened in a twinkling, and of course in deathly silence, save for a low rumbling and a queer malignant hissing as the roller passed over the delicate twiggery. But now, Jim’s and my shouts, and a kind of triumphant cheer from across the road at Anderson’s, was merged with a terrific crash as the roller pulled up against a low stone wall that decorated Fidler’s farther terrace.

It hung there, amid the dust and ruin, for only an instant. And then down it came, the full length of Fidler’s lawn, back over one of the triangular beds, out onto the sidewalk where it crushed a kiddy car belonging to a little boy called Eddy, and then smack up against the Jones’s motor car (that’s the third neighbor below Jim) which it pushed half way across the road, sideways.

And all came to a deathly stop.

Save for Mr. Fidler coming on the double out his side drive.

Well: There was $60 damage to the Jones’s left rear wheel. Eddy’s father settled for $12.

Fidler said $2 would fix the low stone wall.

But it wasn’t the intrinsic value of the ornamental bushes that mattered. It was the work, the labor, the toil.

Jim said he would help re-plant the triangular beds as well as provide all the necessary bushes.

But after all the wreckage was cleared away and the garage men gone and little Eddy put to bed and Fidler turned his back bedroom light out, there was quite a gathering in Jim’s – Anderson and Jones, and Eddy’s father, and the old man three doors north – in fact the whole neighborhood seemed to come shyly in at Jim’s open door; even as late as eleven.

And there was more hand-shaking, and chuckling, and even snickering…