"If you want to control someone, all you have to do is to make them feel afraid."— Paulo Coelho
It began innocently enough. Occasional laughter from the darkened schoolyard—the sound of dirt bikes—and when the wind was right, the acrid stench of pot.
"Teenagers blowing off steam," my neighbor said.
We both eyed the darkened school and the lake of darkness beyond the yard where the park began.
We had moved from downtown to the Bluffs—that's what everybody called the eight-mile long escarpment that formed the eastern portion of Toronto's waterfront.
It was the perfect idyllic retreat, or, so we thought—until the nightly revelry began—waking the kids and ruining our sleep.
I put up with the noise for several weeks before finally deciding to act.
"Hey, can you guys keep it down, please? We've got young kids and you're waking them."
They were sitting around a huge Maple tree sipping beer.
There were about a dozen of them—seven teenaged boys and the rest tarty-looking girls.
"Well, what's in it for us?" The tallest boy asked—he was obviously the leader.
"Look, I don't want to make trouble for you guys—I used to hang out when I was a teenager too—I'd just like you to keep the noise down."
"You're not the boss of us," a hard-looking blonde girl snarled. "Who do you think you are—Mister Control of the Neighborhood?"
"C'mon guys—I'm not trying to rain on your parade. I just want a little cooperation."
The tall boy stood up and two of his friends stood with him. They looked menacing.
"I'd advise you to run home now, Mister Rogers—while you can still walk."
Nice. There'd be no cooperation here.
The following morning, our garbage cans were emptied and the contents scattered all over our front lawn.
"They're taking it to another level," Cliff smiled as he downed his draft.
We were sitting in a bar overlooking the lake—our mid-week tradition—play a little shuffleboard, talk sports and drink a few draft.
Cliff was in the residential-commercial security alarm business and ex-military.
"Take it to another level, you say—how many levels are there?"
"Four, Jim—there's four."
Cliff wasn't smiling—he was dead serious.
"You better explain," I said, nervously sipping at my draft.
"Level One—you've already passed—talking to them. If there was any good will that would be that."
Yup," I smiled cynically, " cross that one off the list."
"Level Two—you call the cops."
"Is that necessary?" I asked, "After all, they're just teenagers."
"You got another suggestion?"
I shook my head.
"If that doesn't work, you go to Level Three—security lights, motion detectors—maybe even night cameras."
"Do those devices work?"
He made a circular motion with his hand to the waitress and she came by dropped another round.
After she left, I grabbed Cliff's sleeve. "Hey, you didn't say what Level Four was."
He shook his head. "You don't want to go there."
"Yeah? Well, it might help if I knew what the hell it was."
He looked at me glassy eyed.
"Level Four is when you take matters into your own hands—when you realize the law can't protect you or your family."
I grew very somber.
Cliff clapped me on the back.
"Cheer up, Pal—it usually doesn't come to that. Kids want a place to smoke and hang out—they don't want attention. They'll most likely move on to a new spot."
"And if they don't?"
He got unsteadily to his feet, knowing he reached his limit. "If they don't go—then it's all-out war—Level Four."
I drove him home with an uneasy feeling in my gut.
The young police constable was sympathetic.
"We'll warn them and take it from there," he said.
His colleague nodded.
"They seemed pretty defiant."
"That was with you, " The officer smiled. "Things usually change when we check ID and threaten to charge."
"You're probably right," I conceded. "These kids were well-dressed—not gang bangers, or anything like that."
'Right—so they'll likely move on."
I watched as they returned to their squad car and drove off into the night.
At midnight, the familiar sounds of laughter and clinking bottles drifted across the street from the park.
Suddenly, a squad car appeared. As the two officers with flashlights got out, the growl of dirt bikes filled the air—and in a matter of seconds, they were gone.
My heart sank. I knew we were moving to Level Three.
"What is all this stuff?" I asked Cliff.
"These are nifty little devices I'm going to loan you. There are night vision binoculars and a parabolic listening device—that's for you to keep tabs on these guys."
"Cool," I enthused.
"They're means of reconnoitering the enemy—hopefully, the motion sensor lights and cameras will deter them from coming near your property."
"I sure hope these kids get the message."
Cliff looked at me strangely. "Yeah, well, we'll see if they do."
The lights kept going off and on all night—whenever they did, I'd leap out of bed and see what I could see—but there was no one.
I woke up the next day to find all four of the tires on my SUV were slashed and the body keyed—a deep scratch that ran the length of both sides.
I had to make an insurance report and call the police.
The same young constable attended—he looked sheepish.
"Sorry you have to put up with this Mr. Lawson. We'll step up the patrols tonight."
For two nights, we had a respite—no laughter, no dirt bikes—no acrid scent of pot drifting across the street.
The third night, all four tires were slashed again.
This time, the Insurance lady was not as understanding. "These vandalism claims are going to affect your rates, Mr. Lawson."
"What can I do? —They're not my fault."
"Maybe you could consider moving."
Two young kids and a third on the way—and all our money tied up in the new home. Moving just wasn't an option.
Cliff was sympathetic. "I think it's time to move to Level Four, Pal."
"What—take the law into my own hands?
"The law should protect you—it's not doing that. You've got a pregnant wife and two young kids. What the hell are you supposed to do?"
"I don't know," I sighed, "I just don't know."
It was quiet for the next few nights. A police car was parked at the gate of the school parking lot.
I actually got some sleep.
The next night, the patrol car was removed and the partying began again.
The security lights started going off and on, all night long, and then, just before dawn, I hear a loud crash and the breaking of glass.
I ran out onto the driveway and could smell gasoline fumes everywhere. They threw a Molotov cocktail—fortunately, it didn't catch fire.
The security cameras captured the incident. The teenager wore a mask and a hooded jacket. I recognized the stocky figure as one of the boys who menaced me, but the face was hidden.
Again, the same police constables came, took their reports and watched for two nights. On the third night, the patrol car was gone again.
I set up my own patrol, sleeping outside in my SUV.
Cliff offered to take a night watch, but I knew and he knew, it couldn't go on.
Anger was burning in my stomach—that primeval fury that wells up when you or a loved one is being attacked.
I knew I'd have to take things to the next level.
That night, instead of defending my turf, I was on the prowl.
I had my night vision binoculars and my parabolic listening device.
I waited most of the night, dressed in black with balaclava and leather gloves—waiting for an opportunity.
It finally came, when the leader and most of the kids left—leaving the stocky guy and two girls behind. They were smoking dope and drinking beer.
It was simple.
I crept up on the three of them and then made a beeline for the stocky kid.
Before he knew what was happening, I felled him with a two-by-four to the gut and began kicking with my steel-toed work boots.
It felt good. I didn't want to stop. One of the girls, tried to grab my arm and I hit her with the two-by-four. The other girl took off, terrified.
Afterwards, I stole back to my house and slipped into bed beside Jana, my wife. She never stirred.
I waited the next day for the police to come—they never did.
Two days and nights passed—nothing.
Then, it began again, the familiar laughter and clinking of bottles.
I waited two more nights and then on the third, I went hunting.
They stuck together in a tight-knit group. The stocky guy wasn't there, but the two girls were.
I waited. Waited, while one by one the teenagers left, until there were three—the leader, his back-up and the tough girl who mouthed me back the first night.
When they were stoned, I made my move. I slammed the leader in the back with my board. He went down immediately.
His friend came at me cursing and furious. I just rammed the two-by-four at his mid-section. He crumpled.
The girl was surprisingly defiant. "You want a piece of me, Scumbag?"
She was crouched like a wrestler. Without a thought, I swung my timber at her head and it missed, but glanced off her shoulder and she toppled, writhing on the ground.
This time, I controlled my fury, kicking only the leader—twice. Then, I left, saying nothing.
Again, I slid noiselessly into bed beside Jana—and again, she never stirred.
The partying at the playground ended—about the time the school board hired a night janitor and put motion lights up.
Cliff came and took back his night vision binoculars and eavesdropping device.
He didn't say anything.
Even the police drop by occasionally to check in and make sure everything's going well.
I don't feel guilty. I don't feel anything.
Cities have been compared to human zoos, but I see them as jungles. Zoos are much better supervised.
I recently saw a TV documentary about rogue battalions terrorizing the Congo. The reporter asked a woman—Are these men like devils?
She cradled her young child and shook her head.
"No, they're not devils," she said, "They are in a human shape."