Labor Day morning, Susan and I are enjoying breakfast on the front porch. As I sit contently before the towering stack of pancakes Susan constructed for me, a fellow heading south walks past the house with a backpack slung over his shoulder and an opened bottle of cheap wine in one hand. Ranger calls out with an obligatory yip, and just as he passes the front steps he stops, crouches down, picks up one of the palm-sized river rocks on our parkway and stands back up. As he commences walking I call out “Really? You’re seriously just gonna take that rock?”

The sound of my voice startles him for a moment and he glances up at me but keeps on going uphill out of sight behind the neighbor’s wall. I wonder what is it that makes so many people think those stones are just there and theirs for the taking in the few seconds that pass until he comes back into view crossing to the west side of the street. Perturbed at having is rock theft observed and commented upon, the guy’s now jawing somewhat aggressively over his shoulder. I can’t make out what he’s specifically failing to communicate, but the intent is clear: it’s not complimentary. Up jump my hackles.

Against Susan’s wishes I’m up and moving down off the porch and front steps to the sidewalk where he sees me and upon so doing doubles up on his swaggertalk, but I still can’t make out what he’s saying. So I start moving to him and he starts walking to me and we meet in the middle. He’s about my height, probably 30 pounds lighter. He looks older than he probably is. He’s got short mussed up blond hair, and eyes that would be much more piercing if they weren’t dulled by all the alcohol they’ve been swimming in for goodness knows how long.

He wants to know what my problem is.

So I tell him: “You’re the latest in an endless parade of people who feel entitled to take rocks from in front of my house, but you’ve just broken the age record by at least 20 years. Congratulations!”

He sways a bit and shifts his weight from one foot to the other and back again while perhaps wondering if there’s a prize in there somewhere. He eventually realizes there isn’t.

“It’s just a rock, bro.”

I affirm that truth. “But it’s my rock, and I’m not your brother.”

He affirms those truths.

“Tell me, what do you need the rock for?”

And this is what he told me, verbatim: “I thought I’d go down to Venice Beach, put it in a sock and get me some pussy.”

Now it’s my turn to stand there looking a bit shellshocked as I mull the implications of that bomb. I stop myself from saying something like “It doesn’t surprise me that the only way you could get laid is if you beat the lady with a rock.”

Instead I insist: “Not with my rock.”

And we stand there silently facing each other at this fork in the road at which we’ve arrived while he decides which way to go: surrender the stone or make me make him surrender it.

He blinks first, chuckling.

“If I’d known how much this rock meant to you, I wouldn’t’ve taken it in the first place.” He extends his hand with the rock in it.

I accept it from him. “Well now you know.”

“But I’m still going to Venice and get me some pussy.”

“Knock yourself out. Literally.” I turn from him and walk back towards the house. He watches me go.

“And then I’m coming back and I’m going to tell you aaaaaall about it. Man to man.”

I stop and turn, understanding perfectly what he’s saying.

I casually flip the rock back onto the parkway, where it clatters against the others it hits. “Well you know where I’m at, so bring it.”

“Oh, I will.”

“Can’t wait!”

“It won’t be long.”

“That’s what she said,” which fully went over his head as he turned to go. “Hurry back!”

“I will.”

“I’ll be waiting for you.”

Surprisingly, he never returned.