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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

Recycling Saved My Life (sort of…)

Long before it became fashionable to separate garbage from glassware, and hamburgers from hand grenades -- I was recycling (in a roundabout sort of way).

When we purchased our first home in Rancho Mirage, California back in the late 70s, Phyllis and I took on most of the household tasks that we now happily delegate to others. We mowed the lawn, trimmed the bushes, and cleaned our gigantic swimming pool (18 x 36) with nary a harsh word. We had a rather large front and backyard, so these tasks were quite time consuming.

Probably the hardest chore on my list of things to do was trimming the mature palm trees in the backyard. Palm fronds are large and unwieldly, and difficult to navigate once they've been separated from the trunk of the tree. They also have sharp spikes running along the stem that are guaranteed to liberally tear up the inside of your forearms whenever you grab a bunch.

They can't really be dragged because the spikes engage with the ground providing fierce resistance. The easiest way I found of handling them was creating a pile and tying them together with cord -- utilizing the cord as a sort of handle to bring them to the front yard where the trash company would pick them up.

This got old really quickly, so I conceived of a new way of dealing with them. In that area of Rancho Mirage at the time all homes had fences around the backyards, and between each fence was a six-foot easement so that power and utility companies could have access to their lines. Trimming in the summer months only added insult to injury by performing this task during the heat of the day. Probably in a fit of anger one day I started tossing the cut palm fronds over the fence into the easement.

I figured (right or wrong) that as the fronds degraded they might provide a suitable mulch for the shrubbery (that never really happened) or at least they could offer shelter for God’s little creatures living in the area (far more realistic).

Little did I realize that I actually created our first home security system – one that operated completely independent of either battery power or computers – which had not even been invented yet in the early 80’s. We had a screen door in front of our sliding bedroom door / window that permitted a nice flow of air in the evening. For safety’s sake we’d only slide the door open a few inches, as mandated by the slide lock I had installed at its base.

Late one night I woke up to the crunching sound of footsteps on the dried palm fronds in the easement. Before panicking – which I assure you was a reasonable thing to do under the circumstances, I crept out of bed, down the hall, and carefully out the bathroom door onto the patio. I had a mini gym assembled there, so I had both cover and concealment. I had my best friend with me, a Ruger .357 Magnum revolver.

Once I ascertained that the noise was indeed human, I snuck back into the house, woke Phyllis, and had her phone the sheriff. I went outside again and from behind my weight bench I offered whoever-was-taking-a-walk-behind-my-yard a reasonable solution to the dilemma.

“I’m holding a .357 Magnum on your location behind our fence. You have two options before I open fire. Either jump over the fence into our yard and surrender or go back the way you came. You have 10 seconds before I start shooting.”

I heard my temporary 4 am neighbor hop back over the adjacent home’s fence and scurry away very quickly. Less than a minute later a motorcycle fired up and rolled away into the night. It only took the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office about seven minutes to ring our front doorbell and listen to our almost tale of woe. They did politely inform me that opening fire on the fence and its residents would have been a bad way to end this drama. Thirty years later and now both a certified instructor in both armed and unarmed self-defense, I understood why.

At the time it sounded like a reasonable solution, and it certainly got the job done. While it wasn’t the first or last time I would have to face down weirdos at night (or during the day), at least I had finally turned the tables on people who had pointed weapons at me over the years (3).

It truly is better to give than to receive…

Phyllis working in the back yard (circa 1978)

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