Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

All Quiet Now

The Village Idiot was a maddening presence and a comical Facebook character—until he was suddenly gone

Save for the pouring rain and a yapping miniature pinscher next door, it is eerily silent as I write this. Under normal circumstances, all manner of small engines would be revving—yes, even in a downpour—as I write, but not today. My next-door neighbor, the one I called the Village Idiot, the one I turned into a Facebook phenomenon with posts about the constant noise of chainsaws and log splitters emanating from next door, is gone.

The Village Idiot, 27, ran a firewood business on his property. By the time he died, he had effectively clear-cut his two-acre lot. Longtime neighbors sought to sell their homes as our once-nice neighborhood grew tackier by the minute. Through Facebook updates, I became Gladys Kravitz, a one-woman Neighborhood Watch, keeping tabs as the house next door, with its gigantic butterflies, whirligigs, and Big-Bird-yellow doors, began to look more like PeeWee’s Playhouse than the kind of rural escape we’d all bought into. Through Facebook, the Village Idiot came to attain a certain notoriety, an almost mythical status. Many of my more than 1,700 Facebook friends have told me how much they looked forward to the daily stranger-than-fiction reports about this young man’s fascination with small engines, foreign motorcycles, logging, yard art, plastic fencing, fire, pit bulls, and much more. My last update before his death read, in part: “Even though rain pours from the sky, the dulcet tones of the Village Idiot’s chainsaw can be heard, followed by a resounding clap of thunder.”

Perhaps it’s not surprising that news of his fatal accident was making the rounds on Facebook hours before even his next-of-kin had been notified. Like the Kevin Welch-Kieran Kane song says, “In a town this size, there’s no place to hide.” Word here spreads faster than wildfire on a parched prairie or, say, Facebook. Here’s a recent posting on my town’s Facebook wall: “Rumor buster … CITY police did NOT stop/ticket a man on skis that was going to the grocery. It was an unmarked white SUV with blue lights with a man and a woman in it. We do not know who they were.” How it’s possible to confuse skis with an SUV is anybody’s guess, but it can happen on Facebook.

More than thirty years before the Internet came into existence, Canadian social visionary Marshall McLuhan foresaw a time when lightning-quick technological advances would create a global village. He understood that one day people would not need to leave their homes to interact with one another, shop, bank, watch movies, and more. In fact, Facebook surpassed 500 million users in July 2010 and grows exponentially by the day. On Facebook, it’s possible for ordinary folks to befriend and “like” celebrities they admire, and it’s possible for them to become celebrities in their own right, though in a way even Marshall McLuhan did not imagine. The Village Idiot became one of the celebrities of the global village, albeit indirectly, on my Facebook page and, eventually, my blog.

He died in a classic VI fashion, taking his brand-new motorcycle for a spin and wrecking it on the interstate the day after he bought it. He’d always had the proverbial need for speed—the cause of frequent neighborhood complaints—and according to police he was speeding when he lost control of the bike. But we didn’t know that at first. When the state troopers first pulled into the neighborhood, I posted the news on Facebook, but no one else seemed to know why they were there, either. Then someone posted that he’d heard about a motorcycle wreck on I40, and someone else remembered seeing VI leave the neighborhood on his new bike. Even when it became clear that someone had died, that the troopers were there to notify next of kin, there was some confusion about who was gone. One set of neighbors thought it was it was the child-rapist out back. I was kind of hoping they were right.

The Village Idiot was a major irritant, but he was not evil. He was just a good ol’ country boy, a loyal and devoted son. I have two sons of my own, and I empathize with his mother. She truly depended on her boy to do all the manly chores around their property. In retrospect, I wonder if he spent most of his time outside simply to distance himself from his mama, rather like my son of the same age, who stayed in his room on the back of the garage, writing for hours on end, before he fled the woods for Hollywood. Being outside, doing busywork, may have been my neighbor’s only means of escape.

Now that he’s gone, much of the color has been drained from the neighborhood—and from Facebook. There isn’t much left to say except that VI died doing something he loved, and the last thing he heard was the racing of an engine. “You made us know him,” one of my long-distance friends commented. “Then the VI vroom-vrooms into eternity. Surprise ending, I must say, and a sad one. But we won’t forget him.”