Building good fences

The Shelter for Starving Artists and Underpaid Academics provides a reasonably clean bed, a seasonally dry roof, and marginally digestible meals to a distinct group of struggling individuals. The expressed purpose of the shelter is to offer support to people in need, such as street mimes and folks with doctorates in philosophy or Icelandic literature.

The food line at the shelter is voluntarily tended by Hannibal King and other members of the local lodge of the Fraternal Order of the Grand Misconception — along with misdemeanor criminals working off community service sentencing requirements.

“What are ya’ in for, pal?” is Hannibal’s stock greeting when he is joined on the food line by someone other than a fellow lodge member.

“The name is Walter Rego,” replied the newcomer, with hand outstretched. “I’m here to serve food and offer jobs to indigent graffiti artists. This is food, isn’t it?”

The serving pan in front of Walter wasn’t labeled and he was concerned about what he might be plopping onto the plates of unsuspecting folks, as they passed in front of him.

Hannibal eagerly shook Walter’s hand and introduced himself — excited that someone had finally come to the shelter to offer their clients something more than comforting words and runny potatoes. “What kind of jobs are we talking about?”

“Well sir,” began Walter, with a slight smile. “You know the old saying, ‘Good fences make good neighbors?’ I’m a master wall builder. It’s hard work – very exacting. My job is to build those good fences. I’m looking for graffiti artists to help beautify my next project.”

Curious, Hannibal asked Mr. Rego to continue.

“Walls are difficult things to build. You have to be very careful and have a good plan. If you are standing on the outside when you place the last stone, you just might get stuck outside. Just as importantly, if you are inside when that last stone gets placed, that’s just where you might end up for the rest of your life. Walls are tricky that way.”

“How do you plan for that?” asked Hannibal, with genuine (and rare) interest.

“Good fences need good gates,” replied Walter with a grin. “Without a good gate, people are just stuck where they are. Without good gates, fences are nothing more than useless volleyball nets.”

“What makes a good gate?” Hannibal asked.

Walter had an interesting story to tell and Hannibal wanted to learn more.

“Good question,” responded Walter, happy to share his story. “The Brandenburg gate was once a beautiful 18th Century city gate at the beginning of the road travelling from Berlin, Germany to Brandenburg. That is, until the Cold War and the Berlin wall was built. Then, no one could use the gate. That’s an example of a good gate — and a bad wall.”

“Then,” pondered Hannibal aloud, “what is a good gate in a good wall?”

“Any gate that readily opens both ways is a good gate. Any wall with a good gate, is a good wall,” Walt explained. “Look at the gate at Disney World. Tens of thousands of people pour through that gate every day and walk back out every evening — and pay lots of money, just to do it.”

“Fascinating,” Hannibal continued to ponder. “What is your next project?”

“I’m going to build the wall along the border,” beamed Walter.

“THE WALL AT THE MEXICAN BORDER!” gasped Hannibal. The shock in his voice was echoed by the look on his face.

“Oh, heavens no!” laughed Walter Rego, master wall builder. “That wall is more trouble than it’s worth — half of the people love it and half of the people loath it. My plan is to build a wall along the Canadian border. No one cares about that — they speak French.”


Larry Wilson is a mostly lifelong resident of Niles. His optimistic “glass full to overflowing” view of life shapes his writing. His essays stem from experiences, compilations and recollections from friends and family. Wilson touts himself as “a dubiously licensed teller of tall tales, sworn to uphold the precept of ‘It’s my story; that’s the way I’m telling it.’” He can be reached at


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