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August 27, 1998

City of Cambridge walls in resident
After complaints by neighbors, Bill Thayer’s home is encased in brick

CAMBRIDGE — Bill Thayer woke up Tuesday afternoon, put on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and tried to open his front door. "I was out of Moxie," explains Thayer. "I was going to the store to buy a bottle of Moxie."cambridgewall.jpg (15777 bytes)

But Thayer never got his Moxie. "I couldn’t open the door. I thought that perhaps I had become very, very weak. Then I thought the door might be stuck." After looking out his front window, however, he saw what the problem was.

"Somebody had built a brick wall around my house."

As it turns out, that somebody was the City of Cambridge. According to zoning board chairman Richard Stevens, neighbors had been complaining for weeks about Thayer.

"Even if they didn’t see him directly, he would sometimes wander into their peripheral vision. People who lived on his street were saying that they wished they lived somewhere else. When I asked them when they thought they would move, however, they admitted that they really wanted to stay where they were, but have Thayer contained in some way, perhaps under water, or somewhere beneath the earth’s surface."

When an investigation into those solutions revealed them to be too costly and time-consuming, the board decided on an alternative. "We built a wall," said Stevens.

"Construction only took three days," explained Hal Martinson, a foreman on the wall site. "We built the whole thing out of brick. It’s a real beaut. Actually, at first we thought we might build it out of stone, you know, all medieval and shit." He laughed at that, at his use of the word "medieval." "Yeah. But then we talked about it for a while and realized that would probably just be stupid," he said, the laughter gone, in its place a contemplative sadness.

"We love it," said Faye Johnson, just one of tens of Cambridge citizens who came to admire the two-story-high brick edifice this week. "We used to pretend we couldn’t see him. Now, we really can’t. We’re unable to see through the bricks at all," she continued. "It’s very good."

Added Stevens, "It’s the best solution for everyone. The public sector is happy, the private sector is happy. [The Lord our God] is happy. E-e-e-e-e-verybody’s happy." When asked how he expected Thayer to get food and supplies, the board director shrugged his shoulders. "Good question."

"Yeah, that is a good question, actually," said Thayer, shouting from behind the wall. "I suppose I’ve still got a phone, so maybe I could call someone with a helicopter or a catapult or something, and ask them to help me out." Thayer later agreed that those ideas were retarded.

When asked what they liked least about Thayer, neighbors’ responses varied. Some cited his unconventional posture, while others noted his hairstyle. "It just sort of does this," said one man, making small hand gestures above his forehead.

Others complained that Mr. Thayer never attended church or patronized local yard sales. "He just wouldn’t assimilate," said local zealot Chuck Abernathy. "No. Wait, that sounds really bad. You shouldn’t print that. Don’t put that down. Okay. Erase that, I’m serious. No, you’re nodding, but I’m serious. Promise me you won’t print that."

"I don’t see what the big deal is," said Housing Commissioner Joe Farina. "He’s got running water, electricity and enough oil to last him a couple of months at least." Farina nodded for several seconds, then added, "I’m not joking. We’re talking two months. Minimum." Afterward, Farina continued to nod.

Although he seemed to be adjusting to his new living situation, Thayer still has concerns.

"I don’t have a job anymore ... I’m assuming. I haven’t talked to my boss, but I haven’t been there for a few days. They’ve probably fired me by now. I’m not sure how I’m going to pay my bills. And I don’t even know how much it’ll cost to charter one of those helicopters." When reminded that the helicopter idea was never going to happen, Thayer nodded and apologized.

"Look, it’s a simple matter of public policy," said Assistant District Attorney Mike Newell. "We have to ask ourselves, ‘Is it in the community’s best interests to wall in Bill Thayer?’ And the answer is an unconditional, unequivocal yes." When asked if building the wall wasn’t in fact illegal, Newell replied, "Uh-huh." The expression on his face combined with the tone of his voice implied that his final utterance was the equivalent of the phrase "I don’t know."

When reached for comment, Dr. Richard Fogerty, professor of linguistics at the University of Virginia, said, "Yes. He probably meant, ‘I don’t know.’"

Dr. Fogerty has a Ph.D. in linguistics from Stanford University, which is located in California.

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