I was working in the yard last weekend when a woman stopped, stared at me and said, "Aren't you Al Martinez?"
I should have known this meant trouble because, if they stop at all, they usually look at me and say, "How-much-you-charge?"
They think I'm the Mexican gardener and speak very slowly so that I will understand every word.
I say, "Eight dollars an hour for yard clearance and seven dollars an hour for straight sex," and they say, "Oh, thank you" very pleasantly and move on. I think it's the price that throws them. You can get a yard worker easy for five bucks.
On this particular morning, however, it should have been clear that the woman was not interested in me as a employee on any level, either inside or outside the house.
When I said yes, I was Al Martinez, she said, "I'm surprised you haven't eaten your pet goat by now."
She indicated our Nubian goat Lucy, who was in the yard and who looked around stupidly while chewing a mouthful of hay.
The woman didn't have to say any more to identify herself as an animal activist who somehow recognized me as the newspaper columnist in favor of eating dogs and torturing cats for nutrition and pleasure.
At the time she came by I was working with a hammer-shaped tool that is used to dig out the roots of particularly tough weeds. Not only is it a good root-digger but, if serious trouble threatened, I would not be forced to fight off intruders with only a weed whip or a bamboo lawn rake.
My wife was working nearby and, recognizing the hostile manner in which I held the root tool, said to the animal activist, "He's not that Al Martinez. You're thinking of the vicious animal-hating Al Martinez. This Al Martinez owns a sweet little pet shop in Canoga Park and is organizing a halfway house for stray dogs."
"Oh," the woman said, somewhat confused, "I didn't mean to bother you" and left.
I looked at my wife. "A halfway house for stray dogs?"
She shrugged. "Saved you again, Martinez."
I mention this today due to a problem facing a real celebrity in our vicinity, namely Michael Jackson, the sweet-faced person who sings and dances and who, I am sure, never pulls weeds, even with his gloved hand.
Jackson lives in Encino and is under fire because of the animals he keeps in his back yard, which, at various times, have included swans, snakes, a giraffe, a camel and Bubbles, his chimpanzee.
A news story reported recently that neighbors were protesting the noise and the smell from the animals.
As a result, Jackson announced that he is looking for land in the hills near Santa Barbara in order to build a compound for his menagerie.
It will be located in the Santa Ynez Valley near the ranch where Ronald Reagan once kept Ed Meese, Michael Deaver and Lyn Nofziger before they got into trouble.
My brief confrontation with the animal lady made me wonder what Jackson must face every day of his life, so I talked to neighbors who surround his house on Hayvenhurst Avenue.
It is not so much Jackson's animals they resent, most of them said, as it is the tourists and the groupies who hang around his front gate hoping to catch a glimpse.
They somehow know when Jackson is in town and arrive in droves:
Minibuses bearing Japanese tourists who come directly from the airport.
Ma and Pa Kettle types who cross-country from Kansas with a carload of teen-agers.
Young men in dirty jeans and tank tops who communicate in grunts and gestures and drink Corona beer.
Beautiful girls in heat who want Jackson to dance on their naked bodies.
It gets worse when other celebrities visit Jackson, one neighbor said. Jackie Onassis stopped by once and hundreds jammed the street. Cars, television trucks, vans, sports cycles, pickups.
People who lived on the block couldn't get home until Jackie left.
Only one neighbor complained of Jackson's animals, and that was because a man delivering a camel to the singer's estate had tied the camel to a truck that blocked her driveway.
Thereafter, she joined others at a zoning hearing who objected to an 18-foot-high fence Jackson wanted to build to enclose his giraffe.
What next, they all wondered, African elephants marching trunk-by-tail down Rosemary Lane? Migrating herds of wildebeests grazing on hillsides where condos ought to be?
As a result of the protest, the request for the fence was withdrawn and Jackson is looking for a new zoo site.
I suppose, therefore, I shouldn't be too annoyed when only one person recognizes me and wants to argue about my support of dog-kabobs. No one is screaming and tearing at my clothes and asking me to dance on their naked bodies.
I thought about that as I pulled weeds. A wistful expression crossed my face.
I said, "I wonder what it would be like to dance on naked female bodies."
My wife stopped working and looked at me.
"I guess you'll never know," she said.