After the divorce, I moved into a tidy (not to be confused with tiny, a more suitable word but not as polite) duplex, thinking with my best “house is half-full” mentality that eventually I would buy a house. However, growing boys and lack of child support being what they are, twelve years later I’m still in the duplex, scanning newspaper stories about the burgeoning repossession rate, and longing for an extra half-bath. But in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I try to look on the bright side of things, like the fact that I’m not responsible for the water bill when tornado season causes the septic tank to back up, which in turn gives the toilet, never one to be outdone, a chance to perform its best Horseshoe Falls imitation. While other people are experiencing a drought, I’m planning a rainforest room in the bath and wondering where one can purchase parrots and other decorative jungle wildlife.
The best part of duplex life is the close, personal relationship you develop, by necessity, with the neighbors. By best, I mean frightening and intimidating. I remember the young man who proudly secured his mailbox to its post with good intentions, old-fashioned ingenuity, and the clever application of three-quarters of a roll of duct tape. Since he still had some duct tape left on the roll, I refrained from any pointed comments concerning his design.
Then there was the Good Samaritan who rescued a stray puppy that, filled with youthful vigor, managed to wind its tie-out chain around our heat pump every morning, a particularly delightful diversion on mornings I was late to work. Since Mr. Samaritan was rarely home, the task fell to me to unwrap the dog. One particularly stormy morning when I released the prisoner, he fell to with such excitement that he lashed us both securely to the heat pump. With determination and a cell phone pre-programmed to call Emergency Services, I managed a successful escape.
Better than this were Adventures with the Goat Man. This latest neighbor, a-twitter with the discovery that goats are to kudzu what the combine harvester is to wheat, procured from his brother-in-law, a baby goat. While the goat was fairly attractive as goats go, she was merely a wee babe and not up to the task before her. Even an enthusiastic goat is eclipsed by ten wooded acres covered in kudzu. Goat Man spent much time away from home (do we see a trend here?), and although long absences in neighbors are often desirable, we felt sorry for the poor baby left alone, and ventured over with fresh water every day. I soon found that goat-watering is a task best left to a younger, swifter generation. At my approach, the goat’s natural fears lead to a frenzied dash whose path was restricted by the chain that tethered it to a discarded tire rim. The circles grew smaller in circumference until the goat and I realized at approximately the same time that we were bound together by circumstance and an alarming length of sturdy metal links. I discovered at this point that it is best not to call for help from your teenaged son, who is not mature enough to realize the tact and discretion necessary in such a situation. It’s enough to say that he nicknamed the goat Seabiscuit, and that everyone on the Eastern Seaboard was aware of our predicament.
Duct Tape Man is thankfully gone, along with The Samaritan. Goat Man in still with us, although the goat is no longer in evidence. In its place is a free-range dog, a frisky yellow Labrador that fetches beer cans to our door like other dogs fetch the newspaper. And although I don’t really approve of the dog's habits, I have to admire his manners in asking us out for a drink.