Three things are true about my neighbor Bill: He’s partially deaf, he’s house-proud, and he loves my dachshund, whose name is also Bill.
If it weren’t for the third thing, I might not know as much about the first two. We’ve been fence-neighbors for decades, but until I inherited the dachshund we hadn’t had occasion to pass more than a couple words. But I did inherit the dachshund, and he did bark literally all night for two solid weeks, so when Bill came up and put his gaunt, tanned hands on the chain-link fence that separates our yards I knew what he wanted to talk to me about.
The thing was, though, the dachshund chose that moment to lunge at the front fence, barking hysterically, and I yelled BILL, KNOCK IT OFF, YOU WEIGH TEN POUNDS, NOBODY CARES.
When I looked back at the other Bill, he was cackling, his yellowing hair shaking with the force of it.
“So that’s his name, huh?”
“Yeah.” I grinned sheepishly.
“He barks. A lot.”
“Yeah.” I tried to figure out what the correct facial expression was. “He was my granddad’s. Granddad just died, and he’s trying to figure out a new house. I’m so sorry. We’re working on it. I don’t know what to do.”
Bill (human Bill) rearranged his own features. “Well. Poor lil guy. He’s got a great name.”
I picked the dachshund up and carried him to the fence, they hugged it out, and from then on Bill never complained about Bill. He did, however, come over to the fence to talk every time I was in the yard. He met my other dogs, even if his versions of their names were somewhat affected by his hearing or expectations (he thinks the Weimaraner is Chloe. It’s a cute name, but it’s not her name).
Which is how, last week, I ended up with two pints of cherry tomatoes in a WinCo sack. I’m allergic to tomatoes. Actually, so is Bill: he has to take steroids every time he touches his plants. Between us, there’s no reason for anyone to have two pints of tomatoes, let alone two pints every couple weeks, but he’s seen me working in my garden and I think he might be taking pity on me: the lettuce bolted, the cabbage has no idea what it’s doing, the banana peppers have two (just two) fruits, and the biquinhos aren’t supposed to be big but he doesn’t know that.
Bill (not the dog) broke his back and ribs a few years ago. There was an ambulance. Twice, because the first time he was drunk enough not to feel it and he sent them away, only to fall in the middle of the night and puncture a lung. Bill (the dog) and I comforted his girlfriend as she smoked in the yard for weeks afterward. “I’ve never had a yard, and he loves this house so much, how do I do this,” she wailed.
Bill’s yard used to look like the cover of Better Mobile Homes and Gardens: flat, with a border of nondescript but well-cared-for flowers, and a few hummingbird feeders. He still has the hummingbird feeders, but he can’t mow so well these days, and the guy who used to take care of his front strip (and mine, since it bothered Bill) doesn’t come around anymore with the quarantine on, so the yard has dandelions and there’s nightshade creeping over our shared fence. We pull that from both sides, he and I, like neighbors do.
The last thing he has left to tend is his tomato plants, which apparently live inside by the giant window I accidentally saw his girlfriend doing a striptease through once. At least, I’ve never seen them in the yard. All the energy and care he used to lavish on keeping the area around his house flat, green, and at a #2 mow, he spends on those tomatoes.
So when your neighbor comes to the fence and says “you sure liked that last batch of tomatoes, do you want some more” what do you say? Do you tell him you slipped them to your best friend under cover of darkness, like so much Tomato Claus?
You say yes. And you make tomato sauce. For someone else.