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Neighbors

By Brent Todd

 

Issue #90 • November/December, 2004

My neighbor, Fred, came to the house to borrow a hammer. He's not mechanically inclined. If I were a betting man I'd lay even odds he doesn't know where Home Depot is. He's at the opposite end of the bell curve from a tool guy, so it's not surprising that he's a few tools shy of a full shed.

He didn't come right out and ask to borrow it. He's too polished for that. He made polite small talk about the weather before working his way around to, "Say Brent, I was wondering. Do you have a hammer?"

I said, "Are you selling one or giving it away?"

That stumped him, but only for a minute. He said one day he would like to have a whole garage full of tools. The minute he had an extra hammer he didn't need he would want me to have it. But right at the moment he was in the market to borrow one. He said his own hammer was broke (he pronounced it broken).

So I tried a different tack. I said, "Are you done with the hoe yet?"

He said, "Hoe?"

I said, "Yes."

He looked puzzled, so I said, "My garden hoe."

He still didn't understand, so I said, "It's a tool with a handle like a shovel. There's a little square piece of metal on the end. You use it to dig weeds."

This got him wondering. He said, "Did I borrow your hoe?"

I said yes.

He didn't remember borrowing a hoe, but admitted there was a place in the attic above his garage that had accumulated into what his wife, Anne, called the scary place. He said he might look there.

I said I didn't want to put him to any trouble, but if he thought it might be there....

He said there were just some boxes, and a set of golf clubs, and a couple of folding chairs, and a volley ball net that needed folding anyway, and an American flag he had meant to get down for the 4th of July, and two suits he hoped to be able to fit into by the end of the summer, and an extra ironing board, and a table with one broken leg, and an old computer he was going to donate to the high school, and one or two other things that wouldn't be much trouble.

I said it sounded like a chore alright.

He said no, he was going to have to deal with it anyway. Anne had been after him to get the hammock down before summer was over. He guessed a thing as easy to misplace as a hoe might be up there. "When did you first notice it missing?" he asked.

I said "August."

He scratched his chin, pondering. "But it's July now," he said.

I said I guessed he was right about that. Time sure flies, I said. But I was going to need that hoe back before summer was over if it wasn't too much trouble.

He said the minute he got home he was going to ask Anne if she remembered borrowing it. He had no recollection himself, but she might remember. She might have needed it for her garden. The two of them would find that hoe for sure if it was anywhere to be found.

I thanked him for that, and said it was sure nice he had stopped by. I'm not as polished at small talk as Fred, but I commented on how nice it was to visit with him, and how it had been a long time.

He said we sure ought to get together with the wives, maybe go to a restaurant.

I said that sounded like a fine idea. Then I waited, and he waited too, until we could both see we were finished talking. He said he better get back home, and I said I guessed I better get back to finishing the project I was working on, which was technically true if you think about all that goes into watching a Mariners game. I opened the front door for him.

He stepped out onto the porch and down into the walk. I started to close the door. But he stopped, turned around, and said, "Say, I almost forgot about that hammer."

I said I suspected it was most likely in the garage somewhere. It might take a little doing to find. This was also technically true if you take into account having to walk out to the garage and open the drawer where I kept the hammer. I'm kind of a stickler when it comes to the truth.

I started again to close the door, but he persisted. He said he was awfully grateful to be able to borrow that hammer, and would get it back to me in no time.

So I said, "I should be able to look for it first thing in the morning, if you think you can get by without it until then."

He smiled and said morning would be fine. He could wait until then. He didn't want to put me to any trouble.

I smiled back and said, "It won't be any trouble at all. I'm sure that hammer will turn up by the time you find the hoe."

That was a month ago. I haven't seen Fred since. I still don't have my hoe. But I have my hammer.




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