Sunday Dinner

Reasons to bribe a handy neighbor

CorrespondentNovember 7, 2010 

After about 20 years, Neighbor Bill has taken his table saw, his rabbit-attracting compost pile and his truck with its buzzing transmission, and gone.

He said it was the power tools' fault. They, plus the dozens of logs of black walnut and maple, needed more space to spread out in the process of creating tiki god statues and bowls.

He certainly made it an interesting suburban 'hood. I remember the day I looked out the window and saw him stomping through the yard in waders, holding a recently dispatched duck by the neck. How to cook the duck breast was his question, especially in a way to avoid the buckshot.

During the blizzard of 2000, when Raleigh got 20 inches of snow that shut down the city, my husband and I threw spaghetti together, opened a bottle of wine and called over Neighbor Bill. We figured that, as a single guy, he was running low on victuals.

As we opened the second bottle of wine, he began to complain about the snow. "It's fine for you over here," he said, looking from me to my husband, "But this is cutting into my social life. If you know what I mean."

I don't know what kind of Playboy-style revels he imagined long-married life was like. As I recall, during that snow we watched "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and a lot of basketball.

Besides the entertainment, we liked living next door to N.B. because he had survival skills. If a Mad Max-type apocalypse took place, I am certain that my husband and I would be the first to go. I can't drive a straight shift, and those vehicles in the movie didn't look like automatics. And unless the ability to write in a snarkily funny manner and build a business database turn out to be crucial abilities, we'd be toast in a week.

Neighbor Bill, on the other hand, could use a chainsaw, sharpen a mower blade, grow tomatoes and peppers in minimal space and handle firearms. We could use insurance. I figured the best ways to get it would be to offer food or put him in situations in which he might meet dates.

Neighbor Bill had an unexpected appreciation for food and was a good taste-tester for my cookbooks.

In the early days, N.B. had housemates to help pay the mortgage, and he bemoaned their dietary quirks. Two ate the same things every night: Grilled steak or chicken breast with baked potatoes and canned peas.

The ones who couldn't stand garlic just about killed N.B., with his Italian blood. He dropped by one night after I'd cooked a garlic-laden Chinese dinner, took a deep breath and said, "Man, it smells good in here."

Knowing N.B. helped me perfect the fine art of using food for advance bribery. I didn't wait until I needed something sawed, dug up or zapped with his powerful leaf blower, but made deposits in the Bank of Bill throughout the year. Muffins here, coconut cake there. It all added up.

It paid off when I bought a large cabinet and fetched N.B. and his housemate to carry it into the house. To be sure there would be a next time, I took over a sweet potato pie. In minutes, the empty pan returned. "Don't you try to move things like that," they told me, "You come get us."

Here's to N.B. I hope there's plenty of garlic where he is now.

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