My Uncle Hubert once said, “Neighbors are great, but I don’t want to live next to one.” Over the years I have had many great neighbors; I have one now, but I have also had my share of neighborly afflictions.
When we were younger, my wife and I moved into a cute little house with our two infant children. As we were unloading our belongings from a rickety trailer, we were met by the neighborhood welcome wagon, which consisted of a rag-tag bunch of steelworkers and their nosey wives. Most, not wanting to impose or get put to work, made their introductions then promptly left. One neighbor, however, stuck around to supervise my work and help me drink an entire cooler of beer. His name was William, but everyone called him Willy, including Willy himself. He spoke exclusively in the third person and made statements like, “Willy went fishing this weekend.” Or, “Willy sure does like this cold beer.” Every statement was followed by an hour-long diatribe which led down numerous rabbit holes; so many in fact, I found I lost track of the original conversation. I thought to myself, “Willy ever leave?”
For the most part, I am an easy-going fella, but over the following months Willy incited in me such deep-seated angst that I avoided him at all costs. I often drove around the block several times, waiting for an opportunity to sneak into my own house. The downside of this tactic was Willy would resolve to sit on my porch and wait for me to stop. “I saw you driving around the block, is your truck giving you fits?” Willy would ask. “Willy is a pretty good mechanic, if you got some tools Willy could borrow, we could fix her right up.” I knew for a fact he was no mechanic, I had watched, only the weekend before, as he struggled to duct tape a clothes hanger into the hole that once held his radio antenna. As a matter of fact, he borrowed my toolbox to work on his car and hadn’t returned it yet, but I won’t go down that rabbit hole today.
Summer was in full, sweltering bloom. The perfect weather for standing around a hot bed of coals and engaging in the American tradition known as a “cookout”. I inadvertently invited Willy and his family over for such an event because I hadn’t thought quickly enough to rescind the offer when my wife mentioned money was tight. It could have been that I was distracted carrying in groceries while Willy helped himself to the five-gallon bucket of laundry soap we had just bought. He would just borrow a little bit he said as he filled his empty detergent box. “Money ain’t a problem, Willy will bring some chicken for the grill,” he said as he snapped the lid back on the half empty bucket. Tanya berated my ignorance and laid down the law. She would not engage in conversation with Willy because she hadn’t the patience or the time to deal with his rambling.
The weekend rolled around and we got started at noon. I poured copious amounts of lighter fluid on the charcoal and dropped a match, “whoosh!” The flames shot high into the air and removed most of the hair from my knuckles all the way to my elbows. While I waited on the coals to glow, I anxiously watched Willy’s front door, but there was no movement. I hoped he had forgotten about the cookout. Tanya brought out some burgers to put on the grill and a six-pack of cold beers to keep me hydrated while I cooked. The very second I cracked a beer, Willy’s door swung open. “Do you got another one of them beers for Willy?” Tanya, as promised, excused herself to the house, followed by Willy’s wife, a plate of raw chicken and their dog. Willy gulped down a beer and opened a second, “Willy wanted to do bar-b-que chicken but his old lady forgot to buy any sauce. You wouldn’t happen to have some sauce Willy could borrow, would you?”
I went into the house and his wife was already spreading our bar-b-que sauce on the chicken. Willy, who had followed me into the kitchen, jumped in front of his wife and started scraping sauce from the chicken back into the jar. “Willy don’t need this much sauce woman. Leave some in case they want to make more chicken later.” My wife, having basic knowledge of bacteria such as salmonella, E Coli, and botulism insisted we didn’t need it and they should use it all. As the burgers came off the grill, Willy put the chicken on to cook. He was even kind enough to smear a little sauce from one of the chicken thighs onto a couple of the burger patties for seasoning… I carried the burgers into the house where I was quietly accosted by my wife, “He put the sauce on the chicken, then back into the jar. What is he thinking? That chicken will kill us all or worse, give us a bad case of the trots, we will be Aztec two-stepping all night.” I responded, “Well, he put some sauce from the raw chicken on these two burgers, just in case someone wants a bar-b-que burger.” My wife said she would not be eating any chicken, “period” and she certainly wasn’t eating any poison burgers. She pushed the two saucy burger patties into the trash bin, “Whoops!”
While the chicken cooked, we made small talk and tried to keep their dog from eating our cats and furniture. After some time, Willy came into the house carrying the cooked chicken on the same plate he used to deliver it to the grill and loudly announced, “Chicken’s done, come on babe grab some of that potato salad and let’s get Willy fed.” She shoveled a couple scoops of potato salad onto a paper plate, grabbed two forks and they left. My wife and I stood silently in the kitchen and looked at each other with bewilderment. We heard the door shut and In unison both said, “Quick, lock the door!” As I turned the lock, I couldn’t help but notice, as he carried the toxic chicken away he had shoved two beers into his back pockets.