“Hi Joe,” I said to my neighbor as I opened the mailbox by my driveway.
“Hi Blair,” Joe said as he fertilized his begonia. “Hey, by the way, I’ve been meaning to talk to you.”
“Yeah?” I said.
“Yeah,” he continued. “Madge and I are going out of town Tuesday, and we wondered if you could feed Ralph again.”
“Oh,” I said. I was silent.
“Yeah,” said Joe. “You already know the habitual and mechanical performance of the established procedure.”
“Yes,” I told Joe. “You give me the house key, I disarm your burglar system three times daily, fill Ralph’s ferret dish, and walk him mornings and evenings.”
“Right,” Joe said. “Ferrets need exercise. Ralph needs fresh air. And of course he needs food, ha ha! We’ll be home in 12 days.”
“Oh,” I said. There was a pause.
Joe continued. “We decided to go to Stockholm this month. We haven’t been there yet. We had such a great time in Kinshasa on that safari, and now we wanted to see the land of the midnight luminous celestial body around which the earth and other planets revolve. And when we return, we’re going to Cocoa Beach. I mean we’ll need another vacation after all this traveling, ha ha ha!”
Ha ha ha, I thought, remaining silent.
“Where are you and your wife going for vacation this year?” Joe asked conversationally.
“Well, Joe, my wife and I aren’t going anywhere this year. We have no money. The last time we went anywhere was a 2010 day trip to the Wigglerville Pants Festival.”
“Oh. And how did you like it?” Joe asked politely.
“It rained. Listen, Joe, have you thought of taking Ralph with you on one of your extravagant escapades?”
“Oh, no,” said Joe. “Ralph suffers with allergies. When we took him to Beijing he experienced terrible mucus.”
“Joe, I regret to tell you that the feral odor of your rodent aggravates my irritable bowel syndrome. Plus I don’t need any additional appreciative refrigerator magnets reminding me of your odysseys.”
“OK, Blair. That’s fine. I get it. No more magnets.” Joe was quiet. His foot nudged a couple decorative lawn stones back into his mosaically landscaped flowerbed. “Well, maybe your wife can feed Ralph for us?”
I sighed. “I’ll ask her…” I said.
For the next 12 days, my wife and I took turns crossing the street to cater to Ralph’s mammalian needs. We received a postcard from Joe and Madge saying they extended their trip so they could visit Reykjavík.
Each evening, while the neighbors were gone, my wife and I cuddled in front of the TV to watch The Walking Channel.