There was a time many many years ago when I was living in upstate New York. I was going through a divorce, working a job from hell and generally having a miserable time in my life. Without even being aware of what he was doing, Duffy helped me out. A lot. While he didn’t resolve my issues [remember, we never have problems any more, just “issues”], Duffy had an occasional habit of making things a lot more pleasant.

He was the neighbor with the big snow blower who’d come by when you couldn’t shovel another chunk of that ice-filled snow (or was it snow filled ice?). More importantly, he’d come by right after the plow pushed all of it back into your driveway.

Duffy also had wonderful New Year’s Day/morning after parties, where he served several kinds of home-made wine and a lot of other liquids he’d been brewing and distilling over the previous twelve months. I’d wander across the street at whatever passed for a civilized hour on New Year’s Day, to be greeted with a large glass or mug of something strong. Duff was also a football fanatic. His wife wasn’t. So their solution was erect bleachers of concrete blocks and wooden planks in the garage, along with three TV’s. True football fans could sit, drink and cheer just like they were at the stadium, since both the garage and back doors were open, letting Canadian winds blow Lake Ontario’s usually freezing moisture over us.

It’s nice having neighbors like Duffy.

Then there are other kinds of neighbors. I remember being one of those, when I shared the second floor of an ancient duplex with a friend and Henrietta, his boa constrictor.

Henrietta was a couple of feet long and, if I remember right, survived on a mouse or two a week. In those shag carpet days we let her crawl around the apartment, only returning her to her terrarium when guests were coming.

It was a Monday night. Don’t remember the game, but it was in the days of Howard, Dandy Don, and the Giffer. We were sitting there with our beers, enjoying the night until we heard a blood-curdling scream from our downstairs neighbor, Agnes. She’d been reading in her bedroom, which was under our living room, and reached for a glass of water at the same time Henrietta was drinking from it.

Henrietta had found – and apparently enjoyed – the hot air duct that both apartments shared. No matter how much we apologized and tried to explain things, Agnes kept screaming and shouting about how she could have been bitten and poisoned to death. After she sort of calmed down and let us explain that small boas aren’t poisonous and couldn’t crush her, she changed her tirade – but not her volume – to talking about getting a heart attack.

We lost a friend that night. No more small talk on the porch, no more invites for meals or snacks. Just dirty looks and scowls from Agnes and her football-player boyfriend.

Guess we all have different comfort levels.