Tom, the Recluse, My Nearest Neighbor

For four years after moving into the gated community neighbors had been telling me about Tom the Recluse, piquing my curiosity. Though sharing the same driveway I had not run into him until about a couple of months ago in February, 2019, when there was the first respectable snowfall of the season, dumping close to a foot overnight.

At 4 a.m. I came out the front door holding the garbage wrapped in a shopping bag. It was too early for the snow crew to show up. Gingerly I pulled up one sinking foot after another down the walkway knee-deep in snow, hoping it would keep the deer and other scavengers away. I needed to sleep past the garbage pickup time having worked through the wee hours to post an article on my blog, Normally, upon hearing the truck around 8, I would run out with my offering to zero out the possibility of the bag being torn up and the mess scattered. I had the Borough take back its trash and recycle bins, hating to take them back in. Catching on, a few of the neighbors mimicked my practice, though I couldn’t determine whether they had the bins returned, too. With a degree of satisfaction I had noticed Tom, the Recluse, to be among the copycats.

A thud and a yell jerked me out of my trance. A figure lay prostrate at the foot of the 35-degree driveway. Throwing down my bag I ran to him, losing my footing a few times.

The ice on the pavers must have caused the poor guy to slip and fall backward, then slide straight down on his back like a toboggan, his garbage bag flung aside.

“Let me help you up,” I whispered, thrusting my hand under his shoulder. He stirred, came to, and tried to get up on his own, disoriented, arms flailing. I helped him up. Muttering, he pulled away, picked up the bundle, and placed it by his mailbox post.

“Are you okay?” I asked anxiously. Grunting, he went back into his house through the open garage door, which came clattering down behind him.

Stung by his rudeness, though forewarned, but concerned that the trauma to his head, unawares, might have serious consequences like a concussion or intracerebral hemorrhage, I went up to his front door and knocked. No response. I banged louder, shouting his name. No sound or stir inside. Panicked that he might have collapsed, possibly on the verge of death, I came back to my house and called 911. An ambulance and two squad cars arrived. The patrolmen and medics converged on the house, some going around to the deck in the back facing the woods.

“What’s all this commotion about?” Tom opened the front door, resplendent in full nightgown regalia.

“Are you all right, sir?” one medic asked.

“Until now.”

They all turned to me for an explanation.

“But, sir, you had a bad fall and lay there, passed out,” I said, pointing at the driveway.

“What do you mean? I have been soundly asleep. I am no somnambulist like some people, seeing things,” he said, staring at me askance.

“Since we are here anyway, what if we check you out?” the medic asked.

“No,” Tom shouted back and slammed the door closed.

“Please look at this trench in the snow,” I pointed out to the medics and patrolmen carefully picking their way down the slope back to their vehicles. “That’s where he lay sprawled, flailing his arms.”

“His head would have cracked had it not been for the cushion of snow,” the ambulance driver noted, believing me.

I had just gotten back into the house after waving goodbye to the responders, swearing I’d never play a good Samaritan again, even if someone dropped dead right in front of me, when the doorbell rang.

“Came to thank you for the neighborliness, though misplaced,” Tom said. “I am pretty resilient, well-nigh indestructible.”

“But you almost got me into trouble,” I protested.

“I had to send them packing and knew they would believe you, dismissing me as a crackpot geezer. This is my peace offering,” he said, pushing a bottle of cognac toward me.

“No, take it back. There is no cause for it. Besides I don’t drink.”

“All right, then. Come around any time and we’ll talk.”

“Sure but do you have an email address? We can communicate that way.”

“What is yours? I’ll write you, so you can answer back.”

I gave him my card. He wrote a few days later, saying he had enjoyed my blog, especially my take on Trump, a former student of his at Wharton where he had taught marketing. We hit it off right away, fabulously.

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