Today you hear many people say they don't know their neighbors by name. They're too busy with work and family to take the time to meet the people who live next door or across the street.
Fortunately, my husband and I live in the kind of Pittsburgh neighborhood where that's not the case.
I discovered our neighborhood was different the day I moved into Blackridge, in the eastern suburbs. Just 24 years old, I brought my mother to our first house for the ritual, pre-move cleaning. But I couldn't get the front door open.
Before I knew it, an "older" man -- someone in his 30s -- was at my side showing me how to pull the door toward me as I turned the key. It was Paul, the quiet engineer who introduced himself and his wife Claudia, who was sitting across the street waving.
Nearly 35 years later, "Call Paul" remains a common expression whether we need to borrow a tool or seek advice on buying a computer. Claudia has been a lifesaver, too, when I inevitably run out of something in the kitchen. But a recent "break-in" convinced me just how lucky we really are.
I got home from work after dark, came in the front door and saw that the lamp on the mantel and framed photos on the desk were knocked over. I knew something was wrong, suspecting that either a bird -- or worse, a bat -- had gotten in. I suspected that if I took one step, the bat would swoop down on my head and do whatever it is bats do to your hair.
So, frozen in the entryway, I grabbed for my cellphone and called Paul. He and Claudia arrived quickly, and we searched the house but found nothing. They calmed me down and convinced me it was most likely a bird that had gone back out the chimney.
The next day, my husband Rick called my office to report, "It's a squirrel!" He had spotted the visitor in our closed-in porch. What else could I tell him but "Call Paul."
Rick described the next scene as something worthy of "America's Funniest Home Videos." Paul actually caught the intruder in his fishing net three times, but that squirrel escaped every time -- once running between Rick's legs to our second floor.
Rick finally left for work, but Paul, who is now retired, stayed behind to continue the hunt. He and Claudia even set up a squirrel trap in the living room, baited it with peanut butter and hoped for the best.
The rest of the week, Paul and Claudia spent part of each day checking the trap. By the weekend, we had all given up. I spent Saturday cleaning like a madwoman to eradicate any squirrel remains. We were all convinced that, somehow, he had gotten out, and that was the end of it. I even took the trap back to Paul to eliminate the last reminder of that animal.
I came home Sunday to more evidence that the squirrel was still around -- and might now be hiding in the basement. An exterminator we called suggested leaving the garage door open. After a few hours of a very cold basement, nothing happened, so we again convinced ourselves our visitor had left.
On Monday night, when I got home to more destruction -- the squirrel's favorite daytime activity was scratching the caulking off our windows -- I called the exterminator again. He suggested trying the trap again, but he had very specific instructions: "Bait it with a Ritz or Club Cracker with lots of peanut butter. Put it in the kitchen, and leave a very low light on all night. You know, like in a restaurant."
I was ready to ask if I should put out a wine list, too. But he sounded as if he knew what he was talking about, so I called Paul. He wasn't home, but Claudia arrived with the trap and, of course, Club Crackers.
The next morning, we got up to find the trap still baited, with no squirrel. All day long at work, I was tempted to call and ask if Paul or Claudia would check the trap. But at this point I was embarrassed about how much they had already done.
In the middle of the afternoon, my cellphone rang. "We got him," Claudia said. She had gone to check the trap and found him. Before I could ask where he was, she continued, "And Paul has already relocated him."
I won't tell you where the squirrel lives now, but I bet wherever it is, they don't have the kind of neighbors we do.
Marcia Conley of Penn Hills, a communications director, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.The PG Portfolio welcomes "Animal Tales" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.