It's always a good idea to get to know your neighbors.

These are, of course, the people you will call upon to feed your cat, walk your dog and keep an eye on the kids when you run to the grocery. They may even make a pass at your walks should a surprise snowstorm blow in when you're down with the flu.

They will be the ones who bring in your mail and collect your newspapers off the front porch if you leave town for the weekend.

They also will notice -- and act -- if a truck is parked in your driveway and people are helping you move that same weekend.

But the most valuable function of neighbors is as sources of tools you don't have.

The neighborhood surrounding the new-old house was a haven for driveway mechanics, backyard farmers and do-it-yourself home renovators.

One of those renovators was determined to bring back a staircase in his entry that featured curved risers at its base. (He'd found their shadows on the walls and floor when he ripped out the 1970s stairway that had "improved" upon the 1890s original.)

The framing was no problem, but when the time came to glue up the four new curved risers, he found himself woefully short of clamps.

Undaunted, he simply went door to door and soon collected several dozen.

Rancho del Fifties is not home to nearly as many handyfolks as that neighborhood was, likely because our houses are … well … about 60 years younger and not in need of extensive repair.

Most of the people who live near the new-new house are content to keep their window casings painted and lawns mowed and occasionally to call in people to install a new toilet or refinish a floor.

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Even so, within a block of my front door are three chain saws, five table saws, a lathe, two welding setups, a couple of sets of scaffolding, several snowblowers and many, many lawnmowers.

There are post hole diggers and sledge hammers, reciprocating saws and garden tillers, power planes and even a couple of monstrous jacks -- should I ever be called upon to lift something really heavy.

There may be a band saw out there, too, but it could be tucked away in a basement I haven't visited yet.

I swap tools back and forth all the time with my buddy John, who lives across the street. When I need a bolt cutter, I know where to look. When it's rainy, and he doesn't want to drag his table saw out into the driveway, he knows mine stands in a dry, heated shop.

We're both toolish and trust that whatever we lend will come back in at least the condition it left in.

Or better.

When you're borrowing stuff, that's the rule you should live by: Always return things in good shape.

No dings or dents, no paint spatters, no stripped screws or loose bolts. And if you notice a spot of rust or a splintery wooden handle, no one will complain that you applied a little sandpaper to them.

By the way, the reason I know about the curved stairway risers is that among the clamps my neighbor borrowed were half a dozen rock maple hand screws.

Gary brought them back the next day.

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