Small favors

Featherman wanted to be helpful and we appreciated it, when we could supervise. Houses, sidewalks, sheds, patios, et cetera, had been built with Featherman's watched help. Samantha's patio changed shape when she left Featherman alone with the job to go for groceries, and Pennypacker's house has a front door on the side because he went away ''a couple hours,'' and Heidi's sidewalk loops some because ''I visited a neighbor.'' We learn from such experiences. Featherman's unquenchable helpfulness has more or less benefited each and all at one time or another, when we have guided his energies.

When some of us got Home Box Office television we started sharing our homes with others to watch the better movies, and Featherman was included. Featherman, always filled with helpful vigor, got bored just sitting, and at some point during a movie would slip away.

''Sometimes you'd find him sharpening pencils or making sure all the labels on the spices in the rack were showing,'' Samantha sighed last time we were at her house, ''but last time he was here he put all the stuff in the dishwasher in the wrong places and wallpapered the wrong room.''

After ''The Earthling'' at Pennypacker's, Pennypacker found Featherman had rearranged the books in his library according to length of title. Since Featherman and he had labored most of the summer to build the library, Pennypacker deflated, did not shout. When, the next Friday, after watching Dr. Seuss' ''The Cat in the Hat,'' Heidi discovered Featherman had clipped her prizewinning roses ''to even the garden up,'' Heidi calmly did not throw things, inasmuch as Featherman had helped paint her house. When Bulradish's fifty-paned living-room picture window had been deputtied and then reputtied with the children's Play Doh while we looked at ''Bear Island,'' Bulradish (perspiring, red as a tomato) thanked Featherman for helping him weed his garden. Urgent glances passed around the room.

At Heather's for ''Mr. Halpern and Mr. Johnson,'' we initiated Plan One. As the credits were coming on the screen, Bulradish and Heinze counseled Featherman intensely concerning the virtue of sitting through an entire movie. Featherman gave the sincerest nod of agreement I have ever seen, and we forgot about him - until, near the end, we heard a crash. ''Some of the cups and plates were crooked,'' Featherman assured us, sitting on the floor surrounded by chunks and splinters of Heather's collection of china.

Plan Two at Manvogle's was, we believed, foolproof. Even if nobody noticed when Featherman tried to slip out, a series of mechanisms would converge to keep him in his seat. The trombones had newly faded in the room at the conclusion of ''The Music Man,'' when we were starkly aware of Featherman's absence. A frantic search found him having mopped the upstairs bathroom floor and finishing waxing it - with, it would appear, molasses, his foot still caught in the Plan Two bucket, his wrist still manacled to the Plan Two tea table.

We watched ''Fraggle Rock'' at Featherman's when he got HBO - totally relaxed. For what could Featherman do here? We enjoyed his effervescence, delighted in his superb fare. We bantered about this and that, exchanged pleasantries, complimented to excess each other's attire and accouterment just before the movie began - the way you do when you run out of things to say. While ''Fraggle Rock'' was colorful it was not substantive and I dozed. The walk home pinched, and when I glanced at my watch, Pennypacker's stared back. Ah, friends like Featherman don't grow on trees, and we can be thankful for that.

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