Friday night, one child or another woke us up every hour on the hour — 1:00 a.m., 2:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m., 4:00 a.m. Highly aggressive cuckoo clocks. Saturday was Lea’s birthday party, and in preparation we gave the house a thorough cleaning, and decorated the backyard. The party was small — just four of Lea’s pre-school girlfriends, plus Alex. It was the first time we’d hosted a party at our home, and it went fairly well. One thing we learned is that handing out goody bags is code for “…and stay out.” The moms gathered up their kids and hit the road less than five seconds after the goodies were distributed. One moment the girls were all running around shrieking happily; the next moment they had vanished like ghosts. Do not deny the power of the goody bag.
Lea received a pink, heart-shaped, Disney Princess CD player, and spent the rest of the day on the sofa listening to The Animaniacs and A Year With Frog and Toad. We cleaned up the backyard, had a quick dinner, and soon it was the end of the day. Saturday night I slept like a rock.
Sunday. I woke up around 6:30 a.m. and went downstairs to check e-mail and read the news. I heard J walking around upstairs a few minutes later. In retrospect, I should have heard the urgency in her footsteps. This was not a casual Sunday morning stroll to the coffee maker. This was the sound of someone dealing with a problem. But what problem could there possibly be before sunrise when the kids were still asleep?
I was about to find out. The door to the basement opened and she called down, “Eric, come up here right now.”
Uh-oh. I got halfway upstairs and J was in the doorway looking at me. “There’s a man on the porch,” she said.
“There’s a man sleeping on the porch.”
I peeked out through the kitchen door. Sure enough, a young man was on the enclosed porch, sitting in the rocking chair, his lap covered with the dirty blanket we use for backyard picnics. He was either sleeping or was in a state of deep concentration.
J said, “I opened the front door. Without my glasses, I thought that was you, maybe solving a crossword or something. But you didn’t move when I said something. I went and got my glasses and looked again. That must have been why Toby barked last night. Remember?”
“Toby barked?” I said.
“In the middle of the night. The porch door slammed and Toby went running into the living room, barking. You woke up and told him to shut up and go back to sleep.”
Great. I had no memory of this at all. Way to protect the domicile, Man of the House.
I reached for the phone to call the police. The phone was dead. We had left the handset off the base all night, and it had lost its charge. I’ll never again roll my eyes at the phone that conveniently goes dead in a horror movie. It’s nothing short of a fundamental law of nature that the phone must die right when you absolutely need it most.
I ran downstairs to the second phone, called 911. Sunday morning as the sun is coming up is an excellent time to call the police. The operator kept me on the line as she made a call over the radio — our situation was, apparently, a ten-eighteen. She wanted me to stay on the phone until the police arrived, but I told her I wanted to go back upstairs to my wife.
No less than three police cars arrived less than five minutes later. No lights, no sirens. Two of the policemen climbed the small hill that is my front lawn. They saw me through the living room window. I pointed at the door to the porch. They came in. The lead cop was a balding man with wire-rim glasses — he looked more like somebody’s uncle than the Law. But he spoke in a forceful voice we heard clearly through the front door.
“Hey. Hey!” he said. The man in the rocking chair apparently woke up. “You live here?” asked the cop.
“Yeah,” said the man.
“You do? What’s your address?”
The young man said something indistinct.
“You’re on the wrong side of town, fella,” said the cop. I opened the front door and peeked out. The young man was now standing, looking around. He gave off an aura of fuzzy-headed placidness. He didn’t seem crazy and he didn’t seem violent. He simply looked a little confused — but only a little, as if waking up on a stranger’s porch wasn’t all that astonishing an event. I fully expected him to say, “So where am I this time?”
The policeman asked me, “Do you know him?”
“Never saw him before.”
“All right. Let’s go,” he said to the young man, who allowed himself to be escorted away.
I thanked the policemen and closed my door, and continued watching the action from my living room window. The young man brought out a wallet, apparently in response to a request for identification. Satisfied, the police brought him down to the police cars, where they all stood around for several minutes. At one point, two of the policemen walked a few feet away to discuss something, while another cop talked on the radio. Nobody seemed to be watching the man particularly closely. The man himself looked content to wait until somebody told him what to do. Then a policemen put him in the back seat of one of the cars — not like they were arresting him, but as if the young man had called the police instead of a taxi service. They all drove off and that was that.
Later on, I figured something out. I live on Abcdefg Lane. (That’s not the actual name, but wouldn’t it be neat if it was?) There is also, on the other side of Milford, an Abcdefg Street. I’m willing to bet our visitor, after a night of revelry, was dropped off on the wrong Abcdefg, and was too drunk to notice. Perhaps the taxi driver misunderstood the address; perhaps some strangers gave him a lift, and these strangers weren’t models of sobriety themselves. Either way, the guy found himself at the wrong house, but the door to the porch is open, and here’s a nice rocking chair, so what the hell?
All of which reminds me of one of my college freshman dormmates. In the course of a particularly wild party, he vanished for several hours, and came back soaking wet — he had fallen into the fountain — and with a bloody nose. He sat on his bed in a blanket, a wad of tissues to his face, and he said to me, “I don’t understand why you don’t drink.”