A stranger calls

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.”

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  1. Rosebud
    Posted July 23, 2007 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Interesting story.

    Plus, I think you should move to Abcdefghijklmnopqr St.


  2. Posted July 23, 2007 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    At one point my parents lived on Lake St., which was one block over from Lake Ave., with similar house numbers. Talk about poor city planning. No confused sleeping strangers, thankfully, but plenty of confused mail.

    (Coincidentally, at the same time, I lived on Lake Dr., and my sister on Lake Rd., in different cities. Oh, and all three house numbers contained only the digits 0, 1, and 2.)


  3. Posted July 23, 2007 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    For some reason, the planners in my most-recent-but-one town of residence saw fit to name certain passages things like Poplar Street Lane (which, of course, intersects Poplar Street).


  4. Posted July 23, 2007 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Allow me to emphasize that Abcdefg Street is, as the cop pointed out, way on the other side of Milford. Thankfully, our similarly named streets do not intersect, or I suppose this guy would be showing up on our porch once a month.

    That said, my neighborhood provides an additional puzzlement: My house number is 20, and my neighbor’s house number is also 20. (His house is technically on the street around the corner, although every entrance is on my street.) Many a taxi driver and pizza delivery guy has been thrown off by this over the years.


  5. Posted July 23, 2007 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    My part of Chicago is where Sheridan Road zigs a half mile west and then continues on its northerly course. I once encountered a woman trying to find 4100 North Sheridan where she though it ought to be, but of course she was blocks away. And when the road turns north, the north and east branches of the intersection are Sheridan, with two other street names for the south and west sides of the intersection. It’s a little “Who’s on first”ish.

    Eric, you should get a Panasonic cordless phone set. Each handset comes with its own charging base (just needs an electrical outlet), and the handsets tend to hold a charge for a long time. Love love love my Panasonic phones!


  6. Posted July 23, 2007 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Could be worse; could be Durham, NC. There’s a cemetery at the corner of Chapel Hill St. (which becomes Duke University Rd.) and Chapel Hill Rd. There’s also Chapel Hill Blvd., which runs into University Ave., which itself becomes Duke St. downtown and Old Chapel Hill Rd. the other way. (Of course, Old Chapel Hill becomes Old Durham Rd. once you get into Chapel Hill.) People tend to use highway numbers a lot.


  7. AmesGames
    Posted July 24, 2007 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    I’m struck by the sameness of these posts about confusing street names. I have my own examples, but suffice it to say that my problematic street names are just as poorly thought-out as in these other examples, and just as dull to read about for those who don’t actually live in my town. Most of the time, these things are just an annoyance, but clearly there can also be much more serious problems. Pretty sobering, actually.


  8. Elaine
    Posted July 25, 2007 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like the cops handled things correctly, probably checking for outstanding warrants or for prior arrests for trespassing or disorderly conduct.

    I doubt he would have tried to run anywhere with all those cops standing around. As you said, he may have made similar mistakes before. If he knows the procedure, then he knows that playing/being dumb and being a good boy might get him a ride to his real home.


2 Trackbacks

  1. […] 3) So anyway, at one point our heroes manage to call the police. The movie really starts to go south when the policeman shows up. First of all — one policeman. When I called the police a few weeks ago, when there was that guy sleeping on my porch, I got five policemen, and my 911 call wasn’t a panicked, desperate plea to come save my life. Vacancy takes place in outer Podunkville, but nonetheless, there’s no way one cop responds to something like this. […]


  2. […] In the meantime, here’s a fellow who thought I was wrong and unneighborly to call the police on that guy who, back in July, fell asleep on my porch. […]


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