Saturday, September 03, 2005

Unlawful Entry

I'm having a garage built in front of my house. A few days ago, I was talking to the subcontractor and I told him that one of his helpers was over the previous Sunday to break up the concrete of the old driveway. He'd brought along this gas-powered saw with a 14-inch blade, and the thing cuts through concrete like a knife cuts through water, but within half an hour, the police came over and told me that city regulations prohibit any construction work (or in this case, destruction work) from being done on a Sunday. That was fine with me -- I didn't really want to listen to the noise all day anyway -- and the officer didn't write a citation, so everything worked out fine.

As I was telling the subcontractor about this, it reminded him of his own recent experience with the police. He's been living on a boat while he's working down here, and he told me that over the weekend some guy broke into the boat at 4:00 a.m. It woke him up, and he was still sort of groggy, but his first instinct was to yell, "What the fuck are you doing here?" or something to that effect. It was obviously a rhetorical question -- I don't think he was expecting an answer -- but it must have scared the guy, because he ran off the boat. The police came and found him hiding on another boat, and that reminded me of an experience I had almost 15 years ago.

It was sometime in 1991, and I'd been staying at a friend's house for a couple of months because my house was being remodeled and it had no hot water heater or bathrooms anymore, making it pretty much uninhabitable. The whole job was supposed to take about two months altogether, but it was already going on five, and it looked like there was at least another month to go before it would be finished.

Even though I didn't live there at the time, I stopped by every night after work to pick up my mail, and to see what work, if any, had been done. So, one night, I got there at about 8:30, and a couple of things looked sort of weird. First of all, there are two rooms that the workers had no reason to go into, so I always left the doors to those rooms closed to keep out the all the dust. But as I was walking down the hall, I noticed one of those doors was opened. When I looked into the room, I saw a couple of drawers were open, and there was a pair of old, torn-up, unfamiliar socks on the floor. I didn't think too much of it -- I just figured I'd ask the contractor about it the next day.

So I left the room and closed the door, and I walked back down the hall. Then I noticed that the other door that I always left closed was also open, but I still didn't think much of it. So I entered the room and turned on the light, and as I walked into the room, out of the corner of my eye, I saw some guy hiding behind the door.

That freaked me out. I asked myself all the possible questions: Who is this guy? Is he one of the workers? If so, why is he here so late? Why is he in this room? And why is he hiding behind the door? If he's not one of the workers, do I know him? Is he a friend of mine? Is he planning to jump out and surprise me? I asked myself all those questions and probably a few others within the space of maybe a half a second, and I still couldn't come up with an answer, but I knew something wasn't right so I was getting scared. I was really tense and I couldn't talk no matter how hard I tried. It took everything I had, but I finally managed to force a few words out of my throat. I asked him, "Who are you?"

He didn't answer at first -- he just stared at me -- which freaked me out even more, but then I realized he was just as scared as I was. Eventually he said he was out of work and he didn't have a place to stay and he was looking for a place to spend the night, so he broke into my house because it looked vacant. While he was saying this, I was gradually regaining my composure, so I started looking around and I noticed that a bunch of my stuff was scattered all over the floor, and he had filled a briefcase of mine with things like calculators, a portable stereo, unpaid bills, and a roll of stamps. So I said, "Well, it looks like you were going to steal some stuff, too, weren't you?" At that point I was sort of indignant and my voice had an accusatory tone, so he sheepishly admitted that he was going to take some stuff, but mainly he was looking for a place to sleep.

So I told him, "Well, you can't stay here," but even as I was saying it, the irony of the situation struck me. I mean, here I was with a vacant house, and here was a guy who needed to sleep somewhere, but I couldn't let him sleep there. It felt like some things in the universe just didn't fit. But I was really curious about how he broke in, so we went outside and he showed me the window he crawled in through. (I thought I'd locked all the windows, but apparently I'd left one open a crack.) He was really apologetic at that point, and he told he had to take down the screen to get in through the window, and he asked me if I wanted him to put it back on. I told him, no, I'd do it the next day. So we walked back inside the house and I closed the window and made sure it was locked.

Then he asked me if I could give him some water, since he was thirsty, so we went into the kitchen. I decided to let him have some apple juice that was lying around in the refrigerator. My refrigerator, by the way, was almost completely empty, since I hadn't been living there, and the only food I had was some garlic and a few lemons left over from when I had the flu and was trying to get rid of a cough. So I told him, "I'd offer you some food, but all I've got are these lemons," but he said that's okay, so I gave him one. Before I knew it, he'd peeled the lemon and bitten into it like it was an orange, and in a few seconds he completely devoured it, so I figured he must have been hungry and I gave him five bucks for some food.

Then I decided to drive him to the nearest freeway on-ramp, so he could hitchhike back to where he came from. So we looked at a map to figure out the best place to go.

When I told people about this whole event a few days later, they said things like, "Bob, how come you were so nice to this guy? You didn't have to be that generous!" I agree, so let me explain. First of all, I guess I'm just nice and generous by nature, but what's also true is that I wanted to get the guy as far from my house as possible. I knew he'd have a tough time thumbing a ride in my neighborhood, and I just wanted to make sure he didn't end up back in my house again after I left.

So, as I drove him to the freeway, he said his name was Bill, and I told him mine was Bob. I asked him how long he'd been without a job or a place to live, and he just said "a while," so that turned out to be a conversational dead-end. Then, about a minute or two later, he asked me if I saw the Super Bowl -- this whole thing took place the week after the Super Bowl -- and I said that I hadn't. Neither had he, so that conversation was sort of stillborn as well. It felt like a failed attempt at male bonding or something. I mean, any two guys should always be able to talk about sports, according to male mythology, but we couldn't. We were quiet for a while and then something dawned on me, so I asked him, "Did you take a pair of my socks?" and he said he did, so I just told him "That's cool" or something like that. We were silent the rest of the way.

After I dropped him off and got back home, I was cleaning up all the stuff that he'd thrown on the floor, and I realized that I couldn't find my spare house keys and car keys. I looked for them everywhere, but after about fifteen minutes, I still couldn't find them so I figured he must have taken them.

I drove back to the on-ramp, which was about a twenty minute drive, but I figured with any luck he'd still be there. And as it turned out, he was. So I asked him if he took the keys and maybe forgot about them, but he said no, he didn't have them. So I drove back home and looked for them again.

It was getting sort of late at night by this time, so the woman whose house I was staying at called me up and asked me if anything was wrong. I told her the whole story and she came over and helped me look for the keys. After about five minutes, we still couldn't find them, so she was convinced that the guy still had them. She kept telling me, "Bob, he's going to come back and break into your house again and take everything valuable." She tried to convince me that we should go back to the on-ramp and get the keys from him, but I told her that he said he didn't have them and that I didn't want to drive back there again. I'd already driven there twice and I was almost out of gas, so she told me, "Okay, I'll drive. And if he's there, you should search his pockets." So we drove back there, and on the way I was thinking, am I going to have to search this guy? Why would he lie about the keys? What's he going to do with them now?

Anyway, we got back to the on-ramp but he wasn't there, so we went back to my house, and she told me me, "Bob, you should change the locks on your house so he can't get back in." I figured there was probably very little chance of that, but I decided to have the locks changed anyway.

I didn't change the locks on my car, though, because I thought it would be too expensive, and I figured that even if the guy did come back, he wasn't too likely to find my car in front of my house, since I was staying somewhere else until the remodeling was done, which at the rate things were going, seemed like it would be approximately never.

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