The original doorbell of this house was particularly anemic. It could be heard from the living room and the kitchen, but almost nowhere else. So I replaced it with one of those annoyingly loud electronic versions which can be heard in the farthest bedrooms. (Despite this, one of my friends steadfastly refuses to use it, preferring to knock instead. Softly. Even if his arms are full and he would much rather come inside quickly. He has an alarm dog, which I grant is much more fun than a doorbell, but I really, really wish he would use the doorbell. But he won’t. He lives to annoy.)
Ours is a quiet neighborhood, most of the time. Remarkably safe and peaceful. The only worrisome aspect in the past year has been the home two houses away. It is supposedly a sort of church-based halfway house for people trying to turn their lives around, and I see a church van there once a month or so, but there is apparently very, very little oversight. Last year, in the middle of a rainstorm, a drenched young man rang the doorbell. He identified himself as a resident of that home, and said that he was on parole and there were drugs and firearms there (which alarmed me no end), and asked if he could use my phone to call the police. I let him use my land line, not wanting to hand over my iPhone to someone who, frankly, made me nervous.
He called the police, but he didn’t know his street address, and was reluctant to give his name since he was on parole. They asked to speak to me, and since I sounded reasonable, they agreed to send a car out. The fellow left. The police came here before going to the house in question. They came back to me, telling me that no one with this fellow’s name (which I finally had wormed out of him) or description lived at that home.
The guy returns a couple of weeks later. He had his street address in his hand, and says he’s really trying to go straight but he’s afraid his parole will be violated because he can’t be near drugs or weapons and his brother, also an ex-con, is causing trouble over there, and could we please call the police again? I told him he needed to stay here until the police came so I wouldn’t have to deal with them. He agreed, and we made the call. While we waited he was so jumpy and nervous that I became very uncomfortable. Finally he said he’d go sit on his porch and wait for them.
The police came, they spoke to me, they went to his house, they found no one matching his description, and certainly no one sitting on his porch. Then they came back to tell me all about it.
A few days later I saw him while I was driving by. I stopped and had a few stern words with him. Actually, I believe said stern words were, “Not cool, dude!” He said he had been in the house waiting for the police, but they never showed up. Hah!
He never returned. Whether he judged (rightly) that I would be in no mood to help him in the future, or he moved out or was re-jailed, I have no idea. I haven’t lost too many hours of sleep over it.
The doorbell rang last week, and a tall, balding man with several teeth missing, who said he was from The House In Question — which, he told me (oh joy oh rapture) has been foreclosed upon, so everyone will soon be moving out — and asked to use my phone. Alas, I have disconnected my land line, so I had to lend him my iPhone. Torn between not wanting him in the house (when did I become so frightened of strangers?) and not wishing him the freedom of the outdoors should he want to make a break for it, I stood with him on the stoop while he phoned. He had locked himself out of the house and was trying to find one of the other tenants who could come home and let him in. No luck. Then he asked me if I could help him break in. I demurred. I suggested he just sit on his porch for a few hours until someone came home.
This morning the bell rang at 9 a.m. I was in bed asleep. I’ve been ill for the past few days, and haven’t been sleeping well. I ignored it. If it’s the UPS guy, he’s just ringing out of courtesy. It can’t be the mail lady needing me to sign for something, since she’s never been seen in our neighborhood before noon. If it’s a Jehovah’s Witness (they ring the bell several times a year), I’m not interested, thank you, go away. If it’s a friend, they’d have called first. If it’s a neighbor in need, they’ll call out my name. So I ignore the bell.
It rings again. In my head I shout at the person on the stoop. “I don’t want any Girl Scout Cookies! I don’t want a free lawn insect assessment! I don’t want to hear how ADT Monitoring can me me feel safe! I don’t want to donate money for your elementary school’s soccer program! I’m in the shower! I’m on my deathbed! I can’t deal with you now!” I roll over with a scowl.
By now I’m irritated, so I can’t get back to sleep. I finally get up and get dressed, check the front stoop and see no UPS packages, see no one lurking on the front lawn, so I sit down and try to wake up. Ding-dong! The peephole tells me it’s my tall, balding man with the crazy eyes. I open the door, and immediately start coughing on his cigarette smoke. Before I can recover, he asks if he can pay me to take him to his job up on Route 192. Could be a 15 minute drive each way, could be 30, depending where he wants to go. But I decide in a flash to use my illness, and say, “Absolutely not! I’ve got the flu, and can’t even consider it. And [as I fan away the smoke] your cigarette would kill me. Sorry!” and shut the door. I have never been quite so rude to a visitor in my life. And yet, somehow, I don’t regret it.
Maybe my doorbell-eschewing friend is on to something. If I disconnect the doorbell and make everyone knock, I will not hear anyone. I can train myself to check the stoop once a day for packages. My friends can just let themselves in. And I’ll be well on my way to being the neighborhood curmudgeon.
Who am I kidding? I’m already there.