February 4, 2008

Finally, Some Excitement

It was a Saturday night. I’m home. Alone, naturally, and playing online poker. My cat had curled himself on my lap. In short, it was a typical weekend evening. I flicked between poker and porn sites. It was 1am.

My neighborhood is unpleasant on the weekends. And my neighbors aren’t much better. Lots of foot traffic clomping up and down the stairs. Loud talking, laughter in the hallways, and general rudeness, self-absorption and inconsiderate behavior. My neighborhood is a destination spot for twenty-somethings to carouse. Pranksterism on the streets, blaring horns from impatient cars. My apartment feels under siege between Friday night and Sunday morning.

So I wasn’t taken by surprise when the banging started in the courtyard over which the windows of my apartment look. I wasn’t even too concerned by the scraping of what sounded like metal and the few shouts that accompanied it. But as it continued, it seemed to get closer and, finally, I just had to take a look. So I went to the window.

A man in the neighboring courtyard had hopped onto a derelict stove that he had pushed against the 8‑foot fence separating the courtyards. He was trying to scramble over it. I grabbed the phone and punched 911, possibly the only number — besides my mom’s — that I don’t need to look up.

“911. How can I help you?”

“I need to report an intruder coming into our courtyard. I see him from my window. He’s trying to climb over the fence.”

“You see him now?”

The man had rolled over the top of the fence and dropped onto our side. The fall had injured him; he hobbled around, trying to get a sense of where he was.

“He’s gotten into our courtyard.”

“What is he,” the operator asked, “Caucasian, African-American?”

I opened my window to get a better look at him.

“Asian.”

He limped around the courtyard. There was something sticking out of his mouth. I was figuring him as seriously drunk and on the run from a terrible crime he had committed. He found a corner and curled up, a bit like a mammal looking for a quiet place to die.

“Asian,” said the operator. “Can you tell me what he’s wearing?”

“Jeans,” I said, “and a light sweater.”

“What color is the sweater?”

Our courtyard utilizes those awful lights that spill a disturbing orange glow, deadening everything it touches, washing out color.

“I can’t tell, actually.”

The intruder must have heard me, because he looked up and when he saw me, he waved his arm like a little boy. Now I could see what was in his mouth.

“He’s sucking on a lollipop,” I said.

“A lollipop?”

He waved again. Then he slunk away from his spot, looking for a way out of the courtyard.

“He’s escaping.”

He disappeared into the darkness of the narrow egress that leads to the street.

“Sir, the police are on their way. Five minutes.”

Visitors!, I thought. There was not much time. I tidied up. I closed out the poker and the porn screens. I put away my bowl. I put on my pants and some socks. I straightened the magazines on the coffee table.

But the police never came. Disappointed, I went back to poker. About 45 minutes later, I heard talking from outside. Back at the window, I saw a cop in the other courtyard, swinging around a flashlight.

I called to him: “Hey!”

“Hey,” he said back.

“There was a guy. He climbed over to this side. I called it in.”

“Yeah, we got him. Thanks.”

“Really? That’s great. Asian guy.”

The cop looked at me curiously.

“Uh, yeah.”

A strange moment passed. We nodded at each other. He disappeared from view and I moved away from the window. I pushed out of my mind a creeping unease.

I could still hear the cop’s voice, barely, talking to a colleague.

“He said it was an Asian guy.”