Man, how often do you get to say something like that? I'm sure everybody's had a time in their life where they can say something like this. I mean, after the excitement has died down you get to sit back and, with some degree of stupefied reflection, blurt out a truly absurd phrase that now and forever after will actually make sense to you.
So it is with me. I can safely say with full conviction that there's been a time in my life where a naked man was on the loose in my neighborhood. (And at least it wasn't me.)
I live on the third story of a small house in Somerville, right across the river from Boston. My hilltop neighborhood is quiet, with the occasional rowdy midnight basketball game in the nearby park or a few college kids stumbling loudly home on a weekend after a few parties. Apart from a few accidents caused by cars breezing through the four-way stop on my corner, I've never had to call the police for anything. I also have a porch deck off the back of the house, accessible from the ground by a hard-to-reach back staircase, and I've always felt comfortable enough in the summers to sleep with the deck door open and the screen door locked shut, just to catch whatever crossbreezes I can at night.
Until tonight. The NIGHT OF THE NAKED MAN.
It's about 4:30 AM right now in my time zone. My doorbell rang about an hour ago. It woke me up from a pleasant slumber and a dream involving me appearing on the Match Game and being really hilarious, and I really hate being woken up in circumstances like this. Moreover, I hate being woken up by the doorbell, because it signifies that there's someone at the door what wants a word with you. And who the hell wants a word with you at 3:30 in the morning?!
"Maybe it was an electrical short," I thought, and rolled back over in bed, ready to continue the dream and provide an answer to the phrase "FRENCH BLANK." From what I could remember, I knew it was going to leave Betty White in stitches. A few seconds later, however, back in the real world, the doorbell rang again.
This time I wasn't so much annoyed as freaked out. There really was someone downstairs ringing the bell. And they weren't content to ring it and wake me up and run off, no. They wanted to stay and chat. This clearly did not bode well. I did not want to chat with anybody. So I got out of bed and, in a rare moment of paranoid foresight, closed and locked the porch door. I walked over to the window facing the street to find out if I could see who was in my front yard.
There were no cop cars about, so I was reasonably sure it wasn't John Law paying a late-night visit to a good, law-abiding citizen. I knew it wasn't my landlady, who lives on the first floor of the building, because she was out of town all week and usually prefers to call if she needs anything -- and if she'd locked herself out of her place, there wasn't much I could do anyway. The second story apartment is vacant at the moment, so I ruled out any possible neighbor lockouts. So who was the mystery doorbell ringer?
Oh, there he is. He's now walking through my front yard gate and out across the street. He's a young man, mid-20s, short black/brown hair, and holding a large plastic mug. He's also stark naked.
"Great," I thought. "There's a naked guy running around on my street." I watched him go up to the house across the street, amble onto their porch, and ring their doorbells too. He seemed to be walking okay, no staggering or nothing, so he wasn't drunk at least. He seemed kind of peaceful, he wasn't bellowing or angry-looking, but I knew he was definitely on something, that much I could bet on. You don't go round at 3 in the morning ringing people's doorbells in the nude unless you have a very good reason. Either he'd medicated himself up just a bit, or maybe he'd forgotten to take his proper medication this evening, or maybe Jesus just came down, assumed the form of his neighbor's dog, and told him to shed off his mortal vestments and spread the Good Word door-to-door. I also noticed that my house and the house across the street were the only ones with porch lights on, so we must have attracted his attention like a little naked moth. And in the time it took me to get over to my room and pick up my cellphone, the naked man had crossed the street and rung my doorbell again.
I called the police department and told the nice man at the dispatch desk that there was a naked man on my street ringing people's doorbells.
"Huh. What house number are you at?" the nice policeman asked me.
"206," I replied.
"We just got a call from 210," he said. "A squad car is on its way."
So the guy's a total stranger to other houses as well. I had thought perhaps he'd been locked out of his own place, due to some crazy convoluted scheme or whatnot. Well at least now maybe the police could give him some help.
I sure wasn't going to confront the man myself, mostly because I still wasn't sure what his game was and if I drew attention to myself, there's no telling what he might do. I was (and still am) rather curious, though -- what exactly did he want? But when you've still got the white-hot startling paranoid fear running through your veins, and you've also got a deep-seated interest in defending your property, you may not want to startle the naked doorbell-ringer with any pertinent questions and instead let the nice policemen do the asking.
In the time it took the two squad cars to show up, lights a-blazing, the man had crossed the street, rung 207's doorbells (not 210's as I had originally written) and come back to my porch. Great. The cop cars stopped a half block up the street, and I watched the naked man watching the cops from my front yard gate. We have a few big leafy bushes (har har har) around the front fence, and the man crouched behind one, keeping an eye on the police officers. Now I knew he wasn't legitimately in trouble, he was definitely a nut out on a night on the town with a song in his heart and god-knows-what in his mug. And when an officer walked by with a flashlight, he took off into my side yard.
Goddammit. That's the side yard that leads to the deck stairs. It's more of a side alley, really, running between my house and the next building over. Access is blocked by a high wooden fence with pointy pickets on top and a hard-to-get-at bungee cord loop keeping it closed (the fence is still new and a proper latch hasn't been installed yet.) And the last time I walked through the yard/alley, there were sharp stones and bits of broken glass lining the sides. That's not so good for regular people, and I was sure Mr. Naked Doorbell Ringer Mans was about to encounter some trouble.
But the police hadn't spotted him!
So I called out my window to the cop.
"Officer," I said, "I'm up here on the third floor. The man just came through my yard and ran down the side yard there, where you're pointing your flashlight."
"How long ago?" the cop asked.
"About thirty seconds ago," I said. He squawked on his radio and headed for the yard to investigate. Meanwhile, I had a terrible premonition that the naked dude was climbing my porch stairs, so I headed over to the back door and peered out through the curtain. I'd also grabbed my heavy maglite flashlight because you never know when you might need to crack a skull from behind two shut and locked doors.
No grinning naked man face greeted me. Well, I thought, at least he's not on my deck. Did they get him? I went back over to the street window and saw two different police officers walking out of my front yard. I saw no sign of the first officer or the naked guy.
"Did you get him?" I called from the window, but I got no response.
Now, this story is well and duly compelling up to this point, and I know it needs either some very funny ending in which I'm very clever and say just the right thing at just the right time and end up winning, or an ending where I actually confront the naked man for the sake of the narrative but end up winning, or maybe some crazy make-em-up twist ending where the aliens land and the naked guy is scooped up and returned to his home planet. But that's not to be. Real life doesn't work like that. We rarely get fully clever endings that tie everything up so nicely.
All I know is this:
There was a naked man running up and down my street tonight, probably hopped up on goofballs or something, ringing people's doorbells. He still may be hanging around the neighborhood. He may be sleeping under my porch stairs, or he may be sleeping it off in the local drunk tank. I'd like to think the cops got him, since he couldn't have gotten far in that side yard, being so treacherous to bare feet and all.
Now it's past 5:30. I've been up writing for over an hour now. The sun is up, the birds is chirping, and the early early risers are now out and about in the neighborhood. I'm going to try to get back to sleep with my porch door cracked open to relieve the stifling mugginess, cellphone and heavy maglite at the ready in case I hear something. And if my cat decides to be a wiseass and headbutt the metal part of the screen door, as he's been known to do in the past, later on today I shall post another entry entitled "Holy shit, cats really can fly."