Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Good Deeds

Those of you in my Facebook circle got a teaser along these lines the other day, but I figured the story deserved a little more flesh on its bones.

The other day John was working on the gutters around our garage, when he heard our 90-year-old neighbor Mildred yelling, "Stop him! Stop him!" John noticed a suspicious guy running away and immediately jumped off the ladder and went after him, spilling a trail of gadgets from his toolbelt. He found the guy huddled in a breezeway, raised the only tool still on him -- a hammer -- and demanded the wallet back. The guy pleaded and apologized, then handed over the wallet, at which point John made him turn his pockets inside out and give back any cash he'd taken. There was just a single dollar bill, but John got that back too. It didn't take the guy long to realize John wasn't going to really use that hammer, so he pushed past and ran off, and as far as we know he hasn't been caught.

By the time I caught wind of any of this, John was on Mildred's porch comforting her. The police showed up within minutes and took a report. Apparently the guy had come to Mildred's door, identified himself through the door as "her neighbor Bill," and because Mildred doesn't see well and happens to have a neighbor named Bill, she opened the door. That's when things went off the rails. The guy demanded money for his 'sick wife,' and when Mildred offered him $20 if he would just leave -- she's charitable to the bone -- he pushed her out of the way, grabbed her wallet, and took off running.

The police were kind and attentive, not to mention responsive (two marked cars and one unmarked, and officers that stuck around for over an hour in case the guy came back for more), and they promised stepped-up patrols for the next few days. Another neighbor and I took Mildred into the house and stayed until she felt a little calmer. She'd been cooking dinner before this whole episode happened, and while the chicken baking in the oven was fine, I don't think I've ever seen anything sadder than that square, white enamel saucepan, stained with carbon residue from burned asparagus.

Fortunately Mildred has her wallet back and not a single ID was taken. But this is a woman now afraid to open her door, and who had to sleep with her lights on last night, and is slightly less inclined to trust a stranger than she was yesterday morning. And that's a theft much worse than money.

But I also realize that this incident carries an entire universe in it. I guess it's stories like these that are the reason I started this blog in the first place. They contain everything I both hate and love about living where I do, and they start to get at what it feels like to be part of a neighborhood with a profound sense of place and unmatched sense of community.

I hate that it's not uncommon to see police cars in front of a local house, for example. But I love the rare quickness and dedication of this particular response.

I hate that my neighbors have to fear scams like this on a daily basis, but love that at least one common criminal got the message that we don't put up with this kind of nonsense, and at least the braver among us will fight back.

I hate that Mildred was angry with herself for being "so stupid" and shaken enough to feel she needed a good strong cup of tea or coffee to get through it, but love that after a pause she said, "Or maybe a shot. I've never done a shot in my life but maybe that's what I need right now. Or better yet, a margarita," then invited everyone, including the police, in for a good stiff drink (which we all declined, though it was tempting).

I hate that John's dropped tools would have probably been stolen in a heartbeat, but that Caesar -- our boombox loving, foul-mouthed, young tough of a neighbor -- took the time to pick up every last one, then collapse our ladder and put the entire haul behind our closed gate while John was tending to Mildred.

I hate that John's the kind of guy who would put himself at risk for a wallet with just a few dollars in it, but I love (and I mean really love) that John's the kind of guy who would put himself at risk for that particular wallet with those few dollars in it.

This morning Mildred woke up to the remains of an egg that had been thrown at her door, so the worst of humanity hasn't gone far. At this rate it could be an awfully long summer. But when it all starts to seem like too much to bear, at least there are margaritas to be had at Mildred's house.


Rosemary said...

Oh, I was hoping it wasn't Mildred when I saw your FB post...I feel like I've gotten to know her through your blog!

People of that generation seem especially susceptible to that kind of scam, since they've generally been raised to be trusting, generous, etc.

Several years ago, my folks were visiting me in Greeley and the doorbell rang as I was getting dinner. My 80-something dad got the door, and there was a guy there claiming he'd been locked out of his car, and needed $20 to pay the locksmith...that he didn't have the cash, because his wallet was in his apartment, and the key to the apt. was with the others in the car.

He promised that he'd return the cash the next day, so my dad handed it over...too quickly for my husband to warn him that he'd been approached by someone with the same story just a week or two earlier.

The next day we were out doing touristy things, but my dad was very anxious about getting home by 5:00, since that's when the guy said he would come by to repay him.

Needless to say, he never showed. Like Mildred, my dad felt stupid--but I was just furious. What kind of amoral scumbag exploits elderly people's compassion for a few measly bucks (presumably, the price of a hit of meth, if I know my old neighborhood)?

I'm sorry to hear that this seems to be a more widespread con. Double good for John, knowing the whole story! I'd like to have gone after the guy who ripped off my dad with a hammer, too. I feel vindicated knowing that someone else did.

And Mildred should be proud of herself for yelling her head off! Not to mention pleased to have caring neighbors who are ready, willing, and able to come to her aid.

leslie said...

Hooray John!! We love you!!!

Christy said...

Rosemary, your story about your dad breaks my heart. It's like that last moment in Joyce's 'Araby,' where the boy goes to the bazaar and has all his hopes not only extinguished, but basically polluted. People who prey on the trusting are the worst of the worst.

And Leslie, agreed: for as much as that creep disrupted my faith in humanity, John brought it back in two seconds flat.

Natalie said...

It could be because I read this while Milo screamed his heart out in Ben's arms, but this brought me to tears. John is my hero.

tracy said...

What a story! Hooray for John! Hooray for the balance of good in the world!