One night last week I woke up at around 4:30 AM to the sound of someone on our doorstep alternating between hammering his fists against the front door and pounding the doorbell as quickly as possible. Listening to this, I decided that the best course of action for me would be to stay in bed – if it were one of my roommates, drunk and locked out, he could just as easily call me and then I’d go let him in. If it wasn’t one of my roommates, then I figured that the locked door would do its job just as well whether I was standing there watching or not.
My roommate Cameron, on the other hand, felt differently, and after a moment or two of the assault on our door I heard him thumping down the hall to see who it was.
“I’m home, by the way!” I shouted from my bed, quite courageously. “That’s not me at the door!”
I heard Cameron’s feet stop in our living room as he looked through the window set in the top of our door, then turn around and hustle back down the hall.
“Eli!” He shouted. “There’s somebody at the door, and it isn’t one of us!”
When you’re an upper middle class white kid living in the suburbs, this is about as exciting as your life is ever doing to get – a person you don’t know ringing your doorbell late at night. The danger, if there ever was any (and I highly doubt that there was) ended as soon as our late night visitor looked through the window and saw a fat man wearing a pair of yellow boxer shorts.
Of course, in the heat of the moment, it didn’t seem like that at all. As far as we were concerned, this was World War III. Cameron shut off the lights to make it harder for people outside to see in, and Eli came out of his room holding two golf drivers, one of which he gave to Cameron.
“Hey guys,” I said, bravely stepping out of my room, phone in hand. “You think I should call the police?”
They looked at one another, and Cameron nodded gravely. “Yeah. Do that.”
I scurried to the computer and looked up the Eugene Police Department’s non-emergency number – because even in the midst of the action, I couldn’t convince myself that ‘Three guys who are scared because somebody knocked on their door at an unusual hour” stacked up very well against traditional emergencies like “My baby is choking” or “Someone is murdering me.”
I was excited to call the police, because for whatever reason, calling the authorities has always been a fantasy of mine. Maybe it’s some deep seated childhood desire to make my preschool teacher happy – ever since she taught us how to call emergency services when something bad happens, I’ve been itching for an emergency where I can demonstrate what I learned. It’s the most achievable form of heroism you can engage in – it doesn’t require strength or bravery, but rather that you A) Possess a phone and B) Know how to use it.
I’ll even catch myself daydreaming about it in class sometimes – in my mind, I see myself witnessing a crime, calling the police, and then them showing up and foiling the culprit. Again, all I’ve done in my idealized scenario is make a phone call and then keep a safe distance. As you can see, even in my idle fantasies I still set my sights pretty low. Realistic goals, after all.
Policeman: Alright, we got the guy. Who was it that called 911?
Truman: It was me.
Policeman: I’d like to shake your hand. That was arguably the finest 911 call I’ve ever heard in all of my 19 years on the force.
Truman: Just doing my civic duty, officer.
Policeman: I really liked the part where you told the operator your address. You did a really good job with that. Here’s five dollars.
Truman: I can’t accept that. The knowledge that I’m a responsible member of the community is all the reward I need.
The phone rang once, and then operator picked up.
“Eugene Police and Fire.”
“Hi.” I said, watching my roommates stealthily creep toward the front door, golf clubs at the ready. “I’m in a police type situation. I don’t need firemen. Just police. Unless you want to send firemen. It probably wouldn’t hurt.”
“Sir, what is your address?”
Oh, God, I’m fucking it up already. I gave her my address and then started explaining what had been going on. “Somebody just started hammering on our door and ringing our doorbell. Someone who doesn’t live here.”
As I filled the operator in on the rest of the details Cameron and Eli eased the front door open and scrambled outside, drivers held high, two chunky dudes in flip flops and boxers ready to take on whatever the world could throw at them.
“Are there any guns in the house?” The operator asked.
“No. But my roommates have golf clubs.”
“Alright. We’re sending police units now. Tell your roommates that if the police come to your door, they’ll need to put their golf clubs down.”
“Okay, but really, I think they’re more of a danger to themselves right now.”
She wrapped up the conversation pretty quickly, and next thing I knew Cameron and Eli were shambling back into the house. I proudly informed them that the authorities were on the way, thanks to me. They kept watch by the window while I went back into my room to put on pants, my reasoning being that if a bunch of public servants were going to come out and arrest the guy who woke us up, the least I could do was be wearing pants when I thanked them.
Not long after, we watched through the windows as a couple police cruisers swept through the neighborhood, eventually stopping a few blocks away, their red and blue lights flashing against the weeds and puddles of our street. After about half an hour they left, one of the cruisers stopping in front of our house. We opened the front door, none the worse for wear after its attack, and eagerly crowded into the doorway as a police officer walked up the driveway.
“Yeah, we got him.” The cop said before we could even ask anything. “He was just running around through people’s yards. He said he hadn’t taken any drugs, but I’m not so sure about that. He’s on the way to the hospital now.”
He didn’t mention anything about my phone call. I let it slide, reminding myself that I hadn’t necessarily brought my A-game. Next time I’ll be more concise with my information, and maybe speak slower.
We thanked him and he left, and that was the end of the evening’s excitement. Now, my roommates are convinced that we need a gun to ward off anybody else who would dare wake us up in the middle of the night. I, on the other hand, just make a point of always having my phone by the bed.
Truman Capps imagines that children in third world countries dream of a day when their biggest excitement is a stranger knocking on their door and then running away.