Normally I try to live as phone-free a life as possible, so the other day when the phone rang at 8 am I just ignored it. But the caller ID showed the name of a hospital, so thinking that it might be one of my 72,000 doctors, I answered it.
“Hey,” said the voice on the other end. Then after a pause, “Are you awake?”
I thought that was an odd way for a doctor’s office to begin a call, but then I recognized my neighbor’s voice.
“Yep,” I said, to which she replied, “I need to ask you a huge favor.”
She asked if I would let the Internet repairman into her house, so I said sure and went to get dressed. But because it was early and I hadn’t quite woken up all the way, I forgot that every time this particular neighbor asks me for a favor she always leaves out some key piece of information, creating a situation that makes it nearly impossible for me to carry out her request, and forces me into questionable actions.
Case in point: That time she asked me to pick up her son from kindergarten.
My first job out of graduate school was teaching at an elementary and middle school where, in addition to my classroom responsibilities, I ran the carpool line with four other teachers. A year of strict adherence to the approved carpool protocol drilled into me the importance of guarding students’ safety by following all the rules at all times. So I knew what a big deal it was that I was about to break the rules, and I was nervous about getting everything right.
As pickup time neared I set off, armed with my neighbor’s cell phone number, her promise to call the school and let them know I was coming, my ID, and my most innocent, endearing, I-promise-I’m-not-here-to-kidnap-anyone smile.
After getting lost twice I finally found the school, and after explaining my mission to three different people and being sequestered in the close-enough-to-be-observed-but-not-close-enough-to-harm-anyone section of the parking lot they brought out my neighbor’s son. And in a move that I still question to this day they let me drive off with him, despite the fact that 1) he had no idea who I was; 2) I wasn’t entirely sure I had the right kid since the last time I’d seen him he was 6 months old; and 3) I did not have a carseat.
But worse was yet to come, because I wasn’t bringing her son back home; instead, I had to take him to his babysitter. And there we ran into a bit of a snag because my neighbor could not tell me the babysitter’s house number, her street name, or how to get there.
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you’ll know that unlike my husband, I have the innate directional sense of someone who lives in a black hole, so sending me off with your child and no directions is pretty much asking never to see your child again. (But on the bright side, if you ever marry the King of a Far-Off Land and need to get rid of your unfairly beautiful step-daughter, forget ordering one of your evil henchmen to abandon her in the middle of a dangerously enchanted forest; just stick her in a car with me and carry on.)
So I did what I always do in this kind of situation: I scraped together what wisps of information I could and then called my husband, the man who successfully navigated his way through Mexico using only a pencil, a ruler, and a satellite photo of earth. (For real.)
Guided by my husband’s unerring directional prowess and legions of guardian angels we all ended up where we needed to be, and things calmed down until the next time she asked me for a favor. Namely,
That time she asked me to pick up her boys from Vacation Bible School.
At first glance the odds seemed to be stacked in my favor this time since the church is literally around the corner and down the street from my house, and we were coming right back home.
Unfortunately, my optimism crashed headlong into the rock of reality once I reached the church.
“Hi,” I said, smiling extra-warmly at the teacher manning the front door. “I’m here to pick up James and John Smith (not their real names).”
“Who?” she asked, reading down the list of names in her hand.
“James and John Smith? Their mom should have called to let you know I’d be coming to get them?”
She read the names again, my optimism draining away with each furrow that formed on her brow.
“Why don’t you come inside?”
So I did, relief flooding through me as I spotted the boys in the very first pew. “See, ” I pointed, “James and John”.
“Oh,” she said, “you mean Shimbleshanks and Griddlebone”, which are obviously not their names either, but that’s what it sounded like to me because apparently the names I’d seen on every birthday invitation, the names they used at our front door when collecting for their various school fundraisers, the names painted on the basketball hoop in their driveway, in short, the only names I’d ever heard their parents use in the 8 years we’d been neighbors? NOT THEIR NAMES. Or, not their “formal, what-we-use-to-register-for-official-things” names, which would’ve been really helpful information to have in my attempt to come off like someone who should totally be entrusted with the welfare of two small children.
Luckily the teachers were all very trusting, and even more luckily, the boys waited until we were in the parking lot and out of earshot of all the adults before asking me who I was. After that it was just a matter of making sure no one was killed during their full-contact, death-cage, trampoline soccer match, and convincing them to wait to “play boxing” until their mom got home.
A few years have passed since then, with her boys growing, and my dealing with my illness, and all of us settling into our comfortable routines. Then we arrived at last week, or,
That time the Internet repairman and I bonded over the possibility of jail.
In what can only be described as the triumph of hope over experience I figured this favor would be easy-peasy, only slightly more difficult than falling off a log (which is my baseline measurement for “as easy as is humanly possible”). I fully expected the most difficult part of this favor to be the fact that I had to wear clothes. But clearly I should read my own blog more often, because of course that was not at all how things panned out.
At first it was easy, once I dug deep and overcame the mental barrier of having to pick out and put on clothing (I kid; but only a little). Because there was a chance that the problem could be fixed by rejiggering something outside, meaning that my participation would be limited to standing in my doorway and thanking the repairman for his time.
But of course, and here I’m quoting the universe, “BWA HA HA HA HA HA!”
First of all, before we even got to the problem of getting inside the house, I had to deal with the problem of getting across the lawn. Now, their backyard is beautiful; they’ve spent years aerating, and seeding, and fertilizing, and planting, and building decks and gazebos, and basically crafting a gorgeous retreat where normal people would love to hang out.
But I am pathologically neurotic about walking in places where I can’t see my feet, ever
terrified and unable to breathe on the verge of a nervous breakdown alert to the possibility of snakes. So the effort it takes for me to let grass touch my skin without descending into hysteria means I’m pretty much trashed by the time I reach wherever it is I was going.
However there’s only so much craziness I’m willing to let other people see, so we did eventually make it inside. I breathed in the sweet feeling of relief that the worst was over, which lasted right up until the moment the repairman cocked his head and asked, “Do you hear that?”
There’s a special kind of bond that forms when you and your companion are waiting for the police to come and question you as suspects in a possible home invasion. It’s born the moment you look deeply into each other’s eyes and yell, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” as the burglar alarm your neighbor neglected to mention shrieks its way down your spine and into your nervous system.
I’m happy to report that we were able to get the alarm code before the situation required the presence of armed law enforcement officers, and as an added bonus my partner-in-crime was able to fix the problem with the internet.
So now I’m off to ponder the problem of how I get myself into these situations in the first place. Because on one hand, yay for blog material gold; but on the other hand, boo for police. It’s a hard choice to make sometimes.
I wonder if this is what they mean when they talk about suffering for one’s art.