by Slo Mo
This whole thing started with a naked man on my front lawn.
Actually, you could say that the naked man was merely a catalyst, the straw that broke the camel's back, if you will - this particular "camel" being my delicate frame of mind ever since someone snuck into our garden and painted phallic obscenities on the banana tree, not to mention all those strange phone calls I'd been receiving at three a.m. from a lady who claimed to be St. Peter. Plus, my credit card had been stolen and used to purchase some (very expensive) furniture. And, perhaps worst of all, Dog's best friend Fifi had gone missing - under Very Suspicious Circumstances.
So you can see why I'd been feeling a bit jumpy.
In any case, not long after the naked pervert incident ("Officer, I can describe the culprit down to the tiniest detail...") I happened to be out rollerblading and bumped into Wendy Smugfetch, president and treasurer of our friendly local vigilante squad, a.k.a. Neighborhood Watch. Turns out the police share information about local "incidents" with Wendy so that she and her merry band of concerned cohorts can be aware of all the latest gossip, er, I mean the important issues facing our community. So she already knew about the naked dude on my front lawn. But that didn't stop her from inviting me inside for a cup of tea so she could ask about his tiniest detail...
I was well into my second serving of rum cake when she hit me with her pitch: Why I Should Join Neighborhood Watch. Keep America beautiful! Protect our homes and families from undesirables! Be aware, be alert, report suspicious behavior! It's up to us! If we don't do it, who will? Citizens, unite!
Under normal circumstances, I'd have scoffed at her conservative dogma. After all, one person's "undesirable" is another person's boyfriend. And one person's "suspicious behavior" is another person's chemistry experiment. But I was suffering major jitters from those problems with our banana tree and the strange phone calls and my credit card and Dog's missing friend and how strangely icky all that stuff had made me feel, and I guess Wendy's words hit me where I was vulnerable. Next thing I knew I was jumping up to exclaim, "Hell yeah, Wendy! I'm mad and I ain't gonna take it anymore! I'll do it - I'll be a Neighborhood Watchateer!"
And so it was that I found myself skating home with a new sense of mission and an armful of Watchateer paraphernalia, including a bright blue pocket-size logbook like police detectives use for making notes. I even had my very own official Team Watchateer baseball cap and matching coffee mug. Stylin'!
I appointed Dog my Deputy Watchateer-In-Training and the two of us got straight down to business.
Suddenly, our street was a hotbed of intrigue. Everywhere I looked, I saw something that required further investigation, or at least warranted a mention in my little blue book. Even Dog seemed more alert to the potential dangers and transgressions that sat, hunched and lurking, beneath the quiet surface of our little beach town. See that car? It's got suspicious out-of-state plates - maybe THEY kidnapped Fifi! And who are those people at Joolz's front door? I'll bet they're scamming for a fake charity! And why is the Bollocks' gate open? Maybe a lunatic has broken in! And why are those strangers cycling on my street? Could they be urban terrorists?!
My little blue book was full in no time. Even my unwritten thoughts, no matter how small or inane, were formed in detective shorthand. 10:03 - driving to store. 10:08 - checked lipstick in rearview mirror. 10:12 - arrived in parking lot. 10:14 - shopping carts are stuck. 10:14:30 - ask manager for assistance. 10:15 - carts unstuck. 10:20 - no bagels left. 10:27 - caught old lady squeezing the Charmin.
I even dreamed like a Watchateer. Instead of the old scenario where I show up late for an exam I haven't studied for and then panic because I can't find the right exam room, I'd dream that I worked as an undercover hall monitor, happily issuing citations for all the other students who were late and unprepared.
Be aware, be alert, be suspicious. Dog and I weren't just any old Watchateers, goshdarnit, we were THE BEST DAMN WATCHATEERS THAT WENDY SMUGFETCH HAD EVER RECRUITED! No longer cowering victims of random crime - WE RULED!!!!
At least, that's how I saw it. Maybe Dog was just looking for Fifi.
I told you this whole fiasco started with a guy on my lawn, and that's how it ended, too. A few days ago I opened the front door to discover a big, burly police officer standing next to our hibiscus hedge. He was restraining a pale young man who couldn't have weighed more than a hundred pounds and who looked like he hadn't eaten in days. The police officer was scowling. The young man was cowering. The officer turned to me and said, "I just caught this guy climbing over your wall. Do you know him?"
I took a good, long look at the young man and tried to recall if I'd seen him on any of my Watchateer patrols. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't see a stranger, or a suspicious person, or a security threat. What I saw - all I saw - was simply another person, someone thin and pale and scared. And I saw another thing, too, which told me why he'd been climbing over our wall - a small banana was sticking out of his pocket, one that was unmistakably from our paint-splashed tree.
He wasn't dangerous. He was hungry.
I saw him glance at the big, obnoxious Neighborhood Watch sticker in my front window, and suddenly I'd have given anything to erase the last few weeks from my life record. No more street patrols and Watchateer coffee mugs and little blue logbooks and self-righteous note-keeping. Wendy Smugfetch and her ilk may have a point about the need to be alert and keep watch to save ourselves. But in the end, maybe we can only save ourselves if first we strive to save each other.
So I guess that little turn in temperament explains what I did next. I asked the young man and the officer to wait there by the hedge for a minute and I'd be right back. Then I went out to the garden and began to fill a shopping bag with bananas from our tree. And when the fruit from that one tree couldn't fill the bag, I picked some of the neighbor's grapefruit, too.
I returned to the front door and handed the bag to the young man. "He was meant to come and pick this up, officer. Maybe I locked the gate by accident."
Well, I didn't exactly lie, now did I? I had locked the gate. And the more I think about it, the more I believe the young man was meant to come by my house that day. By giving up that fruit to him, I'd fed what was human in both of us.
I went inside and wrote the very last entry in my little blue logbook: Thursday, 11:33 - didn't see a thing.