Damn, but I hate it when people sneak up on me.

NSTIW with my head under the van hood, poking at the battery terminals and trying not to short-spark my ratchet again, when I <heard a scrape / felt a shadow / turned around for no good reason> and there he was, scuffing his way up our semi-cul-de-sac. Didn’t know him; never saw him before in my life. Didn’t have no hoodie, but he was sporting a knit ski cap and the first thing I thought was, “This dude’s never been skiing in his damn life.”

Van in driveway

Near the top of the rise, he stopped and looked at me. I looked at him, raised a wrench two inches in noncommittal salute, then turned back to yanking out our sadly weakened Kirkland battery. The guy ventured a few steps closer, so I looked at him again and parsed a black kid in drag-ass jeans, windbreaker, and the aforementioned toque. Maybe sixteen and scrawny, with a tentative look. He cleared his throat and I knew right then he’d hopped out of a purple minivan around the corner and was here to sell me questionable subscriptions to glossy consumer porn “to help keep kids in school.”

“Excuse me…” Yeah, here it comes. “Do you know where I could find 12—” Ah, HELL no!

“Twelve” prefixes the street numbers for houses on our block. Our neighbor to the east – good-natured, lonely, or just drunk – gets a lot of visits from the cops. Also CPS, DSHS, Senior Services, and the first authentic truant officer we’ve ever had the unique experience of meeting. She actually turned out to be delightful – and pretty durned cute for a field bureaucrat – but I digress.

In the past couple of years, Kyle has hosted a hooker, three or four teenagers, a couple of little kids, identical twin crack dealers (you can’t make this stuff up), car thieves, a conscientiously vicious chocolate Labrador retriever, and a burglar or two. We feed the kids, run off the adults, let Kyle fill up five-gallon buckets from our hose ever since his water got shut off for non-payment, keep our own dogs tuned up for barking duty, and are a bit more careful about locking the car since we lost a GPS and some hubcaps.

Kyle, for his part, keeps bitching about the Mexican lawn care guys who stage their trucks across from his yard on weekday mornings. Apparently, they litter.

I squinted hard at the black kid. Having gotten my ass handed to me in a fistfight the week before my 50th birthday (what is this neighborhood coming to?), I figure it’s more economical to squint hard now than fight badly later.

“Twelve-which did you say?”

“Uh,” he looked down at some papers in his hand, “1202.”

Checking sidewise to see if it was okay, he shuffled the last few steps toward me. I held a wrench loosely in my right hand. That’s the good arm; only took about 18 months post-surgery to bring it back to “strong enough to curl beers.” The other wing, smacked by two trucks and a Chevette along the decades and separated pretty hard on an aikido mat last year, has given up all pretense of utility and packed it in for retirement.

“One-Eighty-Fourth Street?”

I watched his hands and eyes. The papers he held were bills and junk mail. There’s a mailbox farm just at the head of our street, just around the corner on 12th where no homeowner can keep an eye on it. Our box got prowled the year before last. It took seven months to unwind the damage wreaked from a box of stolen checks, and now we keep a P.O. Box ten blocks south. My knuckles went white on the wrench.

“Looks like 185th,” he argued back. Frickin’ snotty kids, I tell ya! “I found this lying in the street. Seems like somebody should return it.”

“Oh.” Not a bad lookin’ kid, on closer inspection. Clear eyes, open expression, calm for a teen. “You wanna go one block north. Twelve-oh-two oughtta be… lessee… first house, ’round the corner to the right, far side of the road.”

“Okay, thanks.”

I expectorated some kind of grunt, appropriate to a plaid shirt and a whitish-green Cabela’s cap with battery acid holes, and turned back to my old, dead chunk o’ lead. The kid was almost down to the tee onto 12th when I yelled at him.


He turned slowly, didn’t say a word.

“Thanks, man.” I waved my wrench at him. It was a peaceful salute. “You’re a good neighbor.”

He just nodded, and went on around the corner. I coulda caught up with him, once’t upon a time. I’ll never catch him now.

Good thing I could teach him that lesson today. He’ll never sneak up on me again.

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  1. Lynn Nofluffybunny says

    Sometimes, looks can be deceiving. He did at least warn you by shuffling.:) You are the best Jack and don’t let anyone tell you differently.

  2. Dan Jacobs says

    It’s hard to be an old asshole when some random worthless f#cking kid does the right thing. Sh!t. Reading this ruined my day, and I was having a pretty good day.

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