Last night I was sprawled out enjoying the new comfort of my new living room after many, many weeks of moving and setup and house-fixing, drinking some wine and chatting with Celeste on the phone. It was about 9:30, and we were interrupted by a knock at the door.
Ground-level living is not something I generally yearn for. I was super happy years ago to trade a ground-level apartment with a backyard for a second-level apartment with a small balcony. I like a level of separation, I think it reduces your visibility as well as the chances of being bothered by something weird and/or threatening.
On the other hand, I am now a House Owner in a neighbourhood of house owners. It’s weird to make that shift in the winter, when it’s dark so early and people are cocooned inside all the time. I am going to live here a long time and I want to meet people and participate in all that, so I know already that there are just things that my comfort level is going to have to get over, and I haven’t even gotten started.
Neighbour encounters have been sparse, a bit hit and miss. So far I’ve met:
- a man who says his welder is still in my shed (I’ve verified, it’s true)
- a man who very kindly came over to give me his extra garbage tags so the city would take all the bags the departing owner had left out. Very thoughtful!
- a man who managed to be cheerfully welcoming, but vaguely racist AND homophobic in the first five minutes
- a woman I really enjoyed meeting, whose kids pointed at me from their car when they saw me hauling gear, adorably and disproportionately star-struck, ‘That’s the drummer, Mommy!’
- a friendly older man on his porch taking down Christmas lights, and his wife who glared at me instead of returning my greeting. Eeeep. Split the difference.
So, surprised but also aware that the previous owner is supposed to come by sometime soon, and feeling a bit better that Celeste was still in my earholes on the phone for potential murder-witnessing, I answered the door.
A stranger stood there, friendly enough, a little urgent in how he spoke but not too much. He lives down the street, he told me, his daughter is epileptic and had a seizure, she’s okay, it’s not unusual, but the pharmacy delivery is coming soon and he doesn’t have cash until his wife gets home tonight at 11pm.
I mean, it sounds like a scam right out of the gate, but also not completely impossible – so that’s a hard call to make on the spot, especially if you want to be the kind of person who provides help when people need it and you can. And it puts the onus on you to challenge.
I got his name and his house number, but what help is that, really. I mean, sure, all these things ran through my head right then that I could have done to verify him.
I could tell him I have no cash in the house, but that’s a little hard to make believable. I could ask for ID and see if it matched the name and address he’d given me. I could insist on taking his photo. I could try to take his photo secretly. I could tell him I’ll drop the money off at his house in a bit so that he could only have it if the house story was real.
But honestly, all those things carried some element of risk since I knew nothing about him. If he was genuine, it would be rude although certainly understandable. If he was lying, well, I don’t know if he’s got a temper or an eye on getting into the house. My door was already open which is a vulnerable position to be in, and it was only going to cost me $20 to get it closed safely, for sure. So I pretended none of those things were running through my mind and I gave him $20, which he promised to return after 11pm, when his wife got home.
He did not return with the money, obviously, I never thought he was going to. When I went by that house number today, it had many fancy shrubs and immaculate porch decorations that just don’t scream children to me, let alone ‘dude who doesn’t have $20 in the house.’ So I’m left thinking about what I would do next time.
I mean, first of all, better blackout curtains so it’s not so obvious I’m here. The curtains were shut but they kind of glow. But not answer the door? I really don’t want to be someone who doesn’t answer the door. It’s my house, it’s my door.
I noted today that the glass outer door has a lock on it, so maybe the answer is to lock that if I’m in the house alone, and talk through that if someone comes to the door. Still sort of sticks you with the need to refuse to open it, which… awkward.
When talking about security one day, my house insurance guy showed me this video doorbell thing that he has. It streams video to your phone of who’s at your door, AND takes pictures, AND allows you talk to them from the app on your phone if you need to pretend you’re not home right now, heh. But it seems like a bit of a crappy, suspicious solution, and I feel like it would mark me on the street as someone who would use it. And expensive in a way that’s out of range with the actual problem.
Okay, but maybe I will anyway. Even though I knew what was likely up, I still felt like a dummy in a bunch of different ways when I woke up this morning. For giving an obvious scammer some cash. For going to the door at all. But I can’t even think of one thing I would have done differently in that moment even though I was caught by surprise, although if there’s a next time I’ll be better mentally prepared.
The thing that lingers with me, though – it’s such a familiar thing we do with our faces in comparable situations. As long as the threat level is unsure, our faces go, ‘I am cheerful, I am supportive, I believe you so much, we are having the most small talk of belief. If only you could stay here forever so I could believe you the most possible amount! Come by anytime for more belief!’ And that stupid face is our defense until we get the door closed.