So, I have a bunch of stuff I should probably write about, I’ve even started several posts, but I just had an interesting experience and I want to write about it.
Tonight was my first philosophy class. Woohoo, I know. It’s really cool that I got back into school. Anyway, the class didn’t start until late so I didn’t get back home until late.
I pulled into my parking spot about ten o’clock at night. As I walked toward the apartment building I noticed that there was a light on in the car beside mine. It wasn’t a big light, it was almost invisible from outside the car, it was one of the little ones for the back seat in a sedan, but it was definitely on.
Now, I don’t know where you grew up, so what I’m about to say might sound weird, but in my home town if you see something like that you make sure to say something about it. Where I’m from, a dead car battery is, no shit, a life or death situation. And with the cold temperatures, someone leaving their headlights on (or dome lights, or whatever) can kill a battery way faster than you might think. Sometimes it only takes ten minutes and the car won’t start.
But where I live now it’s definitely not a life or death situation.
I hesitated, I’ll admit it. It was late at night, I didn’t know those neighbors, and most modern cars have circuits that will turn off lights before the battery dies.
((A quick side note: the reason I don’t know these neighbors is because they’re renters that just moved in. That unit has a really high turn over rate.))
I only hesitated for a moment though.
Now, nobody likes having a stranger show up on their doorstep after 10 o’clock at night. I know that. I also know what’s worse than having a stranger show up after 10 o’clock is having a big, strange, white dude with a shaved head and tattoos show up. (What made it slightly easier for me was I’d just come from class and was dressed nicely, a polo shirt instead of my usual black T.)
Another relevant detail, while we live in a gated apartment complex the neighborhood outside gets pretty sketchy when the sun goes down. We all lock our doors.
So, with all that in mind, I struck a pose as submissive and apologetic as I could and knocked on the neighbor’s door. This is America, I assume everyone has a gun. And, honestly, I’m one of the most easy going dudes you’ll ever meet but if I was home with my family and some stranger knocked on the door after 10 I’d be tempted to answer with gun behind my back. So, as the person knocking, I want to try and put whoever answers the door to ease as quick as I can.
A very cautious, young, black woman answered. Now, I knew that the reinforced screen door (“bad” neighborhood) was locked because I tried to open it so I could knock when I realized they didn’t have a door bell, so I wasn’t surprised when she opened the inner door but made no motion towards the outer door. Smart woman.
From her body language I’m sure she was alone.
I quickly apologized for interrupting her evening and explained that there was a light on in her car. She looked like she was still in shock over having a white dude on her porch, either that or she thought I was trying to pull something over on her, so I ended up explaining the car-light-battery thing a couple times.
It was a very quick conversation. When I was sure she understood what I was talking about I said good night and turned to leave.
I was listening for it, she didn’t leave her apartment to check the car until I was halfway to my place. She wasn’t going to step outside until she was sure I wasn’t anywhere near her door. Smart girl.
Now, part of me found this whole thing totally ridiculous and at the same time totally justifiable. It’s almost hard to explain.
I was trying to do this family a favor… but I was scared I might get shot for being a strange dude knocking at night… and she’s scared because there’s a strange dude knocking at night. (The Luis C.K. joke comes to mind, “Men are the worst thing that ever happened to women.”)
For both of our safety we have to do this established dance. I make sure I leave at least an arms length between me and the door so I’m not in their face immediately, keep my hands visible, communicate clearly and make no moves that might be taken as too assertive or aggressive. For her part, keeping a locked door between me and her, making sure she didn’t leave any openings or vulnerabilities, waiting for me to leave before opening the door, etc.
I mean, those are the kinds of practical precautions that I would teach my son or daughter – for both sides of the situation. I did what I could to keep a potentially tense situation from escalating, she answered the door but took practical precautions. It makes sense.
And yet, at the same time, it’s really kind of ridiculous that a two second favor requires that dance. It seems silly but I can’t think of an easy alternative. Ridiculous but justifiable.
Just had to share.