December 2, 2010:
At about ten til ten, while I was checking my Facebook updates, I hear a frantic ringing of my doorbell, the same frantic ring that I heard back in December of 2005 when I rushed to the door to find my neighbor's wife holding her yellow lab by the collar, saying "Bryan, can Chester come over...our house is on fire!"
This time, when I rushed to the door, instead of a neighbor needing help, I found empty space. I walked out into the darkness, but could hear no one. I had been the victim of the ageless childhood prank, the "Ding Dong Ditch."
I shrugged it off, but annoyed, I surveyed the cul de sac, and finding nothing, went back to the house, signed off of Facebook, and went to bed. Two weeks later, it happened again. This time, the doorbell rang frantically, and a fist pounded on the door itself. This time, I was not at the computer, but I was snuggly wrapped in my comforter with my wife and my toddler, enjoy tranquil sleep. I flew down the stairs, ran out the door, and once again, nothing. I looked at the clock and saw that it was after 11, far too late for a respectable kid to be pranking someone on a weeknight.
This past Friday, being the start of the Christmas Holidays, I figured that some kids might have a little time on their hands, so I chose to sleep on the couch by the front door, blinds open enough to see outside, porchlight burning, but all lights in the house off. I chatted with friends on Facebook, played a video game, read blogs, and ultimately, fell asleep.
At some point in the night, I opened my eyes and glanced outside to see three figures standing on my porch. I could not believe it! I flew to the door, opened it, and in my sleepiness, tried to be menacing...saying "can I HELP You??" with a voice that sounded from the depths of my rage, indignation, and fear. I really knew nothing about the figures on the other side of the door, who they were, what they might be capable of; all I knew was that I wanted them to feel fear. They must have, because their eyes looked about to pop, and they ran down the slope of my yard, across the street and clumsily climbed into a waiting getaway car which seemed unready for the task as it sputtered and coughed a bit before taking off.
My wife heard the commotion, and fear and concern mingled in her voice as she asked from upstairs, "what's going on? What happened?"
"I scared them, I think, honey. God, it's 3:30 in the morning!" I lay back down on the couch and watched, and sure enough, I saw a car returning, sans headlights. It turned the corner across from our cul de sac, and disappeared. I put on my running shoes, a jacket, grabbed my bicycle headlight, and headed down the street. I called the police department's non-emergency number and informed them about the boys. I figured I might find their car parked and bang on their door in return, but no luck.
I returned to my home and camped on the couch again. Then a shadow emerged from the sidewalk beyond the brick wall that edges one side of our lot. I watched as the boy, trying to be sly, peered into my window. I got out of the couch, pointed my finger at him like a pistol, and muttered, "I got you, son of a bitch!" and ran to the door. I had inadvertently locked the deadbolt, and the shuffling of unlucking it tipped him off, so he was in flight by the time my bare feet hit the pavement of the street. I chased him to another car, yelling "Stay away from my house or I'll kick your ASS! I mean it! I'll Kick YOUR ASS!"
I called the police again, telling them that I saw the car more clearly and that the culprits had returned. I got fully dressed, grabbed my keys, and went out to the old minivan, its windshield frosted, and started the engine. Wasting valuable time, I waited for the defrost to kick in before I took out in search of their car. As I exited the cul de sac, I saw one of Saginaw's patrol vehicles parked at the end of our street, and realized that I had just ruined the chances of having the boys arrested. I pulled up to the officer, walked out with my hands in a friendly open gesture, and approached his driver side window. "Good morning, officer. I'm the guy reporting the nuisance kids."
He smiled and said that there had been other events in the evening, including a burglary and a propping of a giant, inflatable Santa against a homeowner's door. He said that the homeowner had reported a box propped against the door, and they thought she had said, "bomb," and so there had been a few moments of stress before my call came in. I returned home one last time, imagining that things would be peaceful knowing that a peace officer was watching over the lane.
I updated my Facebook page with messages about my adventures, but a nagging suspicion haunted me. One of the boys looked familiar, despite the sleep in my eyes. He was a former student, one of my best, and I knew that his father was highly respected and worked in a high-profile position at the same school where I taught. Another former student had posted a picture of this young man, posing against the fender of his new car. Though the color didn't seem right, it was definitely the same body and make as the second car that visited my home. I sent a message to a colleague, whose sons were in the same organizations at school as this young man, and asked her if she knew anything about his car. I finally fell asleep again around 5, but had a 50 mile bike ride planned, for which I had to wake at 7.
The bike ride was an hour away from home, up in Denton County, and it was an all-day affair. While at a resting stop, I checked my voicemail and saw that my colleague had called. "Bryan, I need you to call me back as soon as you get this." I dialed her up, and she informed me that I was right in my suspicions, but moreover, her own oldest son, one of my AP students, was in the car when the event went down. She said that there were six young men gathered at our local park, ready to come over and apologize to me as soon as I got home from my bike ride. I laughed out loud, and she warned me that I had to be mean, that I had to remain angry with them, and I sighed and said, "well, I'll do my best, but part of me is heart-broken that my own students would do this to me. I thought I had a good rapport with my classes."
The last thing I wanted to do when I got home from Denton was entertain a group of teen-aged hoodlums, but when they showed up, their heads bowed, I couldn't find the rage anymore.
"Boys, you realize that you brought out the very worst in me this morning? Had I caught a hold of one of you, this could have been a tragedy. Texas is the last place for guys your age to be doing such a stupid prank." They kept their heads bowed as I recounted the death of the Dallas musician who, suffering side effects from an anti-smoking drug, tried to enter someone's home until they shot him through the door. I told the boys how, if asked two days ago who my best students were, they all would have been on the short list. I used the old "I am so disappointed in you..." and I told them how angry I was that they had disrupted the peace of my neighborhood, and had violated the sanctity of my home.
One of the boys looked up and he said, "I know this may seem hypocritical to say, but you need to know that we respect you. You were my favorite teacher last year, and I know this is a poor way to show it..."
I looked him in the eye, and then the others, and said, "you guys have done the right thing in walking over here to apologize, but an apology is not enough; I think you have cost me aproximately 10 hours of peaceful sleep, so I want you each to spend 10 hours of your own personal holiday time to give back to the community." They agreed to do whatever work I wanted them to do, so I instructed them to return at 9 a.m. Monday.
I went to Walmart and bought some contractor bags and bright orange vests and wrote nice, meaningful messages on them: "Thou shalt not ring thy neighbor's doorbell in vain," read one; another: "Friends don't let Friends ring doorbells and run..." I made four vests, because another young man, absent from the apology meeting, was identified by my colleague as a participant. The boys showed up on time, and I offered them work gloves, the "safety" vests, and some garden tools and sent them out into the neighborhood.
"Boys, you'll find all manner of unsightly trash out in the park: beer bottles, cans, used condoms, you name it. Clean it up. Be careful. No injuries. Keep track of your hours, and if you need to make two days of it, you may." They set out, pulling a garden cart, chuckling about the humor of my vest inscriptions, but they worked all day, on into the dark, and the pile of bags they stacked was quite impressive. They pledged to never disturb my peace again, and I dismissed them, saying "Gentlemen, you earned some respect back by owning up to what you did, and I appreciate that. If you need anything from me, don't be afraid to knock on my door...just stay long enough for me to answer it next time."