At 7:30 this morning, there was a knock at our front door. No one ever knocks on our door at 7:30 in the morning.
I opened it to find a scruffy looking young man, perhaps 18, clad in sweatshirt, a black stretch cap, and what was presumably going to be a mustache when it grew up. My first thought was: Jim Anchower.
“Hey do you guys have a gas can I can borrow or a lift to the gas station I could maybe give you a few bucks,” he muttered without preamble.
I looked over his shoulder. We live on a narrow street with no shoulders, and an late-80s vehicle was stopped in the middle of it, completely blocking the far lane. Already traffic was backing up as drivers coming from either direction adopted a first-you-go-and-then-I’ll-go stratagem for navigating what had abruptly become a single-lane road.
“Sure,” I said. “I have a can full of gas for my lawnmower out in the garage — you can have that. Why don’t you come in and I’ll go grab it.”
Jim stepped inside. For the first time I noticed he was wearing slippers and pajama bottoms covered with candy canes.
I returned a moment later with the gas can. “All right,” he said as he took it, and left. A few moments later he brought it back and, handing it to me, said “here ya go do you want me to maybe pay a few bucks?” I told him no, that was fine, and shut the door.
At 7:45 there was a second knock on our front door. “Hey do you think I could get a lift to the gas station?” Jim muttered when I opened it.
“What happened to the gas I just gave you?” I asked, craning my neck to see if the car was still there. It was.
“I put it in the car but is still won’t start I guess it wasn’t enough,” he murmured with a shrug.
“There was, like, a gallon and a half in the can,” said I. “If you’re car’s still not starting, you might have a bigger problem.”
“The needle was way below E,” explained Jim, as if he had run the vehicle beyond “empty” and actually managed to create a quantity of anti-gasoline in the tank, which my fuel had only served to negate.
“Well, I got this kid, so I can’t really …” I began. But, against all odds, I was starting to feel sorry for the dope. So I said, “all right, let’s go.”
I threw The Squirrelly in his car seat and the two of us piled in the car. As we started to pull out of the driveway a kid of about seven rode by, slowing down and looking at the stopped car in curiosity. Jim suddenly mumbled “Hang on I should lock my car that kid looks like a punk.” I stopped. Jim clambered out and made a big show of opening and locking all his car doors, scowling at the kid on the bike all the while.
While he was doing that I realized the obvious. It was as if Jim was enveloped in a cloud of Dumb, and as soon as he was out of his presence I was able to think clearly again. I reparked the car in the driveway, got out, and told the returning Jim, “Look: why don’t you put your cart in neutral and we’ll push it into my driveway, get it out of the road. That way it won’t be blocking traffic while we’re at the gas station.”
“Oh hey yeah,” said Jim. “That’s a good idea I’ll go and …”
There was a pause.
“Fuck,” Jim added.
I knew even before he told me.
“I just locked my keys in my car,” he said.
“You’re screwed now,” I announced. “Come on inside.”
The three of us reentered the house. “Okay,” I said. “Do you have a spare key?”
He looked confused and said “no,” clearly thinking, “under what bizarre circumstances would I ever need a spare key to my car?”
“Well, then I think we should just call the cops,” I said. “They’ll probably hassle you a bit, but they are going to want to get this car out of the road as much as you do, and will probably pop the lock for free.”
“Yeah ..” Jim said, but I could tell that he wasn’t really enthused about this plan. “Except the other thing is that I don’t really have a you know drivers license.”
“Of course you don’t,” I sighed. “So, you can call a tow truck company — they’ll come and get your car open.”
“Is that going to cost like a lot of money?”
“In my experience, yes.”
“Yeah …” he said, noncommittally.
“But unless you know anyone else with a key to the car, it’s pretty much your only option.”
“Well, why don’t you call Gary, and see if he can come by with the key,” I suggested.
He sagged. “I would but I left my cell phone at home,” he said sadly, as if it were a million-to-one longshot that I might have a telephone inside my house.
I brought him our cordless phone. Incredibly, he remembered his own phone number and dialed it. “Yeah I ran out of gas and then my dumbass self locked the keys in the car could you bring me the spare?” he mumbled into the receiver. He handed the phone back to me when he was done and said, “all right.”
He took up station next to the window, waiting for Gary. I went about my business. The soundtrack to “Piglet’s Big Adventure” played in the background, which seemed appropiate. “He should be here any sec I live right around the corner,” Jim said after about 10 minutes; I said fine, whatever.
At one point Jim got tired of looking out the window and looked at The Squirrelly doing a puzzle instead. “Is that your kid?” He asked. I averred that yes, the child in my living room playing with the Elmo Rockin’ Guitar at eight o’clock in the morning was, in fact, mine. “How old is he?”
“Almost two,” I replied.
Jim sized The Squirrelly up for a moment and then rendered his verdict. “He’s tall,” he said, and went back to looking out the window. Here endeth the chit-chat.
After another 10 minutes Gary showed up in a mammoth truck and parked it right behind Jim’s car, thereby occluding even more of the road. Jim left without saying a word to me. Through the window I could see Gary giving Jim some grief, and then finally handing over a car key. Jim tried it on all the doors of his vehicle without success and handed it back to Gary, who scratched his head, climbed back into his Ford Kraken, and departed.
Jim stood forlornly by his car. I went out and asked him what had happened. “Wrong key,” he told me.
“Well, feel free to come back inside,” I said.
“Nah its okay I live right around the corner he’ll be right back,” Jim said. After having listened to me read “Go, Dog. Go!” to The Squirrelly in its entirely, I guess he’d decided that standing around in the 35-degree weather in his PJs wasn’t so bad.
“Suit yourself,” I said, and retreated indoors.
Everytime I looked out the window for the next 15 minutes I could see Jim glumly trying to open one of his doors, perhaps in the hope that he’s just neglected to try this particular one the previous 400 times he had attempted to gain entry to his vehicle. Eventually Gary returned, but apparently there was no spare key, because after a brief discussion they both climbed into the monster truck — still parked behind Jim’s car, still blocking more than half the road — closed the doors, and just started shooting the shit.
When it came time to take The Squirrelly to daycare half an hour later, they were still there. I walked up to the truck and Gary rolled down his window. I could feel warm air roll out of the vehicle and hear rock music blaring. “Everything under control?” I asked.
“Oh hey, totally, man,” said Gary. “We got a lock popper on the way. Thanks, bro!”
When I got to work, I called up The Queen and related the whole, sordid tale. “So,” I said in summary, “he ran out of gas, he didn’t have a gas can, he forgot his cell phone, he locked his keys in his car, he didn’t have a spare, he didn’t know anyone with another key, he didn’t have a driver’s license, and he wasn’t wearing any pants.”
“Oh my God,” gasped The Queen. “These knuckleheads live around the corner from us?!”