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Hola, Amigos

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."

"Oh hey yeah I think my housemate Gary has a key to the car," Jim said with the closest thing to not-total-dejection I'd heard in his voice yet this morning.

"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?!"

Posted on December 13, 2005 to Storytelling



Posted by: starlen on December 13, 2005 10:55 PM

How long did it take for them to leave?! And what was up with the threatening 7 year old? Haha.

Posted by: John on December 13, 2005 10:56 PM

Long-time lurker here... this is one of the best stories I've read in a long time. ;-)

Posted by: Julie on December 13, 2005 11:48 PM

must be something about this story coz I'm a bit lurker too! Great stuff sir!

Posted by: cocovan on December 14, 2005 1:27 AM

They're still there, right?

Posted by: Norwood Matt on December 14, 2005 4:03 AM

Had I been the Queen, I think my words would have been "Oh my God! You let these people into the house?!?" It's not really safe, he could have either been set to rob you or have been scoping you out for a burglery at a later date.

Well, I guess you can take the girl out of Detroit...

Posted by: C. on December 14, 2005 5:02 AM

Why didn't just took a metal wire (The car's antenna maybe), bend it so there will be a hook,
slide the hook to the rubber in the door and jiggle the wire.
The lock mechanism isn't that sophisticated.

Posted by: LOL? on December 14, 2005 5:03 AM

Very funny story. I especially liked the part about "anti-gasoline."

And as soon as I read the title in my feed reader, I thought: "Jim Anchower."

Posted by: Charles on December 14, 2005 5:20 AM

You let a total stranger into your house, with a toddler in it, and he (the stranger) was not wearing pants? Isn't that, like, completely nuts? It was funny, but I kept expecting you to say "and then he pulled a gun and said give me all your money". I suppose the chances of him making a getaway were pretty low... but still

Posted by: Jayarava on December 14, 2005 5:38 AM

You can bet that even if there's life on Jupiter, there will be those guys. Every neighborhood has got those guys. Just look for the house with the cinder blocks in the front lawn and weed smoke seeping out of every available opening.

Posted by: galetea on December 14, 2005 5:45 AM

I'm always interested in the different levels of paranoia in different areas of the country. I grew up in an area so rural that nobody locked their houses and we all left our keys in our unlocked cars in case somebody else needed to move them. Later I had a housemate from New York who freaked out when a neighbor offered us lemonade, because maybe they were trying to poison us. Anyway, I think it was really nice that you tried to help the poor schmuck.

Posted by: Candace on December 14, 2005 7:05 AM

I think I've found this guy's mate.

I just got off the phone having changed the time for an appointment.

She: First name?
Me: bob
She: bob?
Me: yes, bob
She: b-o-b?
Me: no p-h-y-k-l-o-x

Posted by: bob on December 14, 2005 7:51 AM

Trust me -- if you'd seen this guy and basked in the warm glow of his pervasive ineptitude, you couldn't have imagined him successfully engaging in any trade, including criminality.

Also, it's difficult to fear someone wearing candy cane pajama bottoms. True fact.

Posted by: Matthew on December 14, 2005 7:51 AM

I think I've found this guy's mate.

I just got off the phone having changed the time for an appointment.

She: First name?
Me: bob
She: bob?
Me: yes, bob
She: b-o-b?
Me: no p-h-y-k-l-o-x

Posted by: bob on December 14, 2005 7:51 AM

MATT are you crazy?!! You let him in your house with your son inside?!! What were you thinking?

Posted by: Your Sis on December 14, 2005 9:03 AM

How about doing a poll Matthew. See how many people think you did right be helping this obviously IQ deficient individual or if you opened your family up to unneccessary risk?

Personally I am with you. I prefer to think the best about people unless they are obviously up to no good. Plus the candy cane pajamas are dead give away!! Thanks for the story.

Posted by: Seanmodious on December 14, 2005 9:14 AM

It sounds like you met my son.

Posted by: Anna Banana on December 14, 2005 9:39 AM

I've met this guy so many times it's scary. This is the reason I stopped picking up hitchhikers unless they were in uniform.

Posted by: sailcat46 on December 14, 2005 9:54 AM

I'm not about to jump on your case for letting the guy in, since I would've no doubt done the same thing and I really should know better, being a girl. But I wouldn't be surprised if there's not a moving van in your future, judging from the Queen's reaction!

Posted by: holley on December 14, 2005 9:56 AM

tears-rolling-down-cheeks, unable-to-finish-reading-because-laughing-too-hard funny. Thanks, Matthew!!

Posted by: marianita on December 14, 2005 10:42 AM

that was a BRILLIANT recounting of the tale! :-) (tho i must admit, my first instinct was along with so many others here... "omygod he's letting some incompetant stranger into his house with his son..???" my parents really beat the "don't take candy from strangers" line of thinking into my head i guess :-)

Posted by: Alice on December 14, 2005 10:48 AM

Yeah, that's a great story. But reading the comments dimmed the glow, finding out that apparently the majority of people assume that anyone they don't know is out to get them.

Also, I've heard that fuel injected cars often won't restart when they've been run out of gas, and need some sort of attention under the hood. I've never experienced that exactly, but I did once run my old Subie out of gas and it took a few minutes of revving and stalling to get it to stay running once I'd added some.

Posted by: Klaas on December 14, 2005 11:13 AM

I have two pairs of pajama pants, some with snowflakes and others with Vegas girls on them and I have never committed a crime while wearing them.

Posted by: Mark on December 14, 2005 11:32 AM

That was very kind of you, but you're a knucklehead for letting him in the house.

You know how when you hear about a family that's found all sliced up in their house? The neighbors always say: "They were such nice, helpful people."

Posted by: Bob on December 14, 2005 1:15 PM

You are so funny. I ain't joking.

Posted by: Diana on December 14, 2005 1:15 PM

Great story.

Posted by: delmer on December 14, 2005 1:31 PM

This is GREAT!!! Thanks for making my day with such a great post!

Posted by: Shrinking Violet on December 14, 2005 1:49 PM


Posted by: Bilal on December 14, 2005 2:04 PM

Just blew coffee out my nose...fortunately, it was cold. Reminds me of my dad with his massive lambchops and tiedyed pants (yes, it was the early 70's and he's shaved the sideburns) picking up hitchhikers. He'd make me sit in the back for safety!?! It seemed ok to me but there'd always be hell to pay when I told my mom about the interesting people to which we'd given rides.

Posted by: stampydurst on December 14, 2005 2:52 PM

Is it wrong that I now want to own a Ford Kraken?

Posted by: Zack on December 14, 2005 3:07 PM

I'll chime in with the paranoid urbanites. I'm a New Yorker in San Francisco. I live in a quiet, cute, safe little residential neighborhood in a city not known for crime-- but in the past two years I've had run-ins with four different scam artists. I totally fell for the first one, and kicked myself for it. Since then I've served myself an extra helping of paranoia.

The last con man to knock on my door saw I wasn't buying his scam, and stormed off, muttering under his breath "*&@#$ New Yorkers!" I felt so proud.

Can't say I've ever met someone as dumb as your Jim though. Maybe those types just don't survive down here. Without a helpful, trusting populace to save them from themselves, they probably all end up getting crushed by falling soda machines.

Posted by: otherthings on December 14, 2005 3:14 PM

What is up with the paranoia? People are overboard on the fear of strangers. Anti-gasoline! : )

Posted by: amanda on December 14, 2005 3:51 PM

Hey, don't get me wrong, I love my neighbor as much as anybody.

I just don't love the gal who pretends to be my neighbor, going so far as to make up a fake address, in order to convince me to lend her a twenty to pay for a ficticious taxicab, and then disappears without a trace.

But clearly this was a totally different situation. I mean, hey, candycane pyjamas. ;-)

Posted by: otherthings on December 14, 2005 4:53 PM

A friend and I once got lost in a blizzard a few miles from the campus of the college I was attending. We were a couple of rather mild-looking females, ridiculously underdressed for the weather (though we were at least wearing pants!). We wandered through a twisty maze of little residential streets, all alike, for half an hour or more. Finally we decided to knock on someone's door and ask for help.

We picked a house at random and rang the bell. A little old lady answered, and we asked if we could use her phone or if she could tell us how to get back out to the main road. She said no, sorry, and hastily closed the door in our faces.

I have never forgotten how that felt.

Thank you, Matthew, and everyone else who has been brave enough to help stupid people in need.

Posted by: Lindsey on December 14, 2005 5:11 PM

The funniest thing is that The Queen knew about this luzer and you didn't. You need to get out more, socialize with the neighbors :)

Posted by: KC on December 14, 2005 5:50 PM

Good story. I think mebbe all those paranoid people watch too much tv.

Posted by: bc on December 14, 2005 7:10 PM

I'm glad we have a nice deep porch and a Very Large male friend/domestic companion (he's an artist, he works for us for room and board....). We had someone come to the door about a month ago who'd jumped out his 2nd story bathroom window because an asshole who he''d loaned money to came with a bunch of his thugees to get the money back, and even though He'd passed the $10 (!!!) out under the door, they went on to break into his apartment to 'mess him up."

My husband answered the door, with our live-in behind him and then called the police, letting they guy stay on the porch. He asked if the 'big guy' could sit with him in case the thugs came before the police.

(our live in is a very nice man. But he's very large, shaved his head when he realized it was going thin, wears black and art-carves his beard with trimmers for his own amusement. He cooks good. And he's organizing our household. Which is amazing.)

Posted by: Paula Helm Murray on December 14, 2005 7:46 PM

Funny stuff... It sounds like a Bill Murray movie.

Posted by: Phil on December 14, 2005 9:58 PM

When did my brother move to Washington?

Posted by: Doppelganger on December 14, 2005 11:36 PM

This story hit a little too close to home for me. I am in a band with two guys just like "Jim". In the 5 years I have been with them if, on the rearest occasion, they show up on time to anything they act as if we should be proud of them. At least Jim actually had a car. Between my two mates one lost his licence for his second DUI and the other drives his delivery truck after work hours cause he doesn't have a car. Don't get me started on how many times I've had to "jump start" their batteries in some random parking lot somewhere...

Posted by: Scott K on December 15, 2005 9:06 AM

To all the paranoid-people-bashers:

It's not that you DON'T help people. You just don't let them into your home. If someone knocks on your door and says his/her car broke down, you offer to call a friend, family member, taxi, or service station. If you're feeling really generous and can afford to lose it, you can give them a few bucks. However (candy cane pajama bottoms be damned), it's not the world it used to be and it's better to be use a bit of caution when dealing with unfamiliar people.

Posted by: C. on December 15, 2005 10:17 AM

That's the thing. Is it not the world it used to be, or is it pretty much the world it used to be, but with most people now fixating on anecdotal accounts of random cruelty that happened to people they don't know so that the baseline assumption has shifted to paranoia? It comes to the same thing, of course, because if you assume people will be cruel and inhuman, it becomes much easier for you to treat them cruelly, and if they know or assume you see them that way, it becomes easier for them to act on their crueler instincts as well.

Posted by: Klaas on December 15, 2005 10:50 AM

ROFLMFAO! Good grief if that isn't the funniest shit I've read in.. well, a while. I haven't gotten much time lately to catch up on my reading.

You don't happen to live in a tiny spot of a town an hour or so North of Los Angeles, do you? I think those guys are our neighbors...

Posted by: Debra on December 15, 2005 2:27 PM

About four years ago, the results of a survey on the kindness of strangers was released, and the residents of Sacramento scored exceptionally low. I wanted to defend my city, and chose to chalk this grade up instead to a grizzled fake-emergency scam sensing citizenry. This seemed reasonable to me, I mean, the people collecting data MUST have been faking their emergency situations, right?

Posted by: Rob Cockerham on December 15, 2005 4:33 PM

I just can't stop thinking that your candy cane clad young man gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "candy ass"

Posted by: Mom on December 15, 2005 9:55 PM

Dudes, stop second-guessing Matthew about letting the guy in the house. Were you there? No. Shut up.

Posted by: Tim on December 21, 2005 10:47 AM

Anti-gasoline! Thanks to you I nearly choked on my Cherry Garcia. Incidentally, candy cane PJs do not an innocuous airhead make. He could've been a renegade homicidal Toyland elf for all you knew.

Posted by: Ella on December 21, 2005 6:05 PM

You know, I read about a quarter way through and realized: I have a luxury you don't. I can turn him off. So I stopped reading.

Sorry for your pain.

Posted by: aaa on December 27, 2005 11:57 AM

This is some truly funny shit. Happy New Year!!

Posted by: Barbara J. Moore on January 1, 2006 10:17 AM