Why I can’t sleep.


The woman’s shrieks went on for a full minute before I awoke,
realized it was 2:45am, and realized that it wasn’t a joke.  She kept
on screaming, same intonation, same level of panic.  Crap, I have to go
out there, it might not be teenagers just hooting at each other as they
part ways. ("Omigod!  That’s so drama!!!")  Someone may actually be
hurt, and I’d be ashamed if I found out later I just sat here while she
was raped.

I frantically look through my bedroom in the dark for clothes.  I’m
going commando with pants, a white dress shirt, no belt.  (Hey there’s
something good about the ‘new parent’ weight I’ve gained.  My old
clothes that were too big are starting to fit again.)  I head
downstairs and put my barefeet into sneakers.  The crazier one of our
two dogs follows me.

I grab the cordless, dial 911 to report the screaming.  I’m talking
to the dispatch.  She says I’m the third person to call it in.  "Am I
still going out?"  I waver and decide I’m still going out.  I’m not
going to be one of those people that sits inside their house hiding
while someone gets hurt on their doorstep.

I start to head out the front door.  Not safe.  If someone is
fleeing they could run in, and I’ve got a new baby and my wife in
here.  This was so much simpler when I was single.  Run out into the
hallway or the alley with the baseball bat I kept next to the bed.  Why
don’t I wear pajamas?

I’m out the side door, shielded from the street by the privacy
fence, on the cordless phone with 911, cellphone and keys in my
pocket.  Locking the door behind me, the dog’s now out in the yard.
Barking to go back in the house.  I let her in, and finally I’m on the
sidewalk.  The dog’s standing at the front window watching me, making
what Sarah describes as a worried, low howl.

I see a commotion down the street but no more screaming.  I’m
running, alert for an assailant coming up the street.  Perhaps I’ll
have to club him with my cordless phone.  Maybe not, I have a family to
take care of.  Perhaps I’ll just identify him and get out of his way.

I arrive at the scene to see an old man with a pipe, a cab and the
driver, an old woman (Pipe Man’s wife), and a young woman of about 28
or 30, clutching her purse.  It’s weird, they aren’t calming her like a
victim, they’re yelling at her.  The old woman is chastising her.  "You
owe this cab driver money.  You’ve done this before two nights ago.
This is a respectable neighborhood.  You’re going to have to talk to
the police.  You’ve woken up the whole neighborhood."

The young girl pays the cab driver $32 and starts to walk up the
street towards my house.  I see the MPD cruiser heading down the
street.  "Ma’am," I address the woman, "you should wait and talk to the

"I don’t want anyone to hurt me!" she says.  She sounds like a 6
year old girl.  This is totally messed up.  She’s slurring also, been
drinking heavily.

In that instant I see what an alcohol problem looks like.  I see how
it can aggravate other problems, mental illness, depression, etc.  I
feel lucky to have made it to 38 without such troubles.  Now all I feel
is pity.

I do my best to soothe her.  "Nobody’s going to hurt you ma’am,
you’re going to be fine."  It’s going to take hours for me to get back
to sleep, I might as well hang out.

The first cop arrives into a Gordian knot of emotions.  The Old Man
with a Pipe is standing in Young Drunk Girl’s personal space and
berating her for screaming and waking the neighborhood for no good
reason.  "You’ve done this before, you’re going to have to talk to the
police!"  Drunk Girl is standing there looking like a frightened deer.
If she had anything resembling confidence on her face I’d expect her to
slug the Pipe Man.

The cab driver is hanging around, though he’s been paid, because
it’s not good to flee the cops.  And the old lady is chiming in
berating the young girl whenever her husband takes a breath, which is
not often.  I sit on a brick wall on the sidewalk watching it all, not
making any sudden movements.  The first cop has his hand on his gun

Another MPD cruiser shows up and the cop takes up a position behind
the first one, hand also on gun holster.  I keep my hands out of my
pockets and sit on the wall listening to the exchange.  The man with
the pipe is acting cruelly, taking out his anger on the girl.  Clearly
his pissed off about being woken up twice in a few days for what is not
an emergency.  Hell, I’m pissed off.  The story starts to come out from
the cab driver to the cop.  He brought her on a long fare from
Arlington from a bar where she’d been drinking too much.  She got out
of the cab on my street (Porter St) and wouldn’t pay when he asked.
Just held the door open and screamed.  She wouldn’t let go of the door,
nor would she pay.  He couldn’t leave, nor could he get paid.  He says
he didn’t touch her.

The Old Man with the pipe is trying to convince the first cop on the
scene that she’s done this before, but the cop doesn’t know about it,
and the old man has no proof.   The first cop ascertains that the girl
is not hurt, and the cab driver has been paid.  I think he’s on the
verge of just sending everybody home.

A third police cruiser shows up.  A female officer gets out,
approaches the young girl, and says, "Ma’am, do you remember me from
last weekend?"  The whole mood of the scene changes.  This incenses the
Old Man with the pipe.  He’s vindicated and doubles his invective.  The
young girl starts to visibly wince.  The female cop is smart, "Nobody’s
going to hurt you, let’s come over here and talk."

The female cop and officer #2 take the girl off to calm her down and
get something useful out of her while cop #1 talks to the cab driver.
I’m effectively eavesdropping on both conversations, hands clasped
non-threateningly front of me.  I’m putting out vibes of, "I do not
have a gun in my pocket, don’t draw your weapon on me.  I’ll make no
sudden movements.  I’ve got a baby at home."  Weird, I didn’t think
that would ever be a part of me.  The situation is tense though, and
the cops are probably expecting someone to do something sudden and

The Old Man gets a hankering to go yell at the Young Girl some more
and starts up the sidewalk.  I put a hand on his arm, "I think you need
to give them their space."  He parks himself next to me and starts
bitching, effectively ruining my ability to hear any other
conversation.  Crap.  I’m suddenly very conscious of the fact that I
have a morning full of difficult and tricky conversations with clients
ahead of me, and I really need my sleep to be on my game.

The cab driver is released by cop #1.  I ask him, "Can I leave?"  He
nods and I head back home, wondering how the hell I’m going to get back
to sleep.


  1. josephgrossberg on January 13, 2006 at 11:15 am

    I can’t help but wonder why the old guy brought out the pipe. Was he really going to bludgeon her over this?

  2. josephgrossberg on January 13, 2006 at 11:28 am

    Oh, a tobacco pipe. Duh. I guess the scene doesn’t need any more dramatic embellishment. 🙂

  3. Concerned Neighbor on January 14, 2006 at 9:24 am

    Before you become so judgmental about the conduct of other people, and so sympathetic to someone who disturbed the entire neighborhood, it might be good for you to know the entire story. Is it just possible that this woman has been a constant source of trouble? Might she actually have offended some of the half-dozen households whose members were on the street in addition to yourself? Might she have threatened or frightened the cab driver? You failed to mention that he was also “old”, a word you applied freely. Perhaps he was also upset? Or does her right to be drunk in public exceed his right to be paid for doing an honest night’s work? And perhaps — among the three who called 911 or the others on the street, or the many more who did not come out, there were others who also lost a night of sleep and had to work the next day, and did not appreciate the intrusion into their lives. These things may be worthy of consideration.

  4. Ruthanne Miller on January 14, 2006 at 10:47 am

    You might consider becoming a novelist. Very engaging story.