Believe it or not

A dear friend of my wife, as it happens a British expatriate even balder than I am, has been our houseguest for the past week or so. He arrived in his somewhat dilapidated Dodge Durango – with a few days’ delay for repairs due to half the front suspension disintegrating for no reason other than maximum aggravation during his cross-country drive hauling all his belongings in a trailer. Just those car troubles should have raised the “walking vortex of bad luck” flag, but we all make mistakes, correct?

This might be an opportune moment to mention several salient facts:
He arrived during one of the heaviest rain storms to hit Sacramento in the past decade;
There is gravel on most of our parking-area property, but not everywhere and not necessarily sufficient to support…
A 2×4 V8 Durango (weighing as much as Gibraltar but without the traction to do anything with it), plus a trailer containing the average rubble and gems one accumulates over life. Heavy rubble, too.

Ten minutes, and both the trailer and the Durango were up to their axles in clay mud. The Durango managed to free itself the day after, but the trailer is still leaning hard to the right awaiting dryer ground a week later.

One might conclude that these events were a hint of what was to come, correct?

A few days ago, I came up the gravel road to our house to find him slowly walking the other way, with that “I’ve lost something and am looking although hope is slim” demeanor. Still, I had to ask what exactly it was that was missing. “I lost my trailer hitch off my truck somewhere between here and San Francisco and I’m just looking to see if it’s here on the driveway somewhere.”

Needless to say, it was not. Another hint, you say? Hah. Chicken feed compared to what was to follow.

We have several legal firearms in the house, and our guest was intrigued. As most Europeans are; in most of the continent, legally obtaining a firearm is only slightly less onerous than adopting a child, so virtually not a soul bothers. He asked if he could fire one, and we agreed – sometime, somewhere, he certainly could. Other things came up, such as yours truly crawling around the attic for an hour or two fixing an electrical problem that turned out to be not located there in the first place.

Later that afternoon, me and my wife are watching a movie in our bedroom when the sound of a helicopter swells overhead. Neither of us thinks much of it, and my wife goes to get something to drink. The sound gets louder and louder, and my wife does not return.

Hmm.

I go to investigate, and meet our guest in the hallway. “Seems I’ve caused a bit of a ruckus, doesn’t it?” Even then, the quarter does not drop. Still, I’m getting a bit curious where my wife went and go look for her. Nowhere to be found inside. Odd… outside perhaps? I go outside and look at our driveway, only to see my wife slowly walking towards a line of nine police cars. What the hell?

I slowly become aware of someone yelling at me through a crappy PA system. I look up to see a police helicopter about 200 ft above me and hear “YEAH YOU”. I freeze. “GODWARDSENCE!” I mime not having a clue what they just said. “ISEDGOTOFENCE!” Venturing a guess, I point to the fence at the end of our driveway, noticing that my wife has disappeared – presumably safe inside one of the veritable fleet of cop cars. “YEAH”. Okay, I can do that. I walk to the fence and stop. This brings me to about 50 yards from the lead police car. People are yelling at me from that direction, but since A) I am hard of hearing, B) the helicopter is about 50 feet above my head now and C) some imp within said helicopter is still yelling over the PA system, it takes about a minute for me to actually hear the words “GO THROUGH THE FENCE”.

Again, no sweat. Unlock fence, open fence, go through fence, lock fence, turn towards cop cars…

Holy crap. Three automatic rifles are pointed at me from behind very serious-looking bullet-proof shields. About ten cops are hiding somewhat further behind that. At this point, it seems prudent to raise my hands and I do so.

“HANDS ON YOUR HEAD!” Okay, if you prefer, I can do that.

“WALK GARBLEFARBLE!” Okay, I guess that means walk towards them, so I start doing so. Everybody freaks out.

“STOP!” No problem.

“TURN AROUND!” Umm, sure… whatever.

“WALK BACKWARDS TOWARDS US!”

For forty yards? Are you kidding me? Are they afraid I will clench my hands on top of my head and charge the car, my legendary speed and power taking out all three well-spread SWAT members M-16s aimed at my head? Sure, that could happen. I could just breathe my way through those Kevlar shields like butter and shrug off about 60 7.62mm slugs no sweat.

I start moonwalking backwards, catching a glance every now and then to see how far I have left to go. Whenever I do, screaming ensues (I assume this SWAT team has experience with X-ray vision-equipped terrorists). When I get close enough, my wrists are grabbed, yanked down and cuffed. The short, I-wanted-to-be-in-the-Marines-but-even-they-wouldn’t-take-me-looking cop who did so starts screaming questions at me:

“IS SOMEONE ELSE INSIDE?”
“I don’t know, our houseguest I guess?”
“WHAT IS HE WEARING?”
“What?” Call me odd, but I pay dismally little attention to what other men wear – hell, I pay little attention to what I wear, for that matter.
“WHAT IS HE WEARING?”
“I don’t know.”
“WHAT’S HIS NAME?”

All the while, I am being duck-walked backwards past the firing line, and I hear someone scream “HE’S NOT THE PERP, THE OTHER GUY HAS THE GUNS!”

Now everything falls into place. Our houseguest obviously did not understand the silent “sometime, someplace” addendum, calmly stepped outside with several guns and started plinking away in the fields in broad daylight.

The interrogation, such as it was, abruptly ceases and I am shoved in one of the police cars after a few minutes of finding the cop who belongs to it in order to unlock it. Yes, a frightening display of competence. I heard later that our poor renter, who lives in a small apartment on the property, saw him, jumped in his car and fled. Someone then called 911, and the police decided to handle it as a potential hostage situation. As a matter of fact, sitting in the cruiser I can narrow “someone” down quite nicely, since from where I am wedged in this government-sponsored puke tub, I can see the computer screen in the front seat, on which all the details of the call are helpfully left open – including name and address of the neighbors who called 911. Yikes. What if I were, say, a criminal who might decide to take issue with people dropping the dime?

From my poor vantage point (I estimate cruiser 4 in the line of now 10) I can see our houseguest coming out as bewildered-looking as I undoubtedly did. After this, the cops swarm the property, for some reason seeing the need to kick down our renter’s apartment door (we are still trying to find out where to send the $300 repair bill).

After that, things start to slow down a bit. Slowly, crawling on insulation is coming home to roost: everything itches. Also, I find out that police assume criminals are short: I am hideously wedged into the back seat, and am going slowly numb from the waist down. Cars start to leave, and I get moved, and moved again.

Time passes.

A cop walks over, opens the door and does some preliminary interrogation:

“What’s your name?”
“Stuart. I’ve got my ID in my pocket if you want.”
“No. With ua or ewe?”
“Either, I’m sorry, it’s not my real name.”
“I need your real name.”
“Sjoerd.”
“What?”
“S. J. O. E. R. D.”
“S. G…”
“No, S. J. O. E. R. D.”
“Is that your real name?”
“Yes.”
“How do you pronounce that?”
“Sjoerd.”
“Shawa… huh? Anyway, why didn’t you give your real name?”
“Because nobody can pronounce it.”
“What’s your first name?”
“That was my first name.”
“What’s your last name?”
“V. E. R. W. E. I. J.”
“G. E…”
(et cetera)
“Are you on probation?”
“No.”
“Do you live here?”
“Yes.”
And that was that. I especially enjoyed the question about probation, as if they would not run my name through NCIC about 20 seconds later. Even better is that they never actually did see my ID. For all they truly knew, I was Daffy Q. Duck. Quality work.

Finally, the initial force has dwindled to just 3 cars and the helicopter at a somewhat more discreet height. I know this for certain since this particular troopers’ computer displays a computer-generated overhead map showing all police units in the vicinity. Neat. Well, it might have been a bit neater if anyone was actually moving, as in actually going somewhere where something could be accomplished that would lead to the speedy removal of my handcuffs. Just a thought. My nose has now been itching for over an hour. I silently wish the Geneva conventions still meant anything in this country and wait.

Forensics pulls up. No, really, they called Forensics in for this one. By now I feel so mean-spirited that the first thing that occurs to me is that Maury must have an off-day on paternity tests. But whatever, let him do his magic. More time passes. A cop enters the car, and finally actually tells me what is going on (duh, thank you), and asks me some hard-hitting questions:

“Do you live here?”
“Yes.”
“How many guns are in the house?”
“I’m not sure.”
“How long has your guest been here?”
“About a week?”
And that ended the second probing interview.

Ah, progress! Forensics leaves, and I see first our houseguest, then my wife emerge from the other cars and being uncuffed. It can only be seconds now until…

Hmm. The cops move off and start talking. And talking. And laughing at jokes. And generally standing around. Actually, doing everything except freeing yours truly. After several minutes, my wife (God bless her) actually points this out to them. They do the “oops, forgot about him jump” and finally let me out. I scratch myself like a lunatic for what seems like an eternity and finally join my wife. Of course, we are bathed in apologies (two needless hours cuffed and a needlessly wrecked door seem to do that), and they take off with our houseguest. Who is returned about an hour later, with a court date for Illegal Discharge Of A Firearm under his belt.

Some observations:

Ford Crown Victorias are about three feet shorter than the Titanic, but the rear seat is unfit for anyone over 5’. Of course, the metal separation between front and back seats as well as the specially molded puke-resistant torture seats probably do not help, but wow – no wonder they can’t sell these puppies to anyone but cops.

My rough treatment was due to the fact that the 911 call specified “bald guy”, and I matched that description as well as our houseguest. I am seriously debating making him wear a wig henceforth.

My wife and I are still debating what’s worse to be left with in the back of a police “cruiser” (oh, the irony of that term, but never mind) in a molded plastic bench (I presume excellent for hosing vomit off of), molded in a shape no human being can assume, let alone a 6’3” bony bastard. So you be the judge: murderous itching from rolling around in attic insulation wool trying to find an electrical problem most of the afternoon, or loud country music.

What a dilemma.

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