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Who's that knocking on our door?

Thursday, March 4, 2004

Dear Pat,

A newspaper story about a gated mobile home park made me wonder what a life of exclusivity would be like. Down on South Lorimier Street, we are the hoi polloi. We like everyone to come and go as they please.

We're a free fire zone.

We get a rush out of squealing tires and dreadnought cars pummeling the neighborhood with lethal bass notes. Who wouldn't?

But sometimes, you wonder what a quiet night sounds like.

One night a few weeks ago, someone came pounding on our front door at 2 a.m. DC and I figured it was someone too loaded to find the party at the football players' house next door.

Through our dogs' snaps and growls, a young man too little for the team shouted at me through the door. He was looking for someone named Marie. We've got Hank and Lucy and Alvie and DC and Sam. No Marie. He was unconvinced but left anyway.

A few nights later, more insistent rapping on the front door awoke us at 3 a.m. This time, a tall and slender young man in a camouflage jacket stood in the yellow porch light. He wasn't yelling, but the dogs barked so loudly he couldn't be understood through the glass door.

Finally he identified himself as Father Gregory from St. Mary Church. That was the first sign that Father Gregory needed to go to confession. It's St. Mary Cathedral, not church.

He explained that he was driving a group of children on an outing when their van ran off the interstate highway. He claimed they needed money to pull the van out of the ditch.

We live miles from the interstate highway.

"I don't believe you," I said as clearly and emphatically as possible.

Not that I'm immune to a good pitchman. The charming fellow who worked the neighborhood a few years ago asking for money to buy a car battery, money he promised to repay just as soon as he could drive the car home, relieved me and quite a few others of $40 apiece until the story got around.

He had talent and chutzpah. He looked you in the eye in the middle of the day and lied. I kept trying to see the camouflaged priest's eyes.

Then he offered to show me his card and gestured for me to open the door.

That's when I told him my wife was calling the police and he decided to disappear.

Imagine that, a card-carrying fake priest con.

During the Depression, DC's mother says, hoboes used to put a chalk mark on certain houses to let fellow travelers know that the occupants were kind enough to share a meal. DC and I wonder if there's a mark on our house signifying that we're crazy enough to answer the door in the middle of the night on South Lorimier unarmed.

Actually, I don't think there's anything wrong with answering the door when the world comes knocking. As good as living in a gated community sounds sometimes, it also excludes happenstance from your life, the possibilities of unpredictability.

Our friend Evelyn's late husband, John, also was taken in by the guy needing a car battery. John was duped, if that is the word, not once but twice.

The second time he knew he was being conned but wanted to give the man another chance to do what's right.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is the managing editor of the Southeast Missourian

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