Peter Smith. That's my name. I live in a suburb, in a split-level 1960s ranch sandwiched between two McMansion infills. Both of the infills are new and have twice the square footage of my humble abode. And today, the day after Thanksgiving is my one day to sleep late. To relax when I am supposed to be working. But this year, the doorbell rings. Not a frantic ring, like something important. And there is no second or third ring from someone who is insistent, like Evelyn across the street bringing us half of an uneaten pecan pie from yesterday because she lives alone and wants to keep her figure.
No, with just one ring, it had to be the patented Amazon ring. Just once, and the package deliverer is gone. And you get the pic texted to you of the package laying on your front porch, tilted slightly against the door. So, I got the dreaded Amazon ring on this glorious day to stay in bed after filling up on Thanksgiving turkey. Just one ring. And I didn't order anything yet. Christmas shopping I do on my computer next week.
I rolled over, making sure not to wake my wife. She worked hard yesterday hosting my in-laws, who also happen to be her parents. And the kids couldn't be awakened on a day off from school, indeed not if it meant getting out of bed to go to the door. So, it's just me. Wobbly, sleepy, stumbling down the hall, down the stairs, saved by my firm grip on the rail, and then a final stumble toward the front door. I can see the package out there, in the pre-dawn darkness. White wrapped, with blue lettering. It's medium size, a little bigger than a shoebox.
I unlocked the door and reached out into the frigid morning darkness. Even stretching as far as I could, it's too far. Our porch has a rail, and the deliverer leaned it against the rail, not the door like usual. I will have to step out. Slippers, no, I don't have them on, but it's just a step or two, and I don't want to go back up the stairs. So, I step forward quickly, and the door closes behind me. I am locked out.
You see, that lock the one my wife has been complaining about that locks you out when it isn't supposed to, was next on my to-do list. A perpetual next, that is. I kept ignoring it and doing all the other tasks. I would do it today, Black Friday, to avoid the marathon cage fight of shopping at Walmart. It was going to be my excuse, you see. Now, I am outside in the dark, sub-freezing weather in my t-shirt and boxers with no slippers and a sleeping family who won't respond to a doorbell. With a package addressed to "Semeion Bogdanovic," which is unfortunately not my name and doesn't ring a bell. I laugh as I think about the little pun, unintended. Because, otherwise, out here in the cold darkness of my poorly lit front porch (oh yes, there is only one bulb working. Next on my to-do list), I don't have a lot else to laugh at. I look back at the label. Who is Semeion Bogdanovic? And then I notice the address "Bertold Park Apartments, Churchill Street, Montreal Canada."
Why would a delivery person drop a package before dawn on my front porch on my only day off destined for someone who isn't my family or me and lives over two thousand miles away and then leave before I could accept it and notice that it isn't mine and needs to go to someone else?
And now, on my only day off, what ethical responsibility do I have to return this? Or should I open it and have fun with whatever is inside. Yes, that would be fair, wouldn't it? After being so inconvenienced. And how would anyone know? Well, of course, there is probably now a picture in my texts on my iPhone warm and safe on the kitchen counter inside my home, which would incriminate me when Semeion Bogdanovic complains that his package hasn't arrived. Maybe ole Semeion is an Eastern European gangster, and this package has, say, some crucial things that he was expecting. Then he unleashes his gangsters on our family one night, pistol-whipping me to try to find out where the package is, and then well, you the know the rest of the sordid business from all those movies you have seen. Or maybe Semeion escaped the Nazis in World War II and is 102 years old now, and these are the only pictures of his family who perished in camps, and he wants to see them before he dies. And the CNN story points out in vivid detail how in his dying moments that I had to tell him that I tossed the package into the trash, and it's been shredded and dumped in a landfill, never to be found again. And the cad that I am is now on public view on CNN, between stories of the Cologne Christmas market and how it's Germany's best and the Top Ten beaches in the world to escape Winter.
I am freezing now, shaking here on the front porch. So, I ring the doorbell. Frantically. Several times, like a real emergency, which, for me, is what this is. But my children, the teenagers, are immovable, and my wife can't hear. My snoring led to her not sleeping, so she got earplugs that worked very well. I still snore, but she sleeps like a well-fed baby with a clean diaper. So, after thirty or so frantic rings, I figure that this isn't going to work.
I jog down the front walkway to the side door right by our double garage. The door light over the entrance is on, which is terrible news. When that light is on, it means one of us remembered to turn it on and lock the door. I grab the knob and confirm it's locked. So, now I jog around the side of the house to the back door. Our Labrador retriever, Ralph, is about eleven years old and a little slow, so we let him sleep on the floor right by the back door instead of upstairs like we used to. That way, his journey to relieve himself in the morning is much shorter. His eyesight isn't too good anymore, so of course, he starts barking away when I arrive, so loud that the neighbors turn on their bathroom lights—the new neighbors in one of the McMansions. And Ralph won't stop no matter how much I say, "Ralph, quiet…good little puppy," because he can't hear either. He knows that an invader is on the porch, where he likes to lay in the sun to warm his old bones during the day. The new neighbors will probably call the police because they are new and seem a little jumpy to me. And, because I never took the time to walk over and introduce myself to them, bring them a pie, or help them with raking their leaves.
Sure enough, as I am frantically knocking on the back door and Ralph is going nuts, a police car shows up with no blue lights or siren. They didn't want to spook the burglar, I guess. That might have been what it took to at least wake up my kids. I step down off the porch and walk across the back yard to my driveway to meet the police. Before I get there, two officers come around the corner with guns drawn. I drop the package and hold my hands up. I guess I looked pretty suspicious at that moment, in the cold darkness, barefoot in my t-shirt and boxer shorts.
The officers want some ID to prove that I have a reason to go in the house, which I explain is on my nightstand inside by my sleeping, earplugged wife, who won't answer the door. Nobody will answer, and the police figure that the occupants are still away at the in-laws for the holidays and that I am a middle-aged opiate addict trying to break into a vacant house. Why else would I be in the backyard in underwear trying to get in with the home's guard dog barking furiously with a package for Semeion Bogdanovic in my hands?
Semeion Bogdanovic? The police say they heard of him but don't know where. But, they will take me in and try to contact Mr. Bogdanovic, who must live at this home with the barking dog, and I am guilty at a minimum of stealing an Amazon delivery and who knows what else.
As I slide in the back of the police car in handcuffs, I am shivering and, I believe, am a little frostbitten. I hope to salvage a toe or two when this is all over. My family has abandoned me, and my barking dog doesn't know me. My neighbors called the police on me—all on the day after our national day of thanks. I just wanted to sleep in for once and later enjoy some leftovers. But, because one of the four billion packages delivered by our national retailer of choice each year arrived on my porch before dawn on this day at this time, and I was the only member of my family conscientious enough to answer the doorbell, it all came to this. I convinced myself that none of it was my fault.
As the police car pulls out of our neighborhood and heads toward the central police station, I notice a billboard with a familiar name. Not a giant, flashing billboard that would have caught my attention on my daily commute. No, just a modest one with a weathered frame and peeling paper. Since I am not driving on this occasion, my eyes linger on the billboard just long enough to see enough to understand.
"Fresh from Montreal, welcome new conductor Semieon Bogdanovic at a special performance in Symphony Hall on Black Friday. The Metropolitan Symphony will be performing a selection from the soundtrack of the science-fiction movie, Interstellar."
Cool, I think. Interstellar, I liked that movie. The one where the astronaut turned dirt farmer blasts off into the future to save the earth and returns to meet his hundred-year-old dying daughter just in time. Then he blasts off again to find a woman he doesn't really like, but they needed to end it on a high note. Yes, that one.
Semieon Bogdanovic? It couldn't be a coincidence, could it?
When we arrived at the police station, they put me in the "Tank," with the nightly assortment of gentlemen fighting, a few intoxicated revelers, and some women of the night. And me in my underwear shivering.
An hour later, I hear some footsteps coming down the long concrete-floored hallway by the lockup. Deliberate and elegant footsteps made with fine Italian shoes. Real ones, not the knockoffs. Then a policeman comes and calls me out. We walk the short distance to the squad room, where they sit me on a cold metal chair. And then I see him.
A tall, elegant, beautiful man with thick black hair, combed neatly and lightly greased to hold it in place. He was wearing a black turtleneck, cashmere slacks, the Italian shoes, and a knee-length natural fur coat. He is wearing stylish black glasses, a slight tint, and his thin waxed mustache extends just beyond the corners of his well-formed mouth. It could be love at first sight under different circumstances. But, it begins to dawn on me, slowly, that this elegant man is my nemesis.
"You are my savior, Peter Smith, thank you, thank you, thank you!" the man explodes with joy and a huge smile revealing his perfectly formed, brilliantly white teeth. He reaches forward to grab me in a bear hug.
"My notes, my notes. You found them. They have been lost for a week now, and I wasn't sure I would get them in time for the performance tonight. I must invite you to the performance tonight to show my gratitude. You will sit in the Presidential box, you, your beautiful wife, and lovely children. And afterward, we will celebrate together at Le Cherie! My friend and my neighbor. You have saved my debut performance!"
The police apologized for, well, for everything. I promised not to sue them. And they gave me a jacket with Metropolitan Police in big glowing yellow letters on the back. To keep warm. I thanked them and hugged my new neighbor, Semeion, the one who called the police on me.
As the police car pulled into our driveway, the sun was rising, and I felt warm for the first time in hours. My lovely wife and my teenagers came out on the porch. Staring mostly at their middle-aged father, draped with a police jacket, barefoot, and in his underwear, walking up the driveway with a smile. My wife's puzzled look was familiar to me, and I knew that she would say some things that she would later regret when she opened her mouth. So, I took the initiative to speak first.
"Guess what, guys, we are going to the Symphony tonight. Presidential box seats! And then we will be guests of honor at Le Cherie!"
"Oh! But, I don't have anything to wear! Thank God it's Black Friday with all the sales but hurry, Peter! We need to get going if we are going to beat the crowds!"