A few entries ago, I wrote about the noise in the predawn hours that roused both Steph and me from a sound sleep, shortened my life by about a decade… and turned out to be David the cat tipping over the big Rubbermaid container of cat food atop the refrigerator.
When Susie was an infant, we had an experience with a real intruder. We laugh about it now, but at the time it was happening, it didn’t amuse us a bit.
During the predawn hours, Steph shook me awake and said, "There’s someone in here." I opened my eyes and looked toward the bedroom door. There was indeed a woman silhouetted in the doorway, backlit only by the window behind her.
"Who are you?" Steph asked.
"I’m Agnes… and I seem to be very lost," the woman said, quite apologetically.
Steph whispered to me to call the police, while she put on a robe and took Agnes, who was quite drunk, downstairs. (She emailed some friends that day about the experience, saying that at first she thought it was me standing in the doorway. This shocked her, because I am never awake before the alarm rings. Then she glanced over and saw that I was in bed with her. That was when she became genuinely scared.)
I called the police, keeping my voice at a whisper. Then I put on a T-shirt and some pants and went downstairs. Steph and Agnes were sitting in the living room, chatting about babies, feedings, and diapers. Steph had given her a Coke, and they were gabbing like they were sorority sisters reunited. (Steph had checked to make sure Susie was okay, and she was sound asleep in her crib in the next room.)
When the police came, they politely but firmly escorted Agnes from our apartment, and then said they would be back to take statements. By then, it was almost dawn, and I called in to work and explained why I wouldn’t be there… and Agnes became a running joke in my workplace for days afterwards.
The police never came back. They took Agnes home, but never came back to complete a report. I had to take time off work a day or two later and file a complaint, only to be told their hands were tied unless I caught Agnes in the act of doing something else.
Most bizarre was Agnes saying that she walked into our place by mistake. The apartment where we lived at that time was on the second floor of a duplex, and its entrance was up a flight of metal steps and did not face the street. We were forever having to explain this to pizza delivery people and guests. The apartment was difficult enough to find deliberately, so how could a very intoxicated woman stumble into it by accident?
My supervisor at The Harvard Crimson, Pat, had a million anecdotes about working there. He told me that one summer night he was alone in the building, typing the annual course guide (The Confidential Guide to Courses at Harvard-Radcliffe, aka The Confi-Guide) on the Linotype machine. All the lights were turned off in the basement, except for a single light bulb on the Linotype, so he could read the copy before him and see what he was doing on the keyboard.
About 3 a.m., Pat suddenly heard a clump-clump-clump sound on the stairs behind him. He tensed up, and reached under the keyboard for a piece of pipe that he kept there. The pipe was full of sand and closed off at both ends with electrical tape. He got up from his stool, praying, Please, God, let there only be one of them. Slowly, he made his way toward the stairs, holding the pipe out in front of him. Finally, he groped along the wall for the light switch, flipped it on, and…
…Found out what the cause of the noise had been. Earlier in the day, someone had left an empty Coke bottle at the top of the steps. The building vibrated ever so slightly every time Pat had cast a line of type, and it had dropped into the galley tray. Each time a slug dropped and the building shook, the Coke bottle moved about an eighth of an inch toward the top of the steps. And, like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, one line too many, and the bottle rolled down the steps.
I had a similar experience many summers later. Like Pat, I had been typing The Confi-Guide, only I was in a brightly lit room in the same basement, and I was using a Linotype of sorts… a CRTronic Linotype, one of the early photocomposition machines. The Crimson only printed twice per week during the summer, so most of my nights were spent on the course guide. At one point, I got up from the keyboard to go upstairs, probably to get a soft drink or go to the bathroom, or both.
The room where I worked was quite illuminated. The next room, which housed the Goss Community printing press and the platemaker, was pitch black. I walked into that total darkness and saw two people. My eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness, so involuntary I cried out.
Who had scared me? A woman who had graduated that summer, who was back in Cambridge for the weekend, giving her high school classmate a guided tour of the building. That’s to be expected about 3 a.m., isn’t it? The classmate must have thought I was crazy, I gave him a hell of a first impression. I was gracious to them, and gave them the $.10 tour of the typesetting facilities, but it was a minute or two before my heart began beating again.