I live in a house that's been converted into apartments, and the outer door is down the hall. Earlier today, my doorbell rang. Peeking out my doorway, I could see a young, tall black man framed in the glass of the door, a pencil behind his ear. Since I work at home, I'm often not presentable; today was no different. While I was trading clothes for my robe, my girlfriend remarked that somebody was outside, apparently calling out to see if anyone was home.
When I got outside, no one was there. So I went around the side of the house. The man was there, in a velour jumpsuit, talking with a grad student at the back of the driveway (my upstairs neighbor is a professor and students appear now and then). He had one of those faces whose age is hard to judge. His height made me think he was older than his acne told me he was.
I asked him if he'd rung the doorbell. He said he had, then paused, as if I'd interrupted him and needed to state my business. I asked him what he wanted. He shrugged, then started walking past me and said that he didn't understand why everybody around here talked to him like he was a kid. He said I looked like an "older" man, old enough to be his dad.
Not knowing where he was headed with that observation, I said, "I don’t know about that. But okay."
I pointed out that he’d rung my doorbell, so it was natural for me to wonder what he wanted. "What are you doing?" I asked.
"I'm working," he said, "instead of standing on the street corner, selling drugs, gang-bangin'."
"Okay," I said.
"I'm selling magazines."
"Well, I'm broke," I said, not mentioning that I never buy magazine subscriptions, especially from incompetent assholes.
He walked off. As I was going back inside, he called out over his shoulder that he'd "check back later."
"Don't bother," I said.
Unfortunately, our friendship did not end there. Back inside, I told my girlfriend what had happened and she headed out the door, to see if he was still out there. After a few girlfriendless minutes, I went outside to find her. She was half a block away, talking with him.
When she came back, she told me that he’d claimed that "everybody in this neighborhood's got twenty-thirty dollars to help me out." She'd told him that she was poor. (Never mind the difference between begging and selling.) He was sick of white people pulling away when they saw a black man at the door, he'd said. She'd replied that he was the one who rang the doorbell and was rude to her boyfriend; race had nothing to do with it. He'd said that he was off the street now, working, but could still "get on the phone" and call somebody to "take care of the problem."
Nothing quite like appealing to someone's sympathy and then threatening them.
Since the young model citizen didn't provide the story with a climax, my girlfriend and I manufactured our own. I told her that I didn't want her to do anything like that again—going after a hotheaded stranger. Uh, whoops. Before I could elaborate or rephrase anything, she started sobbing, grabbed her keys and headed out the door, for class. She wouldn't tell me what was wrong.
Later, she did. She said she was upset about what the guy had said to her and about what he'd said to me and about me fussing at her for confronting a hotheaded stranger. It was an upsetting afternoon for all concerned.