In the summer of 2002 we moved into a new subdivision about an hour north of Detroit. It seemed that the entire area was under construction, so all our neighbors were relatively new to the area as well. At the time, our youngest daughter had just turned 6. This worked out pretty well, because there were a lot of new families in the neighborhood. My wife and I figured that there would be lots of kids for her to play with and it didn’t take long before we got to know all the neighbors.
A few weeks before Christmas, Rhonda and I were invited to Don and Cheryl’s house for a few drinks. We figured the kids could play together for a few hours and the adults would be able to mellow out a bit. It was a Friday night so none of us had work the next day.
We didn’t have much snow on the ground yet, but the temperatures were getting down to the freezing mark almost every night. Even though Don and Cheryl lived 4 houses away, we ended up taking the van because of the cold.
The evening was going along pretty well until around 10:00 PM. The commotion from the kid’s room seemed to be getting louder and louder. Rhonda went and checked on them and came back.
“Emma’s getting kind of cranky,” she said. “Perhaps we should go.”
“But it’s still early.” said Cheryl. She looked over at Rhonda. “I haven’t shown you the colors I picked for the office yet.”
“No problem.” I said. “I’ll take Emma home and put her to bed.”
“Great.” said Rhonda. “I’ll just finished up this drink and be right home.”
I called for Emma and got her all bundled up. I thought about taking the van home, but I figured walking would tire her out even more. We said our goodbyes and Emma and I trudged down the sidewalk.
I got Emma in her pajamas, made sure she brushed their teeth and put her into bed. She shut her eyes almost immediately.
I was feeling pretty tired myself, so I got undressed, hopped into bed and turned on the TV. I’ve never been one to wear pajamas or even a T-shirt to bed, so the cool sheets hit me hard. I figured they would warm up in a few minutes.
I quickly flipped through my regular channels: CNN, C-SPAN and Sci-Fi.
During a commercial, I decided to zip down to the kitchen for a glass of water. As I was passing the kitchen door, I thought I heard the cat. I’m not a big fan of cats; in fact, I hate all small, furry animals. Something about them makes me vomit. It’s a strange phobia that takes a tremendous amount of emotional energy to suppress.
I am not however, without a little compassion. I didn’t want the damn thing to freeze to death, so I opened the door. Usually the cat jumps right in, but this time it sounded like she was under my car.
I thought that if I made a noise, I’d be able to scare the cat into the house, so I picked up one of the kid’s toys and threw it on the floor near the car. The cat didn’t move, but I could still hear her.
Great. Now if the damn cat freezes to death, everyone will blame me.
Even though the outside garage door was closed, the air was absolutely freezing. I figured I could slip into the cold air for a few seconds without killing myself. I quickly hopped down the two-step and zipped over to the car. I pounded on the side of the car and the cat came running out.
(We need to take a quick pause here so that I can explain a crucial detail to this story. One of the first things we noticed about our house was that the door leading from the garage into the kitchen would shut on its own. It really wasn’t a big hassle because we all got used to placing one of Emma’s shoes in the door, so that no one got accidentally locked out.)
It was at this point where everything seemed to slow down. I distinctly remember seeing the cat running through the door. However, instead of jumping over the shoe, the cat knocked the shoe loose and the door started to close. I’m sure it only took the door a few seconds to close, but to this day I swear that it seemed like several minutes.
If you ask me what went through my brain at that second, the answer is simple: nothing. I just reacted. I jumped for the door hoping to catch it before it closed.
I was unsuccessful.
I’ve often read about humans enjoying a moment of clarity, where suddenly without warning; everything about life comes into focus. It was at this point in my life that I had such a moment. It came in-between the time the door closed and when the familiar sound made its way across the span of the garage, into my ears and registered with my brain.
I know that sound travels at 1,128 feet per second and that I was approximately 8 feet from the door when it closed. Putting aside how much the cold air affects the speed, I theorized that it took 0.007 seconds for the sound of the door closing to reach my eardrums. (I would have felt more like James Bond, had I not been standing there in my underpants.)
It was a moment of sheer terror and one that I can instantly recall even years later.
So the door closed. Big deal. It’s not like the door was locked or anything.
I walked over to the door and hesitated. I wanted so desperately for the door to be unlocked that I stood there to delay in inevitable. Standing in the garage with nothing on but my briefs (not boxers!) was better than being locked out.
I reached down and tried the door handle.
I quickly pulled my hand away.
It’s not locked. You just didn’t turn it properly.
I savored that thought for a few seconds. I shook my head as if to shake the negative thoughts out of my head and mentally laughed at myself for even thinking about a locked door.
I reached out again, and this time turned the doorknob slowly and with more emphasis. It was if I was wishing it to open.
It was definitely locked.
Shit. Now what?
There are certain advantages to graduating high school at 16; Bachelor’s degree at 19; followed by two master’s degrees in computer science: my brain was wired to be analytical. Not only was I highly trained to solve problems but I also possessed an incredible amount of confidence in my abilities to get out of any situation.
Just because you’re standing in the garage wearing nothing but your underpants in the middle of December, is no reason to panic.
I immediately reviewed my Critical Thinking classes. Most people were too emotionally wrapped up in a situation to be able to properly identify the real issue to a problem. With lightning speed, I began creating lists.
I’ve read that when a dangerous animal is cornered and completely out of options, a pure survival instinct takes over. My experience that night in the garage, however, has taught me that there is in fact, something stronger and fiercer than the survival instinct: the thought of looking like a complete idiot in front of your neighbors.
Seriously. At that point, my only thought was that I would rather freeze to death in my garage and then run to the neighbor’s house in my underpants.
I folded my arms around my chest and began to shiver.
Okay, enough monkey shit. You’ve really got to focus here. Your priority, in order of importance, is
- The locked door
Problem #1. Emma’s fine. She’s in bed and probably asleep. I could yell for her, but she’ll never hear me. Besides, I would probably just frighten the poor child and then I’d end up paying for years of therapy.
Problem #2. I’m in nothing but my underwear. Thankfully I have an undying appetite for Famous Amos cookies, so the extra layer of fat might protect me for a few minutes longer.
Problem #3. I know the house is locked up tight. Rhonda said she was going to have ONE drink and come right home. All I have to do is wait. She’ll be here in 5 minutes and she has the keys.
I did it. Problem solved. Identifying problem #3 made me realize that all I had to do was wait. In the meantime, I could go back and continue to work on problem #2. I quickly scanned the garage for some form of clothing. There was nothing. The only thing that looked remotely like a blanket was this old, purple towel sitting on my golf clubs.
That’s not going to be any help and worse yet, you’re going to look even more stupid than you already do. And let me tell you something buddy…you look pretty stupid all by your lonesome without any help from a purple golf towel.
I walked over, grabbed the towel and draped it around my shoulders. It was cold but I was hopeful that it would warm up. I went through the entire golf bag looking for anything else that might help. I even rifled through Rhonda’s bag.
Please Lord…let there be a pair of socks in here. This cement floor is a killer. There’s no way I could lie down and die…they’re going to have find me standing up.
I didn’t find any socks. Instead, I grabbed my golf shoes and slipped them on. At least my feet were now off the cement floor.
Okay big guy. There’s no need to panic just yet. I think I can hear Rhonda starting her van now. She’ll be home in two shakes. Just sit tight and wait.
I squatted down for warmth. This was starting to get serious.
I could run back to Don and Cheryl’s house, but seriously: what would I say? I’ve never even heard of someone running around in the middle of winter in their underpants.
Oh Good Lord, why me?
Please…please…please…just come home.
I was cold. I was also at my breaking point. But there was no way I was leaving the garage. It just wasn’t an option.
And then it hit me: an idea. It started out as something slowly coming into focus from far off in the horizon. It was the beginning of a plan. I dismissed it a few times, but it kept coming back to me because my brain just wasn’t coming up with anything else.
This is, WITHOUT A DOUBT, the dumbest thing you’ve ever thought of. It’s even dumber than your lazy, good-for-nothing cousin, Big Hank.
Cold. Cold. Cold. Cold.
Unlike Big Hank however, this plan might actually work.
It was an act of pure and utter desperation. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I had to do something. Looking back at those events now, I rationalize my behavior by telling myself that the cold got to me and I was delirious. I know that at higher altitudes, Mountain Climbers can sometimes go mildly insane because of the disproportionate amount of oxygen in the air. I think I was suffering from similar symptoms.
With a deliberate nod of my head, I suddenly became very decisive. I stood up and walked over to my golf bag. I adjusted the golf towel so that it was lengthwise and tied the two ends around my neck. I wanted to make it look like a cape. I grabbed the 5-iron and a handful of tees and ball markers. I went over to the wall and hit the button to open the garage door. I waited until it was about halfway up and scooted underneath. I ran four houses down to Don and Cheryl’s house.
If the neighbors are looking out their window right now, boy are they catching an eyeful. Cape, 5-iron, golf shoes, underpants and just for good measure: some crazy dude rounding everything out.
I flew in the front door, down the hallway and into the family room where everyone was still sitting around talking. In a dramatic and graceful motion, I threw my handful of tees and ball markers up in the air and jumped into the middle of the group.
“I am Golf-Man!” I shouted.
I then added my best impression of the most devious laugh I could muster. I flung my cape around my shoulders, reached to the ceiling with my 5-iron and kept this pose for 5.382 seconds.
I don’t know how I knew it was exactly 5.382 seconds, but I would swear to this fact in front of the Supreme Court and to every man, woman and child in this God-blessed country we call the United States of America.
The group was silent. No one moved. They just stared.
My wife was the first to break the silence.
“Eric…what the hell are you doing?”
She wasn’t angry. She wasn’t embarrassed. She wasn’t upset in the least. From her tone and the inflection in her voice, I knew it was a sincere question. She really did want to know what the hell I was doing.
I ended my pose and dropped the 5-iron to my side.
“Honey, give me the keys to the van.” I said.
Everyone continued to stare. Rhonda didn’t move.
I don’t want to shout. Lord knows this whole thing isn’t her fault. But I had to snap her back to reality. And let’s face it…I just took this group of people for quite a ride on the Mystery Machine.
“GIVE ME THE KEYS TO THE FUCKIN’ VAN!”
Rhonda jumped up to get her purse. I heard the welcomed sound of her keys jingling together and I think that was the moment when I finally took a breath of air.
I grabbed for the keys and ran out the front door and into the cold. I raced back through the yards and into the garage. I got to the door and unlocked it. I took off my cape, golf shoes and left the 5-iron on the mat inside the kitchen door. I ran upstairs, hopped into bed and pulled the covers up over my entire body. Yup, even over my sorry-ass head.
I waited and tried my best not to make a sound. Curiously enough, I wasn’t cold anymore; in fact, it was kind of hot.
I heard the kitchen door open downstairs and could hear two voices. Rhonda had brought one of the men back with her to check on me. Can’t say that I blame her. After all, she now has conclusive proof that she had married a complete idiot. Not 85%, not 90%, not even 95%. Full-bred, pure 100% idiot.
And quite possibly, a deranged individual to boot.
Naturally I didn’t answer. I could hear her coming up the stairs.
“Eric? Are you up here?”
I poked my head above the covers and Rhonda came over to the bed.
“What are you doing? Are you okay? What just happened?”
I shook my head, shrugged my shoulders and did my best to avoid eye contact. There was really nothing I could say.
It took about 15 minutes before everyone had figured out what happened. Thankfully I didn’t have to explain myself. Some of the neighbors came over and insisted I get dressed and come downstairs. Naturally they wanted to laugh at me in person.
And boy did they laugh.