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The Old People’s Home

The Old People’s Home

Leaping in front of my car, his arms wildly waving, the young man startled me as I was about to exit the driveway onto 10th Avenue.

“What is it?” I asked.

“I need a ride home,” he said. “Can you give me a ride? I just got beat up and robbed. I need to get home.”

“Robbed…where did this happen?”

“Over there,” he said, pointing to the Rockwood Lane building, “behind the old people’s home.” 

Yeah, the old people’s home. A mugging on the north side of Rockwood Lane is conceivable. The north face slopes down to 9th Avenue. where the street dead ends. I’ve heard that the area has been used as a campsite. Even if our ever-vigilant Rockwood Lane neighborhood watch was eyeballing the area, what could they do? 

“How did you get here?” I asked. “We got over the fence. He was too big to chase us.”

“Shouldn’t we report this to the police?”

“I’ll do that when I get home. Can you just take me home?”

My default response in such situations is: how can I make this someone else’s problem? “I can call your mother,” I offered.

“She’s not home now.”

“OK, get in. Where do you live?”

He gave me an address a mile or so to the southeast. At that point it registered that “we” needed a ride. His girlfriend was with him, luckily for me, as the diocesan code of conduct specifies that I must “have another church person with me when transporting only one minor.” By this point, the boy recognized that I was probably a resident of the “old people’s home.” “I meant no offense by what I said about that place,” he said. “None taken,” I replied. I suppose that to a teenager, 60 is old, 70 is ancient, and 80 puts you in Jurassic Park.

We drove in silence occasionally interrupted by my inquiries, “Are you in high school?” “Yes.” “LC? Ferris?” “Yes.” My lame attempt at chit-chat wasn’t going anywhere. The girlfriend spoke not a word. Maybe this was a natural reaction to a stressful situation. What do I know?

I noticed the boy’s feet. “You don’t have any shoes.” “I had flip-flops. They came off when we ran.” Yes, they needed a ride.

Following his directions, we arrived at the location.

“Just let us off here,” he said.

“OK, would you like me to see if your mother is home? I could tell her what happened.”

“No, she’d get mad at me for accepting a ride with a stranger.”

Mission accomplished, I slowly drove away, eyeballing my charges in the rearview mirror. They didn’t go into the house or the one next door, they just strolled down the sidewalk. What’s going on? I wondered. I was tempted to stop and ask, “Where are you going?” But, I could be treated to a devastating rebuke: “Look, Father, we could make big trouble for you. Stop bugging us.” They would be right. I resisted the temptation. No need to be punished for a good deed.

A day or two later, I checked out the scene of the alleged mugging. No flip-flops on the slope, which doesn’t prove anything. The cyclone fence guarding the north side of the Rockwood Lane property shows signs that it could have been scaled. Did that skinny kid manage that feat in bare feet? What was really going on, anyway? Is it even worth my while to ask the questions? That’s what we folks at the old people’s home do to pass the time.