Sunday, November 23, 2008

Kind Streets

It was only about six-thirty in the morning, a Sunday morning, as I came down the street and saw him. A cold morning, though, the temperature not quite twenty. Cold and clear and sleep-in quiet.

He was about a half block ahead of me on Park Avenue and as he stepped off the curb he staggered for a moment and lost his balance. He didn’t fall, though, just took a few steps to get the balance back and then, apparently noticing me walking down the street, he stopped. He was standing in the middle of Orchard and I was walking in the middle of Park (a practice, sans cars, that gives me maximum advance notice of approaching dogs).

“Good morning,” I said.

He looked to be in his late sixties or early seventies, dressed in a cap and a light coat, the coat opened at the top. He wasn’t shivering, but he also wasn’t dressed for a long stay out in that kind of a frigid morning.

“What’s the number for emergencies?” he asked me.

“Is something wrong?” I said.

“My wife and I, we’re being held hostage in that house right there. She won’t let us go and there’s nothing we can do.”

It’s an easy judgment to make and you try to resist it. I mean, people do get held hostage these days, sometimes seemingly with gay abandon, so what the hell.

“Do you want me to call the police?” I said.

“Yes,” he said.

I called 911 then and had a nice chat with the operator as she set the early morning rescue mechanisms in motion. While trying to keep things at face value, I did suggest that the greater emergency was probably not a family held hostage but, rather, an old man out in the cold and disoriented.

“Can he give you his name?” she asked.

I asked him then.

“Conrad Benson,” he said.

After telling the 911 operator that, she said, “Oh, Conrad. Well, you did the right thing, sir, in calling us.”

At that point, the police arrived (an ambulance not far behind), and as a young officer got out of the squad car he said, “Hey, Conrad! How you doing?”

Turns out that Conrad, who fairly regularly escaped his hostage situation, had worked for the police department years ago.

I walked on finally.

Note: Conrad’s name is fictitious.