A Fistful of Baby Alligators

I returned home from work a couple of weeks ago one snowy Friday evening to find a giant SUV blocking the alley behind our house. I normally go through the back gate there, and we’d just had a ton of snow, and the giant SUV was blocking the little path I’d plowed that morning with my feet, so I had to furiously plunge through the heaps. After all, in my walk from the El, I’d just plowed over half a mile of sidewalk with my feet, and had looked forward to the tire-mashed-snow respite the alley usually provided.

But the giant SUV was running, and a couple of its windows were down, so I figured whoever had left it there would be back pretty soon, and then I could tell them what jerks they were.

I waited about 10 minutes and it was still there, so I decided to commence Operation Malicious Shoveling. But I did it stealthily, like an alligator, shoveling first our back porch, then down the porch stairs, to the back gate, then out into the alley, where I cleared the back of the garage and the area around the garbage cans, carefully removing the snow so it no longer blocked the alley, but did make quite a heap for an errant giant SUV driver to get through. (Incidentally, a while back I was watching a program on the Nature Channel in which they were talking about the rather Goldilocks-like requirements necessary for alligator eggs to hatch. The ones on the top of the clutch are too cold, and the ones on the bottom of the clutch are too hot, so really just the ones in the middle hatch. The Alligator Scientist used a handful of three baby alligators to demonstrate to the viewing audience examples of the fruitfulness of eggs in the middle of the clutch, and they were the cutest things in the world! I immediately thought that if I ever had a fistful of baby alligators, I would totally rob a bank. And here was my getaway vehicle.)

Still, my respect for other people’s property and my lack of a fistful of alligators rendered me impotent. I didn’t even dare drive the giant SUV to a less-blocking area of the alley. And, as if to further underscore my helplessness, the giant SUV was too clean for me to even write “GO TO IRAQ” on the back window.

Thusly thwarted, and yet still satisfied with my stealthy alligator pile, I returned to the house to warm up. I peered through the window periodically, in a community-minded spirit, and that giant SUV was still there! Half an hour, 45 minutes, an hour! How could it still even have gas?! When I first encountered it, I assumed the thoughtless owner was just dropping something off. At the half hour point I thought, no, he went to a buddy’s house, and then he had a beer or got baked. Then, after 45 minutes, I thought he was probably at his girlfriend’s, and they were having an argument, or maybe she told him she was having his baby. But when an hour had passed, I was sure he was in the money pit across the way, having fallen through the floor, and was now lying in the basement with a broken leg. In my head the broken leg looked like this: L.

Right about then, my still-relatively-new husband (!) Tom called to say he was on his way home from work. I told him about the running-giant-SUV-blocking-the-alley-with-its-windows-down, and assured him that it was not blocking the garage (but just barely), and that it would only be annoying to him, although it had inconvenienced me by blocking my foot-plowed path, plus its location made it look like it was ours. He thought the whole situation was very strange, and said I should stay inside and keep the back door locked. He used his manly Alarm Tone, like the time he was in the backyard chopping up wood and started yelling for me to come here, and when I did he held up a piece of compressed treated lumber and said, “You see this? You see this?! Don’t ever burn it!” as though I’d been wandering around loose with a bottle of Jack and a flamethrower or something.

We discussed traffic and weather and evening activities and then I asked him if I should call the cops about the giant SUV, and he said, “Sure, honey, whatever you want to do,” which is what he says when he’s indulging one of my capricious whims or when he’s not listening any more. (I always thought capricious meant “goatlike,” like Capricorn, but it turns out it’s related to Latin for curly head, or hedgehog. Oddly, all of that works for Ron Jeremy.)

So, okay, in Chicago we’re supposed to call 311 in these situations. And 311 is supposed to connect you to city services, but really it’s just a complicated way of dialing “0” for the operator, because all they ever do is transfer you to 911, where you have to say, all deflated, “This is not an emergency, but …” It’s one more way our tax dollars are used against us, and since anything you try to do is futile, then people don’t vote, except for those already on the mayor’s/alderman’s/etc. payroll, or the other votes that get lost on the way to being counted, or the situations where a dozen people simply appoint a successor to an allegedly elected office. The City works!

After being transferred to 911, I got a happy and slightly confused dispatcher, which is only a little non-standard. I told him that there was a giant SUV blocking the alley, and it had been there for over an hour, and it had been running the entire time, and some of its windows were down, and wasn’t that a little strange, not that I wanted to cause any trouble. He said they’d send someone to check it out, and then asked for my name, and then said, “No! Wait! That’s not right … I don’t know what I’m doing. Don’t tell anybody, okay?” And we laughed and thus had an Understanding, and I felt pretty sure that for once somebody would check it out.

And sure enough, about 20 minutes later a cop appeared in the alley, behind the giant SUV. I went out to talk to the cop in case he didn’t have all the facts. Approaching slowly but noisily, ungloved hands out of my pockets, I carefully identified myself as the caller. I repeated the Litany of the Vehicle, and that it wasn’t ours, and I hadn’t seen it around the neighborhood, and the cop said in a dejected voice, because now there would be paperwork for the rest of the night, “Yeah … It’s stolen.”

Bingo! Gut instinct of wrongness confirmed! Yes! I called Tom to tell him the news, and that also now the garage was blocked by the cop car, so he’d have to find parking on the street somewhere. Still and all, so much excitement by only 6:30 on a Friday night led us to feel the evening was full of promise.

Tom got home, after checking out the alley and parking on the street, and we discussed the stolen vehicle and my ace reporting, and then whew! five minutes had gone by. We sat in an agitated state, watching TV and waiting for whatever really great thing was going to happen next. After about an hour with no explosions or zombie invasions, no spaceships landing in the backyard, only the disappointing discovery that the Harrowing Creature of the Refrigerator was merely some lonely cheese rotting, Tom and I decided to walk to the restaurant near our house that we tend to go to every Friday night. Maybe the guy with the keyboard and the purple comb-over would play “Oh Danny Boy” for the drunk and aging moll to warble to. Maybe they’d be playing Basic Instinct on WGN Channel 9 in the bar and we could whoop it up with Bob and Jose and the other patrons as Sharon Stone starts to uncross her legs and they cut to commercial.

We headed out back to find that the giant SUV was still blocking the alley and the cop car was still blocking the garage. There were some more cops now, draped over various vehicles like those “Hang in there!” kittens, notepads dangling from flaccid hands, appearing disheartened to be caught in something this lame so early in their Friday night shifts. There was also the saddest looking middle-aged Mexican-appearing man standing in a posture of put-upon defeat next to the giant SUV. Who knows what other troubles he had before his giant SUV was stolen, and here he was on a snowy Friday night in Chicago talking to cops in an alley.

Tom and I smiled at everyone as we edged by, wondering if perhaps our further services were needed, waiting for someone to call out, “But, lo! Who has maliciously shoveled around this vehicle, tampering with a crime scene?!” But (alas) we were paid no mind. We passed the giant SUV, we walked by the cop car, and there … there was the tidbit of a payoff we’d been looking for, the closure we needed to complete the exciting Incident of the Stolen SUV. There, parked behind the cop car, was the poor Mexican-appearing man’s other vehicle. This was the transport he’d been forced to use to run errands and go to work whilst his beloved giant SUV was missing. This was the face he’d had to show to the world as he drove his daughter to school and dropped by his buddy’s place or maybe went for a job interview. His other vehicle was … Yes! A Mexican clown car! A white van festively decorated with balloons, a happy clown performing tricks, and emblazoned with “Payaso Por Su Fiesta!”

As we rounded the corner in the alley, Tom and I started to giggle. Well, I giggled, and Tom chuckled manfully. Tom said it wasn’t funny. But it was. I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but we had just seen the saddest Mexican clown in the world in our alley, and it was funny.

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