CULTURAL BRIEFINGAn Unexpected Visit
Mar. 26 - One morning last week Molli was being unusually difficult. She wasn't hungry, her diaper was clean, and all was right with the world—she was just in a bad mood. I couldn't entertain her, distract her, assuage her, or plug her yap with the sut. (Whenever the Danes have a shorter, easier word, I'm sticking with it—and what's easier, "pacifier" or "sut?").
In fact she was just overtired, too sleepy to sleep. After a forty-five minute struggle that felt more like forty-five days, I finally got her into her crib and listened in anguish from another room as she wailed until finally conking out in mid-shriek: "Waaaaaaaaaaaaaa—clunk." That's just how it happens sometimes.
No sooner had silence engulfed our home than it was abruptly interrupted by the door buzzer. In an ordinary home, that might not have been a problem. In our home, alas, the buzzer was designed not merely to announce visitors at the door, but also to serve as a household defibrillator. Trine knows the people who lived here before us and considers them good friends; they attended our wedding. But I believe they must have been creatures of the undead who required the supernatural stimulation of that buzzer to be jolted into life. I jump out of my skin every time it sounds. It fills me with rage and makes me want to brain someone with a frying pan.
So my instinctive reaction was to open the door and coldcock our uninvited guest. Firstly out of a general buzzer-induced rage, secondly out of a fear that my demonic spawn may have been prematurely awakened.
I opened the door as dramatically as possible, which was not especially dramatic. (Despite the easy theatrics of slamming a door, have you ever noticed how hard it is to open a door with intimidatory menace?)
"Barnet sover!" I railed at the uniformed twenty-something who stood on our landing. (It means, "The fucking baby is sleeping, you thoughtless shitass!")
"Øhhh..." he stammered. (That means, "Errr...")
"Ka' jeg hjælpe dig?" I asked. I wanted to convey furious impatience, but it didn't come out right. It's hard to say "Can I help you?" with a snarky tone when you're more worried about pronunciation than emphasis.
The thoughtless shitass told me something about gas and meters in very slow, calm Danish that I practically understood.
In Danish I tried to tell him that yes, he could come in and check the meters, but there was one in the baby's room and, since he was lucky enough not to have awakened her already (though God knows how she'd slept through that Apocalyptic Trumpet of a buzzer), he had better not entertain any notions of getting a second shot. Probably what he heard was a weird, rambling series of vaguely nordic language amounting to absolute nonsense. But he let himself in and explained something about his not actually being there to check our radiator meters, but our gas meter, singular.
Our next-door neighbor, a sweet elderly woman who suffered a stroke last Christmas, had been talking to some professional-looking gents on the landing in her own peculiar Danish just before I'd admitted the thoughtless shitass. I ought to have mentioned that before advancing my narrative to the point where the thoughtless shitass was already in the apartment, with the door closed behind him, but I'm experimenting with point-of-view narrative here, and I didn't actually acknowledge to myself that anything had been going out on the landing until after I'd closed the door. I was thinking, "This must be some kind of big gas-inspection day, and those poor guys out on the landing are probably having a hell of a time with ole H——. The poor woman can barely speak!" And I was remembering an old British friend in Los Angeles who used to joke that, after suffering a stroke in his early seventies, he'd talked "like Ringo Starr with a hare lip." I was wondering what Ringo Starr with a hare lip would sound like in Danish, and trying to ascertain whether H—— sounded anything like that. Then I began to wonder if maybe I ought to help her communicate with these people, whoever they were.
Lost in these lofty thoughts, I'd completely missed the torrent of Danish the thoughtless shitass had been directing toward me. He paused, and seemed to be expecting something from me. I led him into the living room, pointed to the first metered radiator, and said, "There."
He explained again, even more slowly, that he was the gas guy, not the water or heat guy.
I brought him back into the hallway and pointed to the breaker-box.
Yes, he acknowledged in Danish, it was a very lovely breaker box, and obviously well-maintained, but that was electrical and really he was only interested in our gas.
"Gas!" I exclaimed in Danish. "Of course. Come here, follow I, here in kitchen have we gas for to cook."
"Meter?" he asked.
I shrugged. "I don't know," I said. I opened a series of cabinets until at last one revealed a gas meter.
"There!" I announced triumphantly.
He glanced at the meter and entered its reading into a form on his tablet PC. It was a slick-looking thing, his tablet PC, cased in some kind of India-rubber housing that looked like it could ensure the PC's surviving a toss out a third-floor window.
Which it nearly was when the thoughtless shitass removed a digital camera from his pocket.
I put a hand on his shoulder and he froze.
"Before here lived I in New York," I said in my best Danish. "I am American, from New York, and we don't like let people in our home when we know them not. You I do not know. You say you must see meter, this understand I, this is allowed, I allow you it, but I do not understand about the camera."
He nodded, smiled, and said in English, "I must only take picture of gas burners on stove. It is for the kommune."
I stubbornly stuck to Danish. "I need see identification or some such. I do not like to ask, but you are understanding I think that I must ask. It is not normal I should have some person come into my kitchen and take the pictures of..." (the word for stove eluded me) "...of this here."
The thoughtless shitass reached into his jacket and withdraw a laminated ID card with his photograph and a bunch of forty-letter Danish words on it.
Now, he still could have been an insane thief trying to case our apartment, or a weird stove-fetish perv. But giving it a little thought, I realized that his slick ID card must have taken an extraordinary amount of effort to create. His tablet-PC and digital camera must have been awfully expensive, and he really had had some kind of appropriate-looking databse on that PC. And what sort of madman would have sought entry into my apartment for ignoble purposes with three eyewitnesses out on the landing? No, he was clearly either a very legitimate gas guy or a very sophisticated pervert or thief, and if he were either of the latter he'd probably just as soon kill me as deal with any more of my nonsense.
I nervously allowed him to photograph the front two burners on the stove, and watched like a hawk as he uploaded the images onto his PC, then transmitted all of our information, including the photos, to some big central computer somewhere. He was quite pleased with himself and seemed unaccountably eager to go.
"I hope you understood why I am little skeptic," I said.
"Yes, yes," he said, edging toward the door, "yes, of course, farewell." And he was gone.
Silence reigned in the apartment again. I felt triumphant: Molli was still asleep and no one had pulled a fast one on me—or at least, if they had, I'd made them really work for it.
When Trine got home that evening she asked if the gas people had come by. They were inspecting every building in Frederiksberg for the safety of their burners, she said.
"Yes," I said.
"Any problems?" she asked.
I shrugged. "Why would there be a problem?"
She shrugged right back. "The letter said they were gonna come around with cameras and take pictures of burners, and if you hadn't read the letter you might have thought it was kind of weird."
I didn't say anything. Trine read something in my expression that apparently tickled her funny bone. She teased the story out of me bit my bit, and eventually excused herself to go next door and share her merriment with H——. I could hear them cackling like a couple of hellish hens out on the landing.
When Trine came back in she caught her breath, wiped the tears of mirth from her eyes, and said that H—— had asked her to apologize to me on her behalf. Apparently she'd been concerned that I might not have understood what was going on, and had thought it might be wise to reassure me about the propriety of it all. But she hadn't wanted to muddle. She was afraid I might have been insulted.
Moral: Never let anyone into your house, ever, under any circumstance, until you've read your mail.
* * *
I realize that had nothing to do with our cruise, but that'll come in due time.
* * *
On March 26, 1997, thirty-nine members of the Heaven’s Gate cult were found dead after a mass suicide that was supposed to unite them with aliens following the Hale Bopp comet to paradise. Instead, it united them only with millions of other idiots who've followed lunatics to the grave.
* * *
March 26 is the birthday of Marcus Allen (1960), Curtis Sliwa (1954), Martin Short (1950), Vicki Lawrence (1949), Steven Tyler (1948), Diana Ross (1944), Bob Woodward (1943), Erica Jong (1942), James Caan (1939), Alan Arkin (1934), Leonard Nimoy (1931), Sandra Day O'Connor (1930), Tennessee Williams (1911), and Robert Frost (1874).
It's Independence Day in Bangladesh.
© 2005, The Moron's Almanac