My Home Invasion

Intruder AlertBy Dennis Kneale

It happened to me around 1:30 p.m. on Thursday afternoon—a scary intruder entered my apartment, invading my sense of safety and privacy in my own home.  And he refused to leave.

At the start, it had the makings of a home invasion. By the finish, it was kind of sad, and the bizarre incident had taken a toll on any sense of invincibility or invulnerability I had managed to build up in three decades in New York.  It has me wrestling with questions you don’t want to consider: Is it getting more dangerous out there? Are all the recent horrible events involving crazy people, with crazy motives, encouraging more of the same?

And worst of all… do I need to buy a gun?

Here’s what happened:  I’m at the keyboard typing away, at the dinner table in the living room of my apartment in tony, quaint and oh-so-very-safe Brooklyn Heights. Suddenly the front door to my apartment bursts open.  A skinny, stubbly-bearded man in huge, baggy jeans, a fluffy, fake-fur coat and a sleek, black “do-rag” thrusts an Amazon box at me and says, “Delivery!”  Then he sits down on my sofa and eases back and gazes up at the high ceiling.

“You don’t knock?” I say to him. “You just walk in, what’s with that?”

“I know where I’m goin’,” the deliveryman says.  “This is nice, this place has a nice feel.”  I look down at the package and realize it is addressed to someone else in my building, on a different floor. Then I look at the stranger on my sofa and see he has no uniform of FedEx or UPS or the Postal Service, no ID dangling from a lanyard around his neck.  And he’s staring at me, taking my measure.

And instantly I realize: something very wrong here. Must quell the instant panic and the urge to run, keep calm. I open the front door and hold it. “You have to leave, please leave now,” I tell him calmly, trying not to let my voice quaver.

“I’m not leavin’,” he responds,” and I get this sick feeling in my stomach about what might happen next, what he might try to do. To his left, leaning against the wall in a nearby corner, is a very real, very long, very heavy steel sword.  It was a gift from a Wall Street firm a few years ago, before the ISIS beheading obsession, and only at this moment does it occur to me: “What a stupid gift! What the hell were they thinking?”

And then my unwanted visitor says: “Close the door.”

What to do? I’m bigger than this guy—he’s maybe 160 pounds and 5-foot-9, a bone rack; I’m at 215 and 6-foot-1.  But I am no tough guy, who knows whether this invader has a gun or knife, and if I can just get him out the front door without some kind of physical confrontation, everything will be okay.  Maybe he’s hoping for a physical confrontation.

“No,” I answer, “I’m not closing the door. I’m calling 9-1-1. Please don’t do this, don’t get yourself in trouble, just go.”

“Do you know who I am?” the stranger says.  And that creeps me out:  Was he hired by some enemy of mine?  Um, do I even have enemies who would do something like this?  Who knew!  Then he says: “This is my home.”  No, I tell him, this is my home, and you must leave it now.

The 9-1-1 operator answers instantly (yay, good government service!) and I start describing what my intruder looks like.  He sits there, unfazed, then rises and strolls past me with his right hand extended for a handshake.  Inexplicably, I accept the handshake (regular grip, nothing fancy), and he leaves without apology.

I slam the door shut and deadbolt it—now realizing how stupid of me it was not to have relocked my front door after the FedEx delivery earlier this morning.  Half an hour later, there’s a knock on my door:  It’s the building super, with a plainclothes cop, asking if I can come identify the man the police just have arrested.

Turns out that after my assailant exited—that’s a little melodramatic; my squatter? My uninvited guest?—he (allegedly) then confronted a security guard in the outer foyer (the guard told me this).   He stole a atomizer bottle of body spray from the guard’s gym-bag, and walked a few doors down to a Middle Eastern restaurant.  There, he cursed at female customers and sprayed them with the perfume, until the restaurant’s owner tackled him and the cops arrived, according to two women who say they were there.

By the time I went outside to identify him, he was strapped to a gurney in a fire-rescue ambulance, talking calmly to an attendant. So my visitor wasn’t a thief, he was just . . . mentally unstable.

So, what to make of this?  Just the other day, my mom had phoned me to say, given all the headlines of late, “I think you oughta buy a gun.” I’d always rejected that idea out of hand.  And I reject it again, even after what happened to me on Thursday.  Your chances of dying by gunshot go up hugely when you own a gun in your home.

Plus, this wacked-out stranger who entered my home shouldn’t have to die for it; I don’t want to take someone’s life over something like that (or over most anything else).  Then again, what if he had been carrying a gun himself?  Or a knife?  What if my 14-year-old daughter had been at home with me?

Simpler solutions beckon:  How about I make sure, always, to lock my front door?  Maybe get rid of that life-sized, real sword?  But yeah, this rattles me, admittedly.  So I am considering a new alternative:  Maybe I should buy a Taser.  -v-

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