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|Halloween is coming up and I want to share a personal story. It's a true story about an experience I had a few years ago, while working as a gas meter inspector. Gas meters come in 2 varieties, inside your house and outside your house. When a gas meter is inside your house, then you want to get it inspected for leaks at least once every 3 years. I was the guy who would come into the house (by appointment) and inspect the gas meter. |
One night (most inspections are at night, after people get home from work), I made the prep call to a house to let them know I was about to arrive. "Who's this?", an old man barked. "I'm Ed Thompson with [gas company] calling about the appointment you made to have your meter inspected." "Oh ... yeah ... well, when you get here, just let yourself in."
Now, I was not supposed to enter anyone's house without them letting me in by opening the door for me, but I sensed that this man was old and possibly bed-ridden so -- against better judgment -- I proceeded to the house. I pulled up and, just to be real sure, I called the man again. "I'm here at [address], can I come in?" The man seemed frustrated with me already. I got to the door and thought about knocking first. It felt a little creepy to just walk up and open the door to a stranger's house.
I grabbed the door handle and very slowly pushed the door open. "Ruf, ruf, ruf, ruf!" A little dog barked ferociously at me as soon as I cracked the door open. The man, who sounded like he was in the back of the house, yelled to the dog and the dog then settled down, but kept watching me. He looked at me with his beady, little, dog eyes. The dog's look didn't seem like the common territorial stare that you get from a stranger's dog. It seemed different. It almost looked like there was blood on this little dog's mouth. For a second, for just a second, I imagined that he had tasted human flesh before -- and that maybe I looked like a tasty treat.
I thought of the little dog in the movie: "Silence of the Lambs"
"Just move on," I told myself, "you have a job to do here. So get it done and get out." I walked around the corner to find an old man in a Lazy-Boy chair with an oxygen tank on the side and tubes up his nose that were helping him breathe. "What are you looking for, again?", he barked at me, seeming disturbed by my presence. "Your gas meter, sir. I'm here to inspect your gas meter. They are usually found in the basement." "Oh, well go around that corner over there [he points] and you will find the stairs."
Okay, letting myself in was somewhat scary ... and his little dog, too. Now I'm about to go down into his basement while he stays upstairs. Yes, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to go down into the basement, I am going to inspect the gas meter, then I am going to come back up, and then I am going to leave. How hard is that? So just do it. I proceeded.
The stairway was not a large stairway, the walls seemed too close together and the ceiling was low. And it also had a turn in it -- so you go half way down, then turn, and then you go to the bottom. Before I got to the bottom, I experienced the smell that some basements have, either from mold or insulation -- I couldn't tell you which. At the bottom of the stairs was another quick turn before a hallway, but what got my attention immediately was the boxed and canned food stacked up to eye-level against the wall on both sides. Now, anything new or odd -- in this house -- was sure to stand out for me (because I was looking for it), so I brushed it off and turned the corner into the hallway.
Like in the movie: "Psycho", I looked down the hall and it appeared to get longer and longer as I looked at it. What I saw was more of the same, much more of the same. Boxes and cans and boxes and cans, all stacked up on the sides. I tried to imagine how long you could live on all of this food -- without ever having to leave the house to go out into the public for anything. There was, at the least, several months worth of stored food. Then came the questions.
I stood there, looking at all the food, wondering: Why? Does this man live here alone? Who would want or need several months worth of nutrition hanging around? Is there someone else ... or something else ... that I need to be concerned about here? All my questions had no answers. These were questions for which I was not sure I even wanted to discover answers.
I walked the hallway, my eyes gazing frantically at all of the different labels -- looking for something, anything. I forced myself through this hallway. Sometimes you have to stay the course, even when you don't understand the territory. At the end of the hall the cramped walls opened up to a larger area with access to several doors. I was there in the complete quiet. Just me and my thoughts. Me and these doors. So many doors. I will have to start opening these doors, if I ever hope to find the gas meter.
One set of doors was already open. It was at the very end and it was a set of double-doors paned in glass but with shades pulled almost all of the way down. The doors were more than half open and I could see inside, but the light wasn't good. The hall light reached into this room about 5 feet or so, and all I could see was shaggy carpet and the edge of a bed. I didn't want to get too close -- it was like I couldn't move my legs to get closer even if I wanted to -- so I feverishly examined the edge of that bed, looking for signs of whether someone was laying in it or not. My heart was pounding.
I knew it was inevitable. I had to start opening the doors. It seemed like I had been there for hours already. I needed to do this. I turned to my left and I reached for the closest door handle and I opened the door to find ... a workshop. There was a workbench on my right. I examined it for sharp objects -- the kind you see on a tray in those spy movies, when a torturer has the spy tied up. No sharp objects.
I walked deeper into the room to look for any sign of a gas meter. I had my back to the doorway. "What are you doing in here?", a man's voice said from behind me. Okay, now my heart is pounding right out of my chest. I turned around as quickly as I could. I swear to you, it was as quickly as I could -- but it still felt like forever.
He was standing there, in the doorway (my only exit), and it looked like he might have been sleeping. He was about 30-35 years old, 5'11" and 200-lbs. Like the old man upstairs, he seemed pretty aggravated by presence in the house. He was standing in just his underwear and a T-shirt. I wondered if he was mentally ill. He looked mentally ill, but that's not what scared me the most.
What scared me most was the way he was standing. He wasn't standing squarely facing me, but instead, was standing at an angle -- an angle which prevented me from seeing his right hand. "I'm looking for the gas meter. I'm here to inspect the gas meter." I said with as strong and as firm a voice as I could muster under the circumstances. He didn't respond. He just stared at me for a minute, like even he didn't know what should come next in a conversation that started off like ours had.
"I don't know where it is."
I looked around the room, keeping this man in my eyesight while doing so. He didn't move from the doorway. I did not find a gas meter. "Well, it's not in here", I said. Then man still didn't move. "So I am going to have to check elsewhere, now" I said, this time looking directly into the man's eyes. He understood my intention and he then backed away from the doorway. There were at least 3 more doors down there that might need to be opened.
I described what a gas meter looks like to this man and asked him if he has ever seen one in the house before. I asked him what was behind each of the doors. "It's not in there", he answered. I decided that maybe it was coming time for me to possibly leave the house. I let him know that I was going to leave the house. I left the house.
I left the house!
I made it to the car pretty fast and I did that whole scramble-with-the-car-keys thing you see in horror films. As I drove off something caught my eye on the side of this house. My stomach just about dropped out when I realized what I was looking at. It was an outside gas meter, and I then realized that I never really needed to go into this house in the first place!
Talk about reverse-serendipity!