Tuesday, September 20, 2011
The Night I Invited a Strange Man to Stay Over
A few weeks ago, while I was mopping the front entryway to our house, the doorbell rang. I opened it to see an exceptionally tall young man who explained that he was from Estonia (and was astounded that I knew where Estonia was... which doesn't say much for the other good folk he's encountered on his door-to-door sales experience here in "middle America..."). I tried my best to look frazzled in that "please just leave me alone" way, but he explained that he was selling educational books for children and asked if he could come in for a moment.
Since he clearly knew my personal kryptonite is educational books for children, I had no choice but to let him come in and fall victim to his sales scheme.
After talking briefly about Europe (he was excited to hear that I'd lived in Germany for several years on my own), he showed me the books, and Ant (who was supposed to be enjoying "quiet time" in his room, but, in true "quiet time" form was actually hiding behind the couch) immediately grabbed the books and started excitedly exclaiming about every single picture, shape, color, and letter in them. Way to go, kid. He basically painted me into a corner of obligatory parental guilt: I have to buy the books, or he'll probably turn retarded and will likely fail out of pre-school.
I offered the Estonian something to drink, and while I was getting him some juice, he asked what I do all day. I'll re-mop the front entry way after you leave... I thought, but then I realized, I had the perfect display of "what I do all day" sitting in my fridge - my minion cake. He was so impressed, he asked if I could take his picture with the cake and email it to him, exclaiming that his friends absolutely wouldn't believe that it was a homemade cake. Ego boost - another point in his favor for buying the set of educational books. He really was a good salesman.
He explained that I'd be receiving a postcard in the mail sometime in September with the date he'd personally return to deliver the books. I wrote out a check for half the cost of the 6-book set, and sent him on his way.
Several weeks later, I received said postcard. I waited around the entire morning on the date he was supposed to arrive, but he never showed up. Fearing my gullible nature had led me into a scam (the check had already been cashed weeks ago), I began to do some research on the company he was working with. Southwestern Advantage. It would seem as if there is a good deal of negative attention toward them on the internet. The more I read, the more sympathy I felt for the tall, friendly Estonian. Was he being taken advantage of by this large, evidently evil corporation? Did he have any money after all the out-of-pocket expenses he's expected to pay, or is he starving and miserable? Has he been assaulted by strangers on his door-to-door adventures, only to find out the company refuses to involve itself in any of the salespeople's legal issues, to include violent assault? Was he on the verge of suicide, driven to depression from the weeks of stress after working 80 hours every week for the entire summer - walking door-to-door in this exceptionally hot Kansas summer? I have to do SOMETHING for him! (Assuming he ever shows up.)
So, true to my nurturing, motherly nature, I baked cookies.
He didn't show up the day he was supposed to, and, instead of believing I'd been swindled, I grew increasingly concerned for his well-being. I was convinced he'd run across some psychopath living in central Kansas who was probably holding him hostage somewhere in his basement and torturing him. The poor, naive Estonian. He wasn't raised in America, where we're taught everyone we don't know is a serial rapist/killer who just wants to kidnap us/our children. There's no way he can survive in this cruel, violent world of central Kansas.
I was outside, working on the (never-ending) play set when the doorbell rang. I ran to answer it, and there he was - the tall Estonian kid, not (visibly) harmed or being held captive, books in arm. He apologized for being a day late and explained that his car had broken down yesterday (gesturing behind him at a very used 1992 piece of rusty metal), and he'd gotten behind in all his deliveries.
I invited him in so he could show me the books, and then I offered him cookies. And juice.
And then I started to question him. About the company, about his experiences. I just wanted to make sure he was okay.
Like some of the voices out there on the internet regarding Southwestern Advantage, he simply said, "it's not for everyone." He explained that yes, he has a lot of out-of-pocket expenses, and he works extremely strenuous hours, but he expected as much. The people who feel used or abused by the company are the ones who don't do the research beforehand and expect the company to do things for them, like find them lodging in their assigned cities. For instance, he was no longer staying with his host family (he was the only one in his group who hadn't finished his deliveries yet), so he didn't have anywhere to stay tonight. He said he'd just start asking people as he dropped books off this afternoon.
I didn't win the "Good Samaritan Award" six years in a row at three different schools in elementary school for nothing.
"You can stay here, if you need a place to stay!" I blurted out without really thinking it through.
He seemed about as surprised as I was. "Are you sure?" he asked. "I only need a clean place on the floor to sleep... and maybe a shower, if that's okay."
Where has this poor guy been staying that he thinks those are acceptable conditions?!
"Oh no, I have an entire guest room downstairs - and a full bathroom."
"But I won't be getting back until late... like after 9pm. Would that be okay with your kids and their bedtime?"
Sweet D doesn't usually go to sleep until 11, and that's past Ant's bedtime, so I didn't see a problem. We agreed on it, exchanged phone numbers, and he told me there was a chance he'd finish all his deliveries early and not need a place to stay, but if he didn't, he'd be extremely grateful to me. I sent him off with a bag of cookies and a big travel mug full of coffee, feeling good about myself for helping out someone in need.
I'd like to take a moment to interject here that, if he'd been an American, I more than likely wouldn't have even considered letting him stay here (especially with Husband being gone). I just felt like I had a certain camaraderie with him, as a European, that I couldn't have with an American. It reminded me of so many wonderful Germans I'd met, who would welcome anyone into their home and treat them just like family. I've had some of the most amazing, welcoming, warm experiences in German households with people I barely knew - but I know if I ever end up back there, I could just ring their doorbell, and they'd welcome me back in like a long-lost cousin. It's not something I've ever encountered in America; it's simply a different way of life, and I saw this as my opportunity to "pay it forward" for all the times other Europeans have done it for me.
Still riding the high of feeling like I've done a really good deed, I talked briefly to Husband online and told him (I'd seriously considered NOT telling him, because I knew his reaction wouldn't be favorable, but I figured he'd trust my judgement). As expected, Husband wasn't thrilled with the idea. I believe his exact words were "no." After some mild convincing that I'm not, in fact, a complete idiot, and I might even be a decent judge of character, he relented and said, "fine, but I'm going to be worried sick until I talk to you tomorrow." Understandable.
Then I texted my good friend Mouse, who happens to live in the same town as us (one of the main reasons I wanted to move here in the first place). She, like Husband, flipped out.
Their reactions were starting to wear on me and convince me that maybe I wasn't the best judge of character after all. And maybe I'd just agreed to something that was going to get me raped and all of us killed.
So my American-raised mind agreed to do something I never in a million years would have before considered. I borrowed Mouse's gun.
I should probably tell you now how incredibly anti-gun I am. I HATE them. Even the thought of guns makes me feel queasy and my hands start sweating. When I was growing up, we weren't even allowed to point finger guns at each other. There's a chance I've tried to fire a BB gun once or twice, but I even hated that. I can't stomach the thought of guns in my house, ESPECIALLY with small children also in my house. Yes, I am aware that I'm married to a soldier, but he doesn't bring his guns home. I'm not opposed to the idea of guns - I see them as necessary for many things in life. I'm opposed to the idea of ME and guns.
She came over in late afternoon with this adorable little pink camo gun case and gave me a quick tutorial in how to load and fire the gun. I couldn't bring myself to actually touch it, but I'm a relatively fast learner, so I got the basic gist of it. She told me she felt much better with me having it, I know Husband felt better with me having it, and I have to admit, after the two of them riled me up into thinking I was going to be raped and killed, I felt better having it, too.
I put the gun on the armoire next to my bed. Then I put my canister of dog mace in easy reach in the living room. I was prepared. The AmURican way.
Shortly after I got Ant to bed, the Estonian called to make sure it was still okay if he stayed the night. As soon as I heard him on the phone, my fears (mostly) dissipated. I'd gotten so nervous and wound up between Husband and Mouse's concerns, I'd forgotten that I'm not an idiot, and I CAN trust my own instincts.
Sweet D went to sleep just minutes before the Estonian arrived. I showed him in and showed him the guest room. He was extremely grateful and offered to sleep on the ground, so he wouldn't dirty the sheets. I told him to quit being ridiculous and just sleep in the bed. He was my guest, and I was going to treat him as such.
He said he'd have to leave around 6am (way before I'd prefer to be awake), so I showed him how to lock the door behind him, and asked if he had breakfast (he showed me this absurdly small breakfast bar). So I took him to the kitchen, got a pot of coffee ready so he could brew fresh coffee, showed him where the poptarts and cereal are, and then asked if he'd eaten dinner. He seemed almost apologetic and said no. I made him a garlic pork sandwich on fresh homemade french bread. Then I got him juice and chips. While I was digging in the pantry for more food to throw at him, he remarked how much I reminded him of his mom. What a fantastic compliment.
I've always been a motherly figure. I was voted "most likely to have 15 kids" in my high school class. My Fulbright friends used to joke about how they'd be high, and I'd be sober, making sure they all had their mittens on before we went outside in the cold. I guess I'm just a very mother-hen type.
We talked for a bit about Europe and America and politics and his job, etc. And I remarked about how I likely wouldn't have invited him to stay if he'd been American. He seemed to think it over for a minute, and then he agreed - the whole situation was much more European to him, too. He said he felt comfortable here, like he would have in a typical European home. Not that Americans can't be hospitable or good hosts, but it's simply a different mindset for the majority of people. After I shot down his ridiculous notion of changing the sheets on the bed when he got up in the morning, he thanked me for everything I'd done for him (which really wasn't much of anything), and told me that I shouldn't ever lose my European-trained sense of hospitality. I whole-heartedly agree.
After sending him to bed, I cleaned up the kitchen and brought the dogs into my room (who, it turns out, are COMPLETELY worthless as guard dogs - they didn't even make a noise when he was up in the morning in the kitchen - but I was wide awake the whole time - and only a little nervous). I didn't sleep very well, waking at every noise and running through my plan of how I'd grab and load the gun if he came anywhere near our rooms (it's hard to get over the ingrained fear - especially in such an unknown situation).
Of course, everything turned out fine. The Estonian really did just need a place to stay (which I knew was a common problem for the Southwestern salespeople from all the reading I did on the internet about the company), and I'm glad I was able to provide that for him for a night. It's the least I could do after all the wonderful people I've met during my travels who have done the same for me.
And a final disclaimer, if you believe anything untoward may have happened, then you truly don't know me. I was far too mentally-consumed with the idea of "tonight being the very first time I may kill someone!" to even consider the notion of infidelity.
Oh, and Estonian - if you read this (I'm friends with him on facebook now!), please don't be offended that I armed myself against you. I am an American, after all. :)