After enjoying a Back to School party at the biology teacher’s newly remodeled house, a long workout at the gym, and a run to Whole Foods, I had just settled on my couch to enjoy a late dinner of yogurt, peaches, and almonds while watching an old episode of “Parks and Rec” when there was a knock on my door.
Since I was in my pajamas, it took me a moment to grab a bathrobe and look through the peephole. A 20-something guy in a baseball hat was standing in front of my door, casually tossing something up and down. I opened my door, but only wide enough to greet him.
“Hello,” the guy said. “I’m in the neighborhood doing an opinion poll. Do you use tissues in your house?”
I was so surprised by the question that I blurted out “No,” without really thinking about it.
“Well then these are for you!” He held out the item he had been tossing – a pack of travel tissues. This was getting creepy.
“No, thank you,” I said.
“Take them!” he said in a friendly tone. Creepier.
“I don’t want them,” I replied.
“Okay,” he said. “See, I’m doing a poll for my job and if I get one more opinion I get paid. But I have to go ask my boss. He’s in the van over there,” he pointed towards the parking lot. “I’ll just go check in with him and I’ll be right back to get your opinion.” He started to walk towards the parking lot.
All of my creeper alarms were firing now. “I’m really not interested,” I called after him. He stopped and came back a few steps.
“But I don’t get paid unless I check with him and get your opinion,” he said, mildly plaintive. “It’ll just take a moment to check with my boss.”
“I’m not interested. Please don’t disturb me again.” I shut my door, locking it as is my habit.
I went back to my dinner, but I couldn’t shake the creepiness. I mean, that was weird, right? But not really an event that merits a 911 call. I wanted to tell someone, though. It seemed the responsible thing to do in case I got murdered or something. So I called Rachel.
Like a good sister, she listened to my tale, validated the creepiness, and then repeated it to Ben so he could also validate the creepiness. Then Rachel and I did what we do best – we Googled it.
Lo and behold, the search turned up a couple of news reports of a so-called “tissue scam”, one out of Vancouver and one from Norfolk. Rachel and I read them to each other as I exclaimed how the situations described in the reports sound exactly like what had just happened. “Except he didn’t claim to be a vacuum salesman,” I said. And, according to the Norfolk report, burglaries often followed.
Time to call the police, we decided. I called the non-emergency number and retold my story to the dispatcher. She confirmed that it sounded suspicious and said that she would have the deputy in my area check it out.
A few minutes later the deputy called me. He told me he had found the guys and the van and talked to them, and they seemed to check out. He acknowledged that the behavior was weird, but “nothing came up on their names or the van,” he said, “and they’re not breaking any laws. They said they’re vacuum cleaner salesmen.”
I paused a moment. “Vacuum cleaner salesmen?”
I told him about the articles I had found, including the information about the robberies that followed the “salesmen’s” visits.
This time he paused. “Really,” he said, not with disbelief, but with new interest. “And you found it on Google?”
“Yup,” I said. “Under a search for ’tissue scam’.”
I heard typing on his end, then silence.
“I’m going to call you back in a moment,” he said.
When he did, he thanked me for the additional information. He still couldn’t do anything – the guys and the van came up clean, but he said he had their names and the van’s numbers and they would be keeping an eye out.
I hope this is the end of this story. I feel like I should write a strong conclusion like how I learned that calling the police when something creepy happens is okay; or how I appreciate Rachel and Ben being around to validate the creepy and to co-Google; or how I’ll be sleeping with the golf club next to my bed again tonight and sometimes it sucks to be a woman who lives alone.
Or how sometimes it’s okay to have a story that doesn’t end with a bang.