My parents love being a part of Neighborhood Watch. For a while they led the group, holding monthly meetings at their home and patrolling the streets as they speed-walked around La Mesa. The truth is that the fifty or so members of that Neighborhood Watch did a lot of good. They caught a few car thieves, busted one or two drug dealers, and stopped more than one home robbery over the course of twenty or so years.
There was, however, one villain that my parents and their Neighborhood Watch were unable to apprehend: The Pirouette Man.
About ten or so years ago, when I was going to college at Cal State University Long Beach, I decided to surprise my parents with an impromptu visit (I’m pretty sure I needed to do laundry and rationalized the drive to San Diego as “easier” than finding a roll of quarters somewhere). I arrived to find the driveway full of fifty or so chairs, the chairs full of fifty or so local residents, and speakers from both Highway Patrol and the Sheriff’s Department. I had arrived just in time for the monthly Neighborhood Watch meeting.
I parked my car across the street and watched for a bit. Dick, a neighborhood friend of mine that I had grown up with, saw me and walked over. The two of us listened to the meeting, smoking cigarettes across the street. You may think this sounds boring, but if you think that, you’ve never seen an “official” Neighborhood Watch meeting. It was full of old people with sketches, lists, and notes, presenting their queries and evidence to the police like Watson to Holmes. These people meant business and took their roles very, very seriously.
Near the end of the meeting the Sheriff Deputy finished her speech and asked if there were any questions. Mr. Bryant, an elderly man who had lived on the corner for his entire life, raised his hand. The Sheriff smiled and gestured for Mr. Bryant to stand. He did, cleared his throat, and said, “What about Pirouette Man?”
The group moaned in chorus. They had heard this before, though I had not. I looked at Dick, “Pirouette Man?” He shrugged and we moved closer to get a better listen.
The Deputy let her gaze fall to the floor, apparently she had heard this before as well. “Yes, Mr. Bryant, of course… Pirouette Man. We have no new evidence at this time.”
Mr. Bryant was not satisfied. “Why not? Aren’t you the police? It’s been over a decade! Why haven’t you caught him yet?”
Someone next to Mr. Bryant (probably his wife), grabbed his arm and pulled him gently back to his seat. The crowd murmured incoherently. The Sheriff Deputy raised her hands to silence them. “There have been no new incident reports on Pirouette Man. He is likely gone now. Unless, of course, anyone has a new crime involving him they’d like to report?”
A young couple was sitting in the front row. While visiting a few weeks past I had seen them move into the corner house on Rancho. They were new here. The woman raised her hand. “Who is Pirouette Man?”
That started the crowd up again. Murmurs, whispers and conjecture filled the air. Once more the Deputy silenced the crowd and answered politely, “He’s a bit of a legend in this neighborhood-”
“Legend?” someone shouted. “He’s a pervert!”
“The most indecent thing in La Mesa,” said someone else.
At this point Dick and I were enthralled. Who was this villain who incited these people so?
The Sheriff Deputy continued. “A little over ten years ago we started receiving calls from residents regarding a young man lurking through the streets at two or three in the morning. According to the witnesses, the suspect would ring doorbells and knock intensely on doors. When occupants would answer the door they would find the man waiting for them, wearing only shoes and socks. He would smile and spin in a circle like a ballerina a few times before giggling and running off into the night.”
The new neighbor wanted clarification, “Wait, when you say wearing only shoes and socks-”
“I mean only shoes and socks. Nothing else.” The Deputy gave her attention back to the entire group, “But there have been no new reports. He’s gone. It’s over. Everyone is safe now.” There were echoes of discontent but that was the end of it. As the meeting wrapped up I stood at the bottom of the driveway, my face ashen. I turned to Dick but he was already gone. He had obviously heard enough and decided to flee. We knew the truth…
I wove through the people picking up their paper plates and cups and folding their chairs, straight into the house where I found my mother in the hallway. She was elated to see me, squeezing the little breath I had left out of my lungs. “James! What a great surprise! How are you?” I did not answer, but noticed my father talking to the Sheriff Deputy in the family room.
“James? You okay?”
“Mom, I have to tell you something…”
And I told her. The love left her face and she grabbed me by the hand, pulling me into the family room. My father was happy to see me. “James!” He looked back to the Deputy, “This is him! This is the son I was telling you about. Hi mother and I are so proud-”
“Excuse me, honey,” my mother interjected. “James has something to say to the Deputy.”
The deputy looked me over curiously, but not in a scary way. She seemed concerned. “What is it?”
I kept my eyes to the ground. “I have something to report about Pirouette Man…”
The Sheriff smiled. “Not you too? I’ve been hearing about this myth since I started in this area. You can’t possibly-”
I stopped her with my eyes, looking her straight in the face with the utmost sincerity. “I am Pirouette Man.”
The next few minutes were spent explaining myself. I told the Sheriff Deputy about how, when I was younger, there may or may not have been times of drinking. And, during those times that may or may not have existed, I may or may not have been dared to get naked and run around the neighborhood doing stupid things.
When I was done the Sheriff pulled me aside and asked, “Are you going to do it again?”
She nodded. “That’s smart. You know, you could just keep your clothes on all the time.”
“Promise I won’t have to hear about this again?”
“You know we had a file of you? You’re considered unsolved.”
“Really?” I couldn’t help but smile a bit. She noticed and I stopped.
“Yes. I’m going to close that file if you promise me you’re done.”
The Sheriff left when I promised her and my parents that I would walk the neighborhood the next day and apologize to the neighbors, which I did. Thankfully, all of them forgave me and dropped the charges – even Mr. Bryant. The truth is that Pirouette Man had been retired for some time. It was a moment (or two or three) in foolishness as a teenager that, apparently haunted the neighborhood for some time.
So, why am I telling you this? Because my parents did something that night that stuck with me: they made me tell the police that I had broken the law. They demanded that I take responsibility for my actions. Sadly, I’m not sure that happens as often as it should these days. I can only hope I possess the integrity to do the same thing, should my children’s behavior require it of me.
And Pirouette Man? He stayed retired…for a long time.