The hat makes the man, especially if it’s a black ski mask at 11:30am

So, yesterday I was in my backyard on the exercise bike, which (as I may have said before, we call the Murder Bike) and Paul was out there with me because for whatever reason he likes to eat lunch al fresco while I am murdering my core on said bike; I guess he is either committed to encouraging my healthy lifestyle, or else he’s kind of a dick.

Anyway. As I am pedaling way too hard during a fast interval, I realize Paul is over by the gate barking. This in itself is not unusual; he often barks at people who are walking their dogs through the alley or on the street outside, and he also barks at birds and cats and sometimes at shadows, and sometimes I think he just does it for the pleasure of barking.

But this time, I see there is a person standing over there, not outside the fence but inside the fence. The person is wearing red sweatpants, which Dave has, and I think, why would Dave be out here in exercise clothes in the middle of the day, when he knows I am exercising? I try to make sense of this, and meanwhile the back half of my brain is registering that the person is not Dave’s build, so maybe it’s his brother Ryan? But no, that doesn’t make sense either, how would Ryan have gotten out there without me noticing? And why would he be there? And why would Paul be so pissed about it?

And why is this person wearing a ski mask?

At this point I realized it was in fact a stranger, probably trying to rob us, looking at our bikes. He registered me at about the same moment, and as I got off the bike, he waved. Paul (not a dick at all, by the way, I should mention that; he was in fact the only one who reacted correctly the situation) was still barking at him, and continued to follow the guy as he strolled through the yard towards my garden, calmly opened, the gate, and (I assume) jumped over the fence into the alley, though by this point I was running inside and telling Dave there is someone in the yard, and Dave unthinkingly grabbed a carving knife out of the knife drawer and stalked through the yard looking very much like he would like to bark at someone, but the guy was gone. I called 911 and asked for a patrol car to do a drive-by. I think they came, but I didn’t actually see them. There is a pair of footprints in the gravel by the bikes. Paul was anxious all evening, and no longer trusts my good judgment about when to bark, and honestly, I cannot say he is wrong.

Here’s the thing: nothing actually bad happened. No one was hurt, nothing was taken. The entire event elapsed in a matter of three minutes or so. I am not sure I’m upset about it even; it’s just that I can’t stop thinking about it.

It was that little wave. The confident stroll across the yard, as if he belonged there. The bright red pants.

He must have thought no one would be home in the middle of the day, which is just one more sign that people need to stop deciding for themselves that the pandemic is over, because look my dude, a lot of us are still at home pretty much all the time. (Not that Dave and I would be gone mid-day even if it was an utterly normal and healthful era, but I digress.)

(Also our bikes are locked to a cemented-in bike rack, and double also they are pretty wrecked by all the rain and sun we got this summer, so even if that guy had managed to get one out of the yard, I imagine the chain would have fallen right off and he would have kicked it and run, so jokes on you…guy?)

So now I know what it is like to look up and see a stranger in a place where that stranger should not be. It is just as chilling and unreal as I might have thought. I was somewhat gratified to realize that the path my mind took was just the path I would have written for it in a novel, the confusion, the multiple strands of awareness, the attempt to turn it into something normal and digestible, the lack of desire to fully process anything.

The normal and the not-normal so close they could touch, as they always always are.


Speaking of which, I should share this story I just published in a recent issue of TriQuarterly (the whole issue is really good!), which very much offers a moment when the uncanny and the ordinary come into contact, and it’s also about dentist’s offices, my other passion.

And, Barnes & Noble is doing a 25% off deal for pre-orders of hardcover books until tomorrow, and you know who has a hardcover book you can pre-order? That’s right, I do.

And finally, the pre-order link for End of the World House at is finally live! There was a glitch, but I promise it is no longer a 404 Error, if this is your preferred place to pre-order.