Let’s pretend I’m the Pantyhose Strangler, and I’ve decided to go a-killin’ at a Houston-area townhome community. However, I did not plan for every contingency, and now I’m stymied by the pedestrian gate, which requires a special security code to unlock:
Obviously, there’s no possible way I can enter the community and graphically murder all of the unsuspecting residents. Darn security codes. I guess my days of pantyhose strangling are over. Unless…
When it comes to these gates, I’m not sure who I should resent more: The developers who put no thought whatsoever into the effectiveness of the crap equipment they install, or the homeowners themselves, who take one look at million-dollar townhomes surrounded by cheap, rickety fencing and think, “Truly, a formidable defense separates me from the low-income, high-crime area in which these gentrified homes have been constructed; without a doubt, my safety and not my money is the builder’s top priority.”
And keep in mind, these are officially called “access gates,” which means they are only designed to restrict the flow of traffic into or out of a given community. In other words, the gates (when they work) are only supposed to prevent people from flying down the shared drive at ninety miles an hour and then flip their car on one of the empty garbage cans that residents never remember to pull out of the street. They do function as a crime deterrent, sort of, in that most crime is driven by opportunity — unless a particular robbery or burglary or whatever is premeditated, a thief is less likely to act on a criminal impulse when there’s any kind of obstacle between him/herself and a target. But access gates in and of themselves are not practical security measures, nor were they ever meant to be so.
Kvetching aside, Alix called me last weekend to let me know that two of our mutual friends had relapsed. Specifically, one guy had come home to find his partner drinking again, threw in the sober towel and got drunk right along with him. So a group of us — myself, Alix, our friends Ted and Brett and the Gay Dads — organized what’s known as a Twelfth Step call and caravanned out to the suburbs to check on them.
The point of a Twelfth Step call is not to proselytize, nor is it an intervention: It’s really just a few recovering alcoholics reaching out to someone in crisis, letting him or her know that there are people who care about them, and offering to take them to a meeting if they want to go. Simon had the address of the current crisis in question, so I texted him for it. He responded promptly but added, “They live in a gated community, and I don’t have the entry code.”
“That will not be a problem,” I replied.
The trick in a situation like this is giving the active alcoholic enough advance warning that he or she is not enraged by your boundary issues when you suddenly appear at their door, but not so much warning that they have time to bail before you get there. We’d called a couple of times once we were close enough to circumvent any evasive maneuvers on their part, but Alix and Ted were both growing agitated at the potential challenges of getting through the gate.
“What if they won’t let us in?” Ted asked. “Do we just wait for another resident to pull up to the gate and follow them? Should we climb over it?”
“Seriously, guys,” I said. “I promise we won’t have to worry about it.”
We found their subdivision right about then, and anyone who may have been holding his or her breath quickly deflated at the site of the imposing, wrought-iron access gate… out of order and hanging wide open.
“Oh,” said everyone except me. “How ’bout that.”
The call went well, with lots of hugs and tears and more hugs and more tears, and I’m extremely relieved to say that both guys found their way back into recovery. And I also find myself unexpectedly grateful that access gates are so unreliable — we wouldn’t have been able to reach out and offer support the way we did if the gates had been functioning the way they’re supposed to.
But if you live in one of these communities, please don’t assume that a broken access gate signifies some kind of providence going on, that the Higher Powers That Be are opening a road to recovery for some poor, isolating drunk in your neighborhood. Instead, always make sure your doors are locked, and that your car is parked safely in your garage. Because if I can breeze merrily through your gate without hitch or issue (and I can’t even figure out how to make my smartphone work properly), I guarantee you the Pantyhose Strangler can.