You Know You Live in a Small Town When …

A summer Sunday filled with drama, old friends, and very petty larceny

Kid Number Two heads off for football camp for college in another week, so I spent the weekend combing the house for his cleats and making sure he was packing toothpaste so he can find a girlfriend so I can die happy. In between, he and I — his name’s Jake — took a trip to the mall to find him a new pair of jeans. Our mission successfully concluded, we drove home to find a gaggle of 12-year-old girls on our front porch.

One of them pounced on us as soon as we got out of the car. “My name is Maya,” she announced, “and we’re here for the MCAA.” She had a clipboard in one hand and some sort of flier in the other.

“The MCAA?” I echoed, wading through the gaggle with my bags. That was a new one. We get kids coming by all the time to try to sell us candy bars and cookie dough and make-your-own-pizza kits, but usually not that many kids at once. “Never heard of it.”

“It doesn’t matter,” another of the girls announced cheerfully. “We’ve already got somebody here who’s donating.”

“Really?” I opened the front door and went inside, followed by Jake, then hollered for my husband: “Doug? Are you taking care of these kids?”

“I got it,” he said from the dining room table, where he had his laptop open and was writing a check. And that was all I thought about the MCAA until a few hours later, when I drove home from another get-the-kid-off-to-college errand to find a police car parked at our house and a cop on the front porch, talking to Jake.

Jesus Christ, what’s that kid done now that’s going to keep him from going off to college? was the rather uncharitable question that ran through my head. But Jake and the policeman both seemed in good spirits, I saw as I got out of the car. Jake, in fact, was grinning from ear to ear. “Hey Mom,” he said, “remember those kids who were at the door? It was a scam!”

“Really? I knew it — I knew it!” I declared, nodding hello at the policeman, who was Officer Weber. Officer Weber, it turned out, was great friends with Jake because Jake used to work at our town’s Wawa, and you get to know all the police officers when you work at Wawa. In fact, I’d interrupted their discussion of the benefits of a computer science major, which is what Jake is studying at college and what Officer Weber was saying he would have studied if he could do it all over again. But instead he’d become a policeman, and when somebody a few blocks over had complained about the girls who were panhandling, he busted them and found Doug’s check for $10 in their possession. And since we live in a small town, he didn’t really bust them, just told them to cut it the hell out and confiscated the check, which he drove to our house to give back to Doug. He knew Doug’s address because it was on the check, but he also knew Doug because his stepson had been in Cub Scouts with Jake way back when, and more recently when Doug’s PT Cruiser broke down on our town’s main drag when he and Jake were driving it home from the car-repair shop where he’d just had it fixed — the boys who’d worked on it had failed to hook the water pump back up — Officer Weber was in the car immediately behind them, and drove to the car-repair shop and got the boys and brought them back and had them fix the problem right there on High Street.

“He’s an easy mark,” Officer Weber said now, regarding Doug. “He’s such a nice guy.” Which he is. But he’s also really gullible. So Officer Weber and Jake finished talking about computer science while I brought in my bags, and after a while Doug got home from the pool, where he’d been swimming laps, and Jake and I laughed at him for falling for the girls’ story.

“But I checked it out online!” Doug said indignantly. In fact, that was what he’d been doing when we walked in — typing “MCAA” into Google to make sure the organization the girls were collecting for, with their poignant tales of exciting trips taken and sports events participated in, really did exist. There are, it happens, a number of organizations with the acronym “MCAA.” Some of them have to do with sports. But none of them are around here, and Doug hadn’t gone any further than that initial Google. “And they had a brochure! Okay, it was a little dog-eared, but still …”

“You know, that’s a pretty elaborate scam for a bunch of little girls to pull off,” Jake noted admiringly.

“They told me they could take a check!” Doug was really getting worked up now. “What were they going to do with a check?”

I didn’t have time to wonder about that; I had to find the missing tie to Jake’s bathrobe.

Now that our children are more or less out of the house for good, Doug and I have been discussing moving back into the city. The idea is alluring — all that cul-chah, the Orchestra, the Art Museum, restaurants that aren’t chains. But on a perfect summer Sunday, there’s a lot to be said for a small town where the police show up at the door with the check you wrote a couple hours beforehand to a nonexistent charity—not to mention one where half a dozen little girls spontaneously decide to spend their day going door-to-door to fleece their neighbors. Let it never be said that the children lack for gumption around here.