I left for work on a Tuesday morning the owner of two laptop computers, two external hard drives, a PlayStation 3, several video games, and a trumpet. When I returned home, I no longer owned any of those things. I also was no longer in possession of my Social Security card, my passport, the title to my car, my personal checks, all of my digital photos and songs, and a few hundred bucks. All I was left with, more or less, were my clothes. I think this is because I mainly shop at sporting goods stores.
There's nothing that prepares you for home robbery. Burglars don't stick a "So You're About to Be a Home Invasion Victim" pamphlet in your mailbox a few days before they come to your house. Burglary is a scenario you don't think about because until it happens to you, it's something that only happens to other people. Besides, if you lock your windows and doors, what more can you do besides never leave the house? And even then, your home might get robbed.
Because I was lucky to grow up in a house that was never robbed, and even though I don't ever remember locking a door in college, this was the first time my home had ever been robbed. It was strange. It was emotional. I learned a few things.
My roommate Mike, who owned the house, called me while I was at work to tell me the house had been robbed. I immediately pictured overturned furniture, gang signs spray painted on the walls, and the massive dump the perpetrator had taken on my bed. If you are told about the robbery before you actually see it, you don't envision a crime of convenience happening in your home. You envision Manson-style bedlam. Simple crime seems preventable. Manson-style bedlam is unstoppable.
"Ah shit, Helter Skelter was today?"
Ours, sadly, was just a regular break-in. The house had an alarm. The alarm was on while no one was home. There was one window in the house not hooked up to the alarm. The burglar used that one window to gain entrance, but once inside, he tripped a motion sensor. He probably spent less than two minutes inside the house. With all that quick thieving, it was hardly enough time to work up a decent bed poop.
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I was not allowed to enter my room when I got home because the police told Mike they were going to return with bloodhounds, and the police wanted the scent preserved. Yes, I thought, bloodhounds. They'll chase this jerk through the woods and force him to leap from a dam spillway like The Fugitive. Then my roommate got a call. It was raining too hard for bloodhounds to track the scent. It rains about three days a year in Los Angeles, and this was one of them.
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And nothing looks more ridiculous in the rain than a bloodhound.
The more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that the police were putting us on. I'm sure this guy drove to the house. In a car. It's LA. What were the bloodhounds going to do, track him to the spot where he parked his car? "Yep! This is definitely where he parked his car before he drove away. Good work, everyone!" Yeah? OK, coppers. Then what's your plan? Can bloodhounds track automobiles across miles of interstate? Are you going to put the bloodhound behind the wheel of one of your Dodge Chargers and keep him on the car's scent? I was promised bloodhounds, damn it. I wanted action and swift justice. It wasn't happening. That's when I started getting angry.
My thoughts in real time as I walked around my room: Laptops -- gone. PS3 -- gone! Where are my pillowcases? They used my pillowcases to carry my stuff out. Fireproof box with my IDs, hard drives, and other valuables -- all fucking gone. What the FUCK? Where's my trumpet? "They took the trumpet," I yelled to my friends in the living room, as if this injustice would cause them all to ball their fists and punch the wall and go "Not the trumpet, Joe, anything but the trumpet." But I loved that trumpet. My parents gave it to me when I was a kid, and I still played. The trumpet, along with the digital photographs, which I had backed up in three places, all three of which were stolen, will never be replaced.
If only the moat had been completed on time.
I calmly walked out of my room, through the living room, past my friends, entered the back porch, closed the sliding door behind me, and unleashed a primal yell. In the movie version of this moment, birds will scatter from a forest canopy and a monkey will scurry for cover beneath an aloof rhinoceros.
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That night and the next day, I canceled my credit cards, canceled my ATM card, downloaded applications for a new Social Security card and passport, changed my email passwords, made a list of all of my missing stuff for the police and the insurance company, looked up how much all my stolen stuff cost (around $3,000), drove to two banks, closed and opened two accounts, emailed my family to tell them what happened, called Sony to see if my PS3 could be tracked when the next user goes online (answer: no), and went to Bed, Bath & Beyond to buy new pillowcases.
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Shopping through tears is easier than you'd think.
The Bed, Bath & Beyond trip aggravated me the most. This very nice woman greeted me when I entered the store and said, "Hi. How are you doing?" I responded, "Fine." But I did so in a tone I had never used before. It was a tone that I recognized from past conversations with women, always from them and aimed at me. The woman says "fine," but her tone is, "You're too much of a jag to argue with at this point. So -- fine." I am sorry, nice BB&B lady. You are not a jag.
After beating myself up for not burying my valuables in the yard every morning, my thoughts turned to detective work. I have seen every episode of NYPD Blue, The Shield, and The Wire, and I am certain that, had I not become a journalist, I would have made an excellent detective. This conceit was confirmed when I arrived at the house 30 minutes after the police left and discovered the open window the robber used to gain entrance. The police had missed it ENTIRELY. I took a flashlight outside and found the window screen in a recycling bin and shoe scuff marks on the wall. I felt like Bunk and McNulty when they recreated Deirdre Kresson's murder in The Wire's famous "fuck" scene.
In which the word "shit" is uttered 137 times.
The following day, I walked around the neighborhood at the same time our house was robbed the previous day. I talked to my neighbors and chatted with two delivery guys and the mailwoman. The mailwoman said she had just seen a suspicious car. I had seen it, too. It was driving a little too slow. Just then the car in question turned a corner in front of us. The mailwoman wrote down the plate number. I called Mike. Mike called the plate in to an actual detective. Twenty minutes later Mike got a call back. The mailwoman and I had made the undercover cop who was assigned to patrol our area.
Between that brilliant piece of undercover work and the responding officers who failed to notice an open window on a cold and rainy day, I had no faith in the LAPD's ability to solve this case. I was convinced that it would be me who broke this case wide open and took down the burglar and Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell in the process.
As always, Marlo Stanfield got away.
I have come to grips with the fact that I don't actually own anything. I have no personal possessions. None of us do. We all just have some stuff that is ours until some highly motivated and unscrupulous individual decides he wants it for himself. So, yeah, just like communism.
Stalin was a cat burglar in his off-hours.
They caught the guy who robbed our house. He was 21 years old. Unfortunately, police were unable to locate my belongings, which they believe were pawned. Here's how he was caught. The guy robbed another house nearby. That house had a camera system, which did not deter the robber, but it did catch a look at his face. Like I said, you picture your robber as a maniac or a criminal mastermind, but this guy was pretty bad at his job when you consider that he set off our alarm and was caught on a neighbor's camera.
Anyway, the cops knew what he looked like. During a routine traffic stop, patrolmen pulled over the guy who robbed our house, but they did not realize that he was our robber until later. So the LAPD got hold of the guy on the phone and one of the officers said, "Hey, my partner lost his wedding ring and we think he lost it in your car. Can we come and take a look?" This robber -- the one who had shown so much promise by incorporating my pillowcases into his home invasion -- told the police where he was. The police snatched him up, questioned him, and got a confession. Good work by real police.
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Not bad, for a cop with no mustache.