Petty crimes present and past

Posted by rebecca.mcswain on May 5, 2013 at 10:30 PM

About 10 days ago I suffered the minor (in the great scheme of things) annoyance of being burglarized. About 10 in the morning, while I was at work, a stone was flung through an aged slider, and off went my grandmother’s silver charm bracelet bearing the names of all her grandchildren, and the turquoise necklace with the mysterious silver inlay and heavy chain that my father gave my aunt 60 years ago, and the silver bracelet and ring my husband bought me during a vacation in Florida, and most of the gold jewelry I possessed. Not to mention my husband’s grandmother’s silver service which we idiotically stored in a closet in its own handy carrying case. It all didn’t amount to much, in money.  And the thieves missed my earrings, and a few pieces of the silver set that weren’t with the rest – they didn’t search very thoroughly. (Those pieces are now in the safe-deposit box.)  And they didn’t take many things of great value to us – our books, my journals, other items not amenable to instant pawn, flea markets etc. Strictly a smash-and-grab operation. The rock they threw through the slider gouged a piece out of our beautiful new rolling cutting board with its stainless steel racks and musically jingling hooks, and knocked loose a bolt I still haven’t found.


Oddly, the thieves carried a wine bottle (screw top, about 4 ounces remaining in the bottom) from the kitchen into the bathroom. Really? Why? And they stole one of my power cords, though neither of the computers. Huh?


So a few days of sweeping up glass (which I'm still finding in the oddest places). And I had to vacuum where their scummy feet had walked and launder all the stuff in all the drawers they pawed through. And so on. Had to get them out of my psychological house.


How spoiled we are, though. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world – lately, for example, in Syria - regularly have their homes destroyed and their families turned into refugees, because of the greed, power-hunger, and religious fanaticism of their fellow men.  All I need to do is negotiate with an insurance company and figure out the best choice for a replacement sliding glass door. Big deal. And yet I was dismayed – continue to be, really – by the trauma. But it’s clear that, trauma-wise, this little burglary is hardly worth thinking about.


But it’s a reminder that barbarity is always with us, in some form. We in the rich countries can hold it at bay for a while, but the threat is there, simmering under the surface in a dark place where people are poor, ignorant and uneducated, desperate, lazy, vicious.


I’ve been burglarized before, in India in 2001. In that case, I knew who’d done it, in a general sense: it would have been my driver, or his brothers or cousins, because the driver knew I had bought some jewelry a couple days before, because I was foolish enough to tell him about it. This in a place where men like that driver earned something like $2 a day. Maybe. The Indian thief took just that jewelry, and then rested from his labors by taking a nap in my bed. That time, I was more infuriated with my own idiocy than with the thief. And what would he get out of that jewelry? A few dollars that would essentially do nothing to alter his fate or that of his family. They would remain poor and trapped in their narrow world.

And my recent thieves, too, searching in my house and my neighbors’ for gold, guns, and video games - would they use the proceeds to, for example, pay tuition at the community college? Buy books and educate themselves? Not likely. More likely: drugs, something fancy for their cars, a television. Whatever. They, like my Indian driver, remain trapped in their lives.  I’m sorry for all of us that this is so, because those wasted lives damage us, damage the human community, far more than the theft of a few baubles.


Other crimes: A bad patch in Boston, 1973


            In an art gallery, working as a receptionist.

            Purse stolen.

The front room of the gallery is too open to the street in a bad neighborhood; a kid came in, asked me a question as I sat at the reception desk, then grabbed my purse and ran. I chased him out of the building and across a vacant lot, until I woke up to the folly of following him into the ‘projects.’


            I was walking over Mission Hill in the evening, dark on top, with a bag of groceries, when I was approached by three black kids with a knife. They knocked me down, were very excited and angry that I didn’t have any money. By way of getting something out of it, they prepared to rape me, pulling at my clothes. I was begging them, telling them names of kids I knew from the neighborhood, but the one with the knife, at least, didn’t care. A German shepherd came running up the hill barking furiously. His foolish human, further below, not able to see what was happening, was shouting, “He won’t hurt you!” However, the dog and the witness scared the boys and they took off. The dog and man walked me home. A day or two later a couple cops came to the door with mugshots, really wanting me to point to someone, which I could not, and greatly startling my roommates who, as usual, were sprawled in the living room smoking dope. For months afterward, if a black man came toward me on the sidewalk, my knees turned to water, a purely physical reaction,uncontrollable.


            In a prewar building behind the Museum of Fine Arts.

            Someone broke into an apartment on the third floor; I woke at about 3:45 to the old woman’s screams – “Help me, help!” Now it’s 6 AM, a misty, ghostly morning.

            The robber must have come in from the roof, onto this floor – the hallway lights were out, unscrewed. Came while we lay naively in bed, and unscrewed the two bulbs. How they love the dark.

            When I heard the screams I ran, from the phone to the door, and back again, several times, finally managing to call the police. The woman wasn’t hurt – her square face pale, but angry as well as frightened. The whole building came into the halls, nightgowned, in underwear, some pets in tow – others had called the police – but everyone had been afraid to run out immediately upon hearing the screams, as I was. …

            For weeks afterwards, I woke as if to an alarm clock at 3:45 a.m.and lay listening to the night.


            When I was walking home from work at ten after six, a group of six or seven boys were chasing a girl down the path behind the rose garden in the park near the Museum of Fine Arts – I heard her screaming, and saw the last two or three pursuers; then one of them saw me – I had come hurrying over the footbridge, too anxious to help for fear to come in – he yelled, “Let her go.” And they converged on me. It was cold, misty, hardly anyone in the park. I was about to start running. But a man was approaching,and I called to him, asking him to turn around and walk with me across the rest of the park. When he joined me (reluctantly, can’t blame him), the boys yelled a few obscenities, then veered off. This at ten after six, still broad daylight, of course.

            So events conspire to turn everything sour. It’s tricky to separate the evil from the good. Having your purse stolen, being mugged, being terrified … these are separate from making love, hiking in New Hampshire, reading Maupassant – yet it’s all one life. The same fight.

            The morning birds are wonderful, as in Vermont. So are the geraniums on my kitchen windowsill.


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Reply Jackie
1:22 PM on May 6, 2013 
Hi Bec, I remeber that incident in Boston. It scared me badly when you related it to me. Of course, I think I was in Miami by that time, safe in Coconut Grove (?). the only time I've ever been burglarized was in cocnut Grove, broad daylingt, my cat saved me from possible assault when I walked in on the guy. (another story). So glad to see you still writing and synthasizing old and new stories, like we are supposed to do at our age. I only do it in my head. Write and catch me up on your current story. xxxxx
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