Erased

Things looked a little out of place last Thursday when I got home and walked in the door. “What the hell was she looking for?” I wondered as I spotted open drawers and general chaos. My wife doesn’t usually leave the house in such a mess. Did the dogs somehow get inside and tear the place apart? That wouldn’t be unusual. But when I checked, they were in the backyard, where they’re supposed to be, looking anxious. Then it dawned on me. I headed for the bedroom and confirmed my fear. Everything had been turned upside down and emptied out. We’d been robbed. Motherfucker!

I went back into the living room and started to assess what was missing.

The iPod docking station with Bose speakers was gone, along with a catalog of thousands of songs. Not that I ever had much success operating the iPod. I’d stand there at the docking station pointing the tiny remote at the tiny device, waiting for something to happen, and mostly nothing did, at least not until my wife came and sorted it out.

The stereo with six-CD shuffle, gone. Not that I could ever get the damn thing to work. When I tried, I’d push what seemed to be the correct icons, nothing would happen, and I’d go into a fit of rage, swearing at “the stupid, goddamn thing,” and then my wife would sort it out.

Her laptop, with just about every picture from the past four years downloaded from her digital camera, gone. Not that I knew how to work her digital camera or download pictures, or even knew what to do with them once they were downloaded onto her computer. She handled all of that.

They took everything I didn’t know how to work. If I knew how to work it, they didn’t want it. Somewhere in all this was a case for stubbornly remaining analog.

Then I looked in the den. The TV was still there, but it looked suddenly lonely. Until today, it had been surrounded by CDs and videos. Not anymore. I realized they took about 200 CDs and about 20 DVDs. Gone were Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis, the Arcade Fire, M. Ward, the Secret Machines, Autolux, the Decemberists, A Charlie Brown Christmas, just about every Beck CD in his catalog (at least I had the good sense not to pay for those). Gone, too, were DVDs of Donnie Darko, The Big Blue (director’s cut, not the dumbed-down American version), Elf, Sin City, an entire library of surfing videos, more.

But for some reason, they left box sets of Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin and a definitive collection of ’70s punk. Thank God my Replacements catalog was unmolested. Also left behind were The Wanderers and The Pope of Greenwich Village on VHS. This was obviously the work of Philistines.

I sat at the dining-room table — not gone — feeling dumbfounded, helpless, defeated. I ate my Subway sandwich and smoked a cigarette. We have two large dogs that sound like they’ve just been doused with gasoline and lit on fire when even my best friends come to the door. Course, they’d only jump up to lick you or roll on their backs once you got inside, but still, no two-bit criminal would test them. I thought of all the times my wife suggested we get our alarm system turned on and I’d pointed to the dogs and said, “We have the best alarm system in the world.” But today we’d hired a dog walker to take them out in the afternoon because my wife and I were going to be gone all day. I called the dog walker and discussed the situation with him. He’d picked the dogs up at 4:15 p.m., taken them to Elysian Park and returned them at 5:25 p.m. Surely this would be useful information once the cops got here.

Not so much. The beat cops who took the report, a youngish male-female team, were polite and sympathetic, but not overly interested. This was Rampart Division, after all, and there were worse things going on out there. Some of them just down the street.

I took the cops on a tour of the crime scene. When we got to the bedroom, it was clear that all my wife’s jewelry, most of it heirlooms and a lifetime’s worth of gifts, was gone. So too were the watches my dad left me when he died — an Omega, a Tourneau, a Gucci, more. I never wore them, but they were reminders of his sometimes-dandy tastes. On the floor was scattered the useless — to a burglar, anyway — detritus of our lives. Papers, receipts, passports, a friend’s manuscript, my wife’s battery-operated vibrator, code-named Mr. T, one of the few appliances I knew how to operate.

“Can you believe they didn’t want that?” I said. The cops laughed. They told me someone from the lab would be by the next day to look for fingerprints.

Just about then, my friend Arlie came by to drop off a belated Christmas gift. Arlie has impeccable timing. He always shows up, with his perfectly arched eyebrows, when there’s danger or drama. We smoked cigarettes and got generally pissed. What to do? The last time I got robbed, in Oakland, I tracked down the burglars to a local housing project and recovered most of the stuff that had been taken from my car. I remembered the dog walker telling me he noticed a beat-up, old white van with some kids in it lurking around.

“Wanna go look for a beat-up old van?”

Arlie drove me around the neighborhood, which was suddenly ripe with beat-up old, white vans, most of them harboring nothing more suspicious than work tools. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t recover anything this time.

The fingerprinter came by the next morning. She was pretty, with a warm smile and an easy manner. She told me the best places to look for prints were smooth, polished surfaces. Wood wasn’t good, too absorbent.

I realized I knew just the item. I asked my wife for permission to show the fingerprinter the dildo. “Only if she can’t get them from somewhere else,” she said, laughing. She cried, though, when she discovered the burglars took her bright-pink, hard-shell vintage suitcase.

“Can you believe they walked out of the fucking house in the middle of the day with my suitcase full of our stuff?” It wasn’t the suitcase, of course, or the stuff. Our things aren’t all that valuable in monetary terms and can be replaced. But as tokens, signposts and memories, a lot of them are irreplaceable. When they’re taken, parts of you feel erased.

And something foul happens to you. The neighbors are suddenly complicit because they let it happen. The dog walker is suddenly suspect. The proud house becomes damaged goods. The neighborhood is broken. We remind ourselves that worse things happen to better people. It’s not the end of the world and it’s all too common. But it feels like the end of something.

The poor dogs, with their instinctive sensitivity, felt responsible and were extra vigilant throughout the weekend. A hummingbird wasn’t allowed to buzz around a bush without them barking up a storm.

We brought the completed crime report down to Rampart’s detective headquarters, and asked the desk sergeant if they had any luck with fingerprints or leads. He just kind of smiled at us. “Maybe if people like us were politicians or famous people, they’d have it in 15 minutes,” he said. “But we’re nobodies.”

Nobodies with one television, one battery-operated dildo and zero pink suitcases.

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