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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A case of the Mondays

Monday morning, Memorial Day, I pulled my car into the driveway of my Ormewood Park rental house that sits perched near the top of a hill on Glenwood Avenue, just a stone’s throw from the sweet Glenwood Park development that has served as a barometer for the growth in the neighborhood ever since I moved here from New Orleans almost exactly a year ago. Almost immediately, I could see the trail of evidence: strewn DVDs, a few soiled napkins that only could have come from inside, and, oddly enough, a half-eaten bratwurst, and a half-gnarled tortilla. Huh?

I knew one thing had happened: My four-decade streak of never having been burglarized had been unceremoniously snapped. It had been a good, safe run; previously, I’d only suffered car break-ins in both Tallahassee and New Orleans (that’s what you get for driving a Miata). And now it was over.

As I walked past the half-full, brown-bagged can of Colt 45 sitting on my porch table, and in through the open doorway with its shattered glass, I surveyed the damage.

My place was a disaster inside, and I’m talking even worse than the usual mess that has my fiancée wondering if she’s signed up for a lifetime of “Odd Couple” episodes. The year-old iPod-unfriendly stereo was gone, as was the nonfunctioning DVD player. Good riddance, I thought. The TV sat untouched. Making my way to the back, I noticed two wooden DVD cabinets completely drained (while, curiously, the nearby IKEA DVD towers had only been trashed). The kitchen bore the brunt of the visit; every possible door had been flung open, including the fridge and freezer, and the microwave. A plastic bag of once-frozen beef bratwurst had been completely emptied.

Suddenly, I froze and thought: “The iBook!” I raced to the bedroom where, the night before as I left, I’d absent-mindedly tossed a bed sheet over the one item minus my car that had any monetary value of note. It had been my lifeline during six weeks of evacuation after Katrina. (So had the digital camera I purchased before heading back to New Orleans and a job that included photography duties, but that was swiped.)

I pulled back the sheet, and there sat the iBook, still in its zippered case.

Immediately, everything else seemed completely minor.

I flagged down a passing neighbor couple and their kid out for a morning stroll, and queried them while waiting for my frantic fiancée (making a needed coffee run) and the not-so-frantic Atlanta Police Department cop. I told them my situation, and the husband, who noted no burglaries during their seven years on Glenwood, said the punks must have been checking me out.

When the cop arrived an hour later, he validated their theory: They must have noticed me leaving the house with my Rottweiler (who’d given me my false sense of security), and must have checked that I didn’t lock my deadbolt. The neighbors next door, while out of town, had been wise enough to leave their other car parked in the driveway we shared.

Damn.

The cop, who seemed both amused and sympathetic to my situation, noted he’d been making the rounds all morning for similar incidents: break-ins of both home and car. It was the first weekend of summer for the area schools, he said, and the kids were already roaming freely about the neighborhoods. Just days earlier, I’d seen a car accident outside my house, in which a trio of kids hopped out of the obviously stolen minivan and scrambled back up into the neighborhood.

I remember telling my veteran Glenwood neighbors I’d heard Ormewood Park had seen less crime as it’s gentrified over the past few years, but the husband corrected me. “Actually,” he said, “the crime’s gone up, now that the neighborhood has got some nicer homes to break into."

Touché.

So we cleaned up the mess, put my Rottie back on guard duty, and went for lunch to try to re-create the events. The punks busted the door window and easily gained access to the doorknob, probably within a couple hours of my 7:15 p.m. departure. They went through everything — and I mean everything — I owned, tossing stuff carelessly at every interval. They’d made their way to the kitchen, and inexplicably yanked out a freshly replaced garbage bag from its bin that featured only coffee grinds, but dragged the bag into the back guest room, grinds forming a trail. After ransacking the two back rooms, they must have gotten hungry, hence their bratwurst frenzy, using tortillas as wrapping. (I gotta try that someday.)

Then, making their way back out, they must have unplugged the electronics and tried to carry as many DVDs as they could, dropping copies of the special-edition Office Space and The Way Home, a heartwarming Korean movie about a grandmother and her grandson. I can see letting the heartwarming Korean movie about a grandmother and her grandson fall to the ground, but Office Space? What kind of sick, criminal element was I dealing with here? Looks like someone’s having a case of the Mon-days, I thought to myself.

And they were gone, I’d wager within 10 minutes, tops. Not a smash-and-grab, but not a camp-out either.

It’s a creepy thing to experience a burglary, I’ve been told over the years. You feel invaded. You feel violated. You feel the twinge of revenge, the sting of class arrogance.

And the timing was strange. Just days earlier I’d read the Fresh Loaf blog post about the guy getting stabbed just a few yards from where my fiancée lives in Midtown, and then Little Five Points shooting. We'd met with a financial planner days before, and when she asked what of value we had, we stared blankly at her. "I've got a helluva DVD collection," I told her, then went silent. We'd even been house-hunting the previous day, and I reveled in the notion of settling in Ormewood Park, which still seemed within my financial grasp, and I'd finally convinced my fiancée it would be safe to live there. At a cocktail party that night, I’d assured a friend in search of cheap rentals how safe Ormewood Park was. “You’d love it,” I promised her.

Later that Monday afternoon, I started looking at the kids walking down the street and wondered, "Was it you?" I started creating the revenge scenarios, trawling the neighborhood, knocking on doors, leaving fliers on telephone poles, maybe even posting something defiant in my front yard screaming, “Try it again, motherfucker!”

But then I thought about a neighbor’s own defiant declaration just on the other side of the couple I’d spoken with, a poster on his house that declared in red, white and blue: “Thanks, President Bush, for Kicking Ass!” And I thought to myself, be careful what you wish for.

And, surprisingly quickly considering my own emotional state, I came to a peaceful resolve. Maybe it was because, by being stupid and not using my deadbolt lock, I knew I was an accomplice to the crime. Or maybe because, by being smart for one second and tugging at that bed sheet, I’d saved the one material possession that really and truly mattered to me.

Or maybe it was because I’d remembered after walking into my Uptown apartment for the first time since Katrina — wondering if I’d find a roof-damaged or looted interior — I knew what it felt like to be let off the hook and that stuff is just stuff.

Sometimes, the clichés really do apply. I was safe. My fiancée was safe. My dog was safe. In the grand scheme of things, I was in pretty good shape.

But Jesus Fucking Christ, did they really have to take the Godfather DVD trilogy? That’s cold. You’re not getting Office Space, that’s all I can tell you, motherfucker!

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