When I say “we wuz robbed,” I’m not having a flashback to the 2004 election. Sometime during the week before Thanksgiving, somebody evidently walked into our property, entered our greenhouse-workspace, which is some distance from our home, and walked back out with both our chainsaws. I didn’t usually leave them up there, but I had gotten lazy and left them out of the house just that once. Since we heat with wood, this was a particularly essential item for a thief to snatch.
I say “someone evidently walked into our property” for a variety of reasons. One is that the trails that lead out towards the back of our property, from which it is at least a mile to any other home or road, were thick with undisturbed autumn leaves. I know what leaf-covered roads look like after an all-terrain vehicle has passed over them, and they were not disturbed. We were home most of the time, and would have noticed anybody approaching from the back of our property–and anyone coming in from that direction would have had no way of knowing if we were home, or in the greenhouse, at the time. Furthermore, only the two saws were taken. Several other power tools were left, and a thief on an ATV would have probably cleaned the place out–but even the sharpening files and chainsaw tools were left. Clearly, our thief was a pedestrian.
The land we live on is a narrow valley framed by steep hills–walking straight up our hillsides is like climbing stairs. We have only one common boundary with a neighbor that is at all accessible–their back yard butts up against a pasture at the foot of one of those steep hills, and at the other end of the pasture is our greenhouse. It is invisible from the street we live on, a dead end road used only by us, our neighbors, and anyone who comes to visit any of us. It is very rare to see a strange vehicle back here.
It seems very unlikely to me that our neighbors stole our chainsaws. They are an aged couple, primevally Tennessean, and he is so crippled he drives his truck to the mailbox. But they have a grandson, probably in his early forties, who has quite a reputation in the neighborhood. The story is that he steals lawnmowers and takes them to his grandpa to fix up a little and sell. He has, according to the police, done time for robbery, and is also reputedly a crackhead, altho I have no confirmation of that, thank Goddess. As we talked to our other neighbors, we discovered that one had had his home ramsacked and all his wife’s jewelry stolen; another had left her riding lawnmower and weed eater sitting out while she went to run a few errands, and returned to find them gone. Another told of having the suspect engage him in a conversation about buying–a used lawnmower! from him, a conversation which was terminated abruptly when his wife phoned him to tell him that the suspect’s companion was looking in the window of his open, unattended workshop with the kind of eagerness usually associated with kids and candy stores.
Now, that last incident was nothing to call the police about, but we called the police about our chainsaws, and the other robbed neighbors had also called the police–and gotten, basically, no response. In our own case, we connected with a police detective who took my chainsaw serial numbers and entered them in a stolen property database, ensuring that if anybody ever pawns them, they will turn up as stolen. Somehow, I doubt if they will ever end up in a pawnshop. The informal economy, for better and for worse, offers too many other options.
The detective also told us that our neighbor’s grandson is known as a thief, and frequently hangs out with a buddy who is likewise a known thief…probably the guy who was casing our neighbor’s shop.
Now, I would be the first to admit that all the evidence against our neighbor’s grandson is what they call circumstantial–but what do you make of a guy who shows up on the coldest day of the year with a pickup truck full of lawnmowers?
Since we were dissatisfied with the police response to this, we complained to our metro council member, who promised to talk to the police about it. This resulted in a rather perfunctory call from the detective involved, who refused to talk with my wife about the robbery, even though I was not available, and she knew as much about it as I did, and more about the neighbors. I returned his call at my earliest opportunity, but got no immediate response. That was in early January. I complained to my council member about this, but did not heard back from him, either.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, we got a triumphant email from our guy at the police force. Our neighbor’s grandson had been arrested for driving without a license and parole violation, and was now in jail in another county. His buddy had been caught in the middle of a home break-in and captured after a high-speed chase. He also let us know that he had visited our neighbors and questioned them about their grandson, who they said “sometimes” came to see them. (He showed up almost every day around lunchtime.)
I looked out my window after reading this email and…heard the mufflerless rumble of the perp’s pickup truck coming up the driveway…emailed Mr. Detective back and informed him, “he must have sweet-talked his parole officer” was the explanation offered…only support of his ailing grandparents….y’know….
My wife, Cindy, who has known the guy since 1982, decided that the missing chainsaws, the frequent loud noise from his truck, and the fact that somebody was repeatedly driving off the road and into our lawn while gong up their driveway (which runs along the edge of our property) all added up to Time To Talk. She accosted him as he drove up the driveway. “Larry,” she said, you’re bothering me coming in and out of here all the time with that loud muffler. It could get you arrested. And, by the way, I think you stole our chainsaws and have been driving up on our lawn.”
Larry (not his real name) looked her in the eye and denied having anything to do with either trespass. He may be lying, or he may be truthful–one of his buddies may be the actual chainsaw thief. It was what you could call a “tough but friendly” exchange, and since then he hasn’t been speeding up and down the driveway, though he still hasn’t gotten his muffler fixed. Cindy is thinking about baking some cookies for Larry and his grandparents, thinking that cultivating them will create more friendship and security than confrontation will produce. But we keep our new chainsaw in a much less vulnerable location.
Those are, more or less, the facts of the matter. How ’bout the ol’ Deep Green Perspective?
I have no faith in the positive results of putting either of these guys in jail. They will get free room and board and hours of instruction in a wide array of criminal techniques, and when they are released they will have a few new things to try, and likely be even more unemployable than they are now. Actually, that room and board won’t be “free”–it will come out of our taxes. Last time I checked, it cost about twenty to forty grand a year to keep someone in jail. That will buy a lot of chainsaws, lawnmowers, and jewelry, not to mention it’s more than the annual cost of a college education.
Looking at this situation through a different set of filters, we are likely to see a lot more people turning to petty thievery as the economy and social fabric of this country continue to devolve. We had a taste of this social devolution when my wife encountered another neighbor, or rather former neighbor. She had known him, like maybe-thief Larry, since he was a teenager, and had occasionally hired him to do chores around here. Like Larry, he has been in and out of jail as an adult. She ran into him at a grocery store we don’t frequent, and discovered that he was working there ( a change for the better) and living in his car. (not so good) The guy had an alcohol problem, and apparently still does, judging by the way he behaved when he showed up, uninvited, at our home one evening, full of threats to put the fear of God into the suspected thief–and asking us, on his way out the door at last, if he could rent a room from us. We cautioned him not to do anything that could hurt anybody or land him back in jail, but couldn’t offer him shelter. I mean, it sucks that he’s living in his car, but that doesn’t mean we have to take him. Me and my heart attack are enough tsouris for this household.
Another neighbor said that if he caught Larry or his friends prowling around his place, he would have no hesitation about uncorking his shotgun on them. Frontier justice. First robbery rises, then the homicide rate goes up…in response. Great!
Events like these hint to me that my commitment to nonviolence may be seriously tested in the coming years. I’ve heard stories of people talking sociopaths out of heinous deeds–gee, I may find out if I can do it too!
My wife and I have always trusted that, if our intentions are strong and good, we will not attract crazy negative energy–like thieves–to our homestead. This incident has tested our commitment to those principles. Someplace up ahead in the swirling, uncertain future, we’ll once again find out how we are doing. Either something will happen, or–nothing will happen–we will continue to function undisturbed. Time alone will tell, and right now, time ain’t telling.
music: Cracker, “Mr. Wrong“