No, what I’m about to relay doesn’t really show the decline of civilization. Or rather, it’s too early to tell whether it does or not. Hopefully, what’s happened in my small sphere in the last few weeks is just “one of those things.” Two of those things, actually — signs of personal or societal distress that portend exactly nothing about the bigger picture.
But you know how it is. When stuff is happening to you, it’s personal. Then everybody else chimes in, “Oh yes, that happened to …” [me or my next-door neighbor or whoever]. Or “Oh yes, [City X] is notorious for that.” And then you start DuckDuckGoing and find that the statistics bear out that the S really is hitting the F, not only in City X but Cities X, Y, and Z and even in small towns — and you wonder.
Thing one is small. Pitifully small. Its conclusion was almost amusing. But in fact, the small, petty, pitifulness of the deed is part of what makes it so sad.
A couple weeks ago I was working in my sunroom and my eye caught movement on our very un-busy dead-end road. It was a kid. Adolescent boy. Walking up the road. I’d never seen him before, but I knew we had a new family at the end of our road and that they were already a subject of worry. (Small town; all of us knew something or another about these folks before they ever arrived.)
So. This kid got to the edge of my lot across the street, glanced furtively around, then made an arrow-straight dash onto my lawn, grabbed an object, and without pausing continued to run toward the houses at the end. He didn’t know I’d seen his every move.
This is what he grabbed. As worthless an object as can be:
When I flew to the window, banged on it, and gestured for him to put Mrs. Butterworth back, he did a deer-in-the-headlights freeze, seeming (or pretending) not to understand me.
By the time I made it to the front porch, he’d managed to toss poor old Mrs. Butterworth onto the lawn. He greeted my “Put. It. Back.” with total innocence and a claim, “It just fell!” Yeah. Sure, kid.
The good of this is that I got to be the Mean Old Lady who may have scared the kid straight — at least temporarily. The bad of it is that my property is now festooned with “keep out” signs and “Smile, you’re on camera” signs, and bristling with cameras. Not only because of the kid, but because Mama’s boyfriend (yes, it’s one of those kind of families; this boy has had at least three, maybe more, dubious “daddies” in his short life) also has a history of thieving and other bad behaviors and sheriff’s deputies are already becoming frequent visitors.
Now, I was a kid once, too. Weren’t we all? And I was troubled and for a short while at around that boy’s age I stole and vandalized and destroyed in petty ways. I remember how good it felt to take a little power back from the uncaring adults who, in my perception, owned everything and controlled the world. I should have some sympathy. And I do. Or I would if I’d seen him act like a kid. A curious kid might have thought my across-street lot was vacant, nobody’s property. He might have been innocently interested to see what that thing was, walked over, and only on the spur of the moment decided to take what maybe didn’t belong to anybody.
I’d have still given him hell. But I’d also have given him a break.
What I saw instead was a practiced thief and a quick-thinking, fairly skilled liar who had already scoped out what he wanted and knew it belonged to somebody and took it anyway. And why? A 50-year-old jar filled with 50-year-old syrup!
The big thing here is that — so suddenly — the safe, idyllic neighborhood of five years ago — or a month ago, or ten minutes before I caught the little bastard — is safe and idyllic no more.
My good neighbors and I will overcome this. How? Only time will tell.
Thing two is bigger. Much. A serious violation.
In the last four months, I’ve had to travel. More than I’ve traveled in the last 30 years.
I hate traveling.
But I’d finally gotten used to dealing with the TSA, long waits at boarding gates, suffocating through endless mask-up flights, and the general PITAs of airline travel. Or so I thought.
A few days ago I arrived at my destination [Big City Airport] after a long day, discovered a checked box missing (turned out it had been diverted to cargo, then pawed through by the TSA, but that’s not the story here), and was dealing with that by phone as a friend picked me up and drove me to my destination.
While I was on the phone sorting out lost and molested baggage, two calls came through from [Other Big City] I’d flown out of. They were from the manager of the “secure” parking lot where I’d left my KIA. Before I’d ever even landed, and in broad daylight, my car had been vandalized beyond drivability.
In a “secure” lot with gates and card-key access and cameras.
Somebody got in — tweakers no doubt; tweakers are a waste of space in the universe — and tried to steal my catalytic converter. When their first method didn’t work, they attached a chain to the cat and tried to pull it off. They never got the device. Minutes later the hourly security patrol came through and recognized the problem because the wannabe thieves managed to drag the KIA sideways out of its parking space and it still had their chain dangling from its underside. They were nowhere to be found. (The friend I’m staying with believes this was an inside job, and there’s considerable reason for his suspicions; but I’ll never know and right now I’m not sure I care.)
So. I live and am insured in State A. My undriveable vehicle is in State B. I am in far-away State C. And suddenly I’m in a state of confusion, violation, stress, lack of information, fear (of the extent of the damage inflicted, since the attack on the KIA and its being dragged out of its parking spot sounded brutal), and growing outrage. And what on earth am I even able to do about it?
Well, after several days of phone calls and texts, plus an $80 overnight shipping of my car key, things got sorted out to the point where the car was delivered to a KIA dealer. Now matters lie between them and the insurance adjuster and it’s likely (cross fingers) I’ll have a working car and no more than a few hundred in charges when I go home. I had to extend my trip by nearly a week, but that’s not entirely a bad thing.
It was days before I had mental space even to wonder whether anybody on site called the police. Probably not. Big City cops no longer care about “minor” property damage crimes.
It was all harrowing to me, though. So much to manage. So many calls to make. So much worry. And everything needing to be done from a distance and in a city where I know nobody and nearly nothing.
I don’t know how I’d have gotten as far as I have if not for two factors.
One was the parking lot manager who worked with me all the way — finding the best local dealer service center and agreeing to receive the key and serve as my stand-in with AAA. She was also blessedly candid in admitting that her organization had one unfortunate policy that probably resulted in tweakers being allowed in. Their cameras weren’t covering the area where I parked. So the culprits will never be caught, but then they probably wouldn’t have been, anyhow. Bottom line, though: her company is partly at fault, but she was a mensch and a godsend.
AAA itself was the second positive factor. I have no great love for them (they give poor service in rural areas like the one I live in), but boy, dealing with them was sure easier than finding an honest unknown towing company from 2,000 miles away.
Now, in practical terms, I have only two concerns: has the dealer really found all the damage and will the insurance company cover all that they should?
But it does turn out that as precious metals prices have gone up, government shutdowns have left more marginal people with more time on their hands, and government handouts have kept those marginal beings more mobile, catalytic converter thefts have about doubled in the last year. Reports say that [Big City where I parked the KIA] is among the most notorious. Friends also say it’s happening even in my home territory.
I find I’m suddenly one big passel of paranoia. At the very least I will never want to leave my vehicle in any parking lot again — not even and perhaps especially a “secure” one. I will certainly never want to go to any Big City again (of course, I never did want to; only necessity sent me there). But the sense of past, present, and potential future violation runs deep.
It’s another case — and a large one — of my old saying that no matter how paranoid I am, I’m never paranoid enough.
Even in our small town we have tweakers, and tweakers are as boneheaded, venal, thieving, and casually destructive in Rural Paradise as they are in Big Cities A, B, C, etc. There’s just more chance small-town cops or someone else will catch them in their misdeeds.
Decline of civilization? Well, these incidents may or may not be signs of it. But as we all know, the decline is certainly under way. I’m just suddenly a little bit more aware of what it might feel like when it goes down.