A quintessential New York evening

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So I commented to Laura at about 8:00 pm last night that we were having a perfect and quintessential New York evening. She had come uptown to meet her friend Liz for some skating training in Central Park, but, rained out, she and Liz went to Starbuck's at 70th and Amsterdam instead. I was at the office a little late, so I wandered over and met them there, and then Liz's boyfriend Jim wandered by, and it was a real . . . well, I hate to say it, but it was kind of a "Friends" moment, a real New York yuppie moment, hanging with our gang at the coffehouse, wandering in and out of each other's evenings like characters in a harmless sitcom.

Laura and I grabbed some soup at a nearby restaurant (Soma Soup—they have a fabulous cheeseburger soup on the menu, and yes you read that right), and we were descending into the subway station at 72nd and Broadway when I mentioned this sentiment to Laura. She was having a brainstorm about e-business, and she completely agreed with me.

Thirty minutes later, we stood outside the gaping doorway of her sixth-floor walkup apartment in the East Village. The metal door was crumpled at the edge, and it stood open. Laura went in—I held her back and entered the living room, then bedroom, first. This was no easy task, since most of her possessions had been dumped onto the floor, in both rooms. The living room floor was covered with CDs from the shelves and purses from inside the coffee table's storage space. The bedroom was littered with clothes, sewing supplies, and costume jewery. The drawers from the dresser were lying everywhere, and the contents of the shelves in the closet were all over.

A quick inventory showed that the television was still there, although it was lying face down on the floor. The DVD player I gave her for Christmas was gone, and so were any plans of watching the Dark City DVD that I had bought from Urban Fetch just that day. The VCR was gone. The portable MiniDisc player/recorder I gave her for the 100-day anniversary of our first date was gone. The digital camera she gave me for my birthday last year was gone. The stereo receiver and the 5-disc CD player were still there, and still functional, but the cordless phone/answering machine combo was gone. One of Laura's suitcases from the bedroom was open on the living room floor. Half a stick of butter on the floor in the kitchen indicated that the fridge had been opened.

One thing we both looked for first thing was our fishbowl, with Frank inside. Frank is the Siamese fighting fish I won as a table prize at World Fantasy in Providence last fall. Frank's bowl was untouched, and he was fine. I wish he could talk to us. He must have seen everything.

Laura called Liz and Jim first, who promised to come over right away. Then she called the police. We tried to touch as little as possible—a good trick, since the stuff all over the place made it hard to walk. Parts of the bedroom were practically inaccessible.

Then we went to a few of the neighbors' apartments. The woman next door, who is an artist and is always home during the day, is away on vacation this week. The people at the other end of the hall weren't home. We met two of our neighbors on the fifth floor for the first time—neither had been home during the day.

The police showed up very quickly. The two officers were very friendly. "Geez, they really took this place apart," they said. "Haven't seen anything like this in the East Village for years." They helped us take inventory quickly, asked us when we had left the apartment that day, clarified which of us lived there and which didn't, and asked if Laura had renter's insurance. When she said no, both cops recommended it—then admitted that they didn't have it themselves, either of them.

More poking around revealed that the antique watch Laura bought me for Christmas was missing—I kept it there at her apartment, and only wore it only special, fancy occasions. An antique silver polo trophy—a big two-handled loving cup—was missing from the dresser. Laura kept it full of quarters; a couple hundred dollars worth had collected there. It was the only cash in the apartment.

The police surmised that the thief or thieves had jimmied the door with a crowbar. It had to take a while—they said a usual M.O. is for thieves to get buzzed into the building on some pretext or another, and then knock on doors asking for, say, Jill—"No, sorry, no Jill here, you must have the wrong apartment"—and thus determine what apartments are currently occupied. If there's one with no neighbors around . . . in they go.

"They were probably looking for cash, mostly," said the police. Laura's costume jewelry was still there, as was her string of pearls. The expensive purses by designers like Kate Spade were not touched. "That suitcase there on the floor? They probably brought it in here to put the stereo stuff in, but it didn't fit. Must have had their own bag. Just carry the stuff out like they belong here, and they're leaving for vacation. As much as they can take."

In the bedroom, one officer pointed to the overturned sewing kit on the bed. "Be careful when you sleep," he said. "You're going to be finding needles and pins in your bed for weeks." No kidding.

They phoned for detectives, who showed up not long after. The detectives had been investigating a similar burglary nearby—same M.O., same big mess. That brought the total of wrecking-ball burglaries to three for the evening, we found out later. Liz and Jim showed up soon after, as did a print team, who did their best but didn't get much. We watched them dust dark surfaces with white powder and light surfaces with black powder. They got a couple of prints from the door, but only smudges elsewhere. "If you find anything while you're cleaning up that might hold a print, call us," said the printers. "We'll come back and see what we can do."

Laura kept saying, "It's only stuff we lost, right? It's all replaceable. We're safe, no one got hurt, we lost some sentimental stuff, but it could have been a lot worse." She was right. "You know what I think I'm most broken up about? The cable box. They didn't take the TV, but they took the stupid cable box. I mean, everybody has a cable box. What do they need that for? The TV is useless now.

"You know, my car got stolen once," said one of the original officers. "I didn't care about the car, but my term paper was in the back, and I didn't have another copy."

The print guys fingerprinted Laura and me both. They were fazed by Laura's seven fingers. "I call this one the finger and this one the thumb," she said, and that's how the cop divvied up the prints on his card. This was a much more pleasant fingerprinting than the first time it happened to me—the cop was polite and we actually got to wash our hands afterward.

One of the printers had the collar of his uniform shirt open. His clip-on tie clung to one half of the collar, wilting over to the side like a dead flower. He noticed Laura staring. "It's so no one can choke you with it," he said. "We all wear clip-ons, so if they grab your tie it just comes off." Like a lizard's tail, I thought. Cool.

When I pointed out some marble coasters that had been taken out and discarded, the cops said, "Marble is porous—it doesn't hold a print really well, and if I put black powder on there, you're never going to get it out." So much for Junior Detective Shunn.

When the police were all gone, we tried to close the door, but the lock was jammed open. Laura called the super, who was annoyed to be disturbed. "I can't close or lock my door," she said.

"What do you advise?" he asked.

"Come over and fix it!"

We all set to work cleaning the apartment. The mess was mostly cosmetic. Things had been dumped everywhere, but nothing was broken. Within an hour, the apartment looked almost as good as new—except for the gaping absence in the area of the entertainment center, and the black print-powder footprints from cops' shoes on Laura's white rug.

The super buzzed from downstairs, and it took him about fifteen minutes to climb the stairs to the sixth floor. At one point, I went to the stairs and looked down. I saw his hand on the railing a floor and a half below. He didn't make it up for five minutes after that.

Once there, the super removed the broken locks from the door so it would at least swing shut, then gave Laura a card for a 24-hour locksmith. The 24-hour locksmith turned out not to be willing to come until nine the next morning. The super left.

Cleaning up clothes in the bedroom, we had found the silver polo trophy cup, but none of the quarters. We set the trophy aside, to be printed later. Laura was very glad it wasn't gone—it was her grandfather's. I kept finding pins on the bedspread—more, every time I thought I was done.

When everything was straightened up, we went to a Polish-style diner nearby for some food and beer. We pulled the apartment door shut, and prayed no one would go in while we were gone. I had buckwheat banana pancakes with syrup and Pilsner Urquell for my late supper. It was after midnight. Then we sent Liz and Jim home in a cab, and went to sleep with only a little chain to keep the door locked.

Laura slept badly. I slept like a rock.

The locksmith installed two new locks this morning. Those locks will be transferred to a new metal door tomorrow morning, one with a jimmy bar to prevent it from being pried open. The managing agent for the apartment had to approve that, and he didn't deign to drop by until 1:30, when it was too late for the work to be done today.

Laura and I had bought some hardware earlier in the day. I set about repairing a shelf that had broken during the burglary, while Laura scrubbed the fingerprint powder out of the rug. We ordered Indian food for lunch, and went to the police precinct to report some additional items we had found missing: two cellular phones (both old and out of service), and fifty or sixty of the recordable MiniDiscs that I had made for Laura on my deck at home. (That's the first thing to replace, since it's an indispensable jogging accoutrement for her.) We also reported the discovery of the possibly printable trophy.

We didn't report one of the more vexing missing items we had discovered at lunch—a bottle of spring water from the fridge. Apparently burglary is thirsty work.

Moral: be careful when you invoke the specter of a "quintessential" New York evening.

[ original post:  http://shunn.livejournal.com/709.html ]

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on March 2, 2000 6:16 PM.

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