Philadelphia Metropolis


Coming Home to a Surprise

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It was the end of a mid-week workday when I came home to my little Center City condo, the first home-owning experience for my wife, Liz, and I.  I got home from work before she did, keyed in through the building's unmanned front door, and walked down the hallway toward my first-floor apartment. 

I contemplated the post-work options of a thirtysomething city-dweller with no kids: Go to the gym? Crack a beer and watch Cash Cab on DVR? Enjoy the late-day sun in Rittenhouse Square with a fresh copy of Esquire?  Start dinner?  This was my pleasant dilemma as I unlocked the front door to my one-bedroom apartment.

Setting my bag down, I walked past the bathroom door and down the front hall, where our desk sat, typically covered with unopened junk mail and my beat-up old Dell laptop that's so weak and fragile it can't even be moved from the....Wait. Where was my laptop?

"That's odd.  Liz must've moved it.  She never moves it," I thought quizzically to myself. "It's not in the living room...the bedroom?  Did she take it to work with her?  Why would she have taken it to work with her?  Let me check the bedroom...."

cw-pic-of-home-burglary1.jpgThe realization unfolded in slow, strange motion, but everything was clear as soon as I saw the screen from our bedroom window bent into a misshapen polygon and laying on the floor, the curtains swaying innocently in the breeze: We had been burglarized..

My initial feeling...after stunned disbelief...was relief, as a quick visual survey showed other major items remained untouched: Two flat-screen TVs, a Tiffany's vase (wedding gift), two Bose Sound Docks, another old laptop stored away in a cabinet. 

Realizations about other items that HAD been taken trickled in slowly over the ensuing hours and days, almost in perfect harmony with the trickling of unprocessed emotions like fear and guilt and anger toward the piece of shit who did it.

I wanted to go to the gym a few hours later to get my mind off things when I realized he had taken my North Face backpack, ostensibly to carry the laptop.  My backpack had my passport in it from a recent trip.  And my sunglasses.  The Bose Sound Docks had been left behind, yes, but the iPods sitting on them had not.  He went through some drawers and found an expensive bracelet.  He didn't, though, find my wife's grandmother's engagement ring.

The process of "What's here and what isn't" went on for about two full days before I was ready to finalize the inventory of the missing possessions.

I was thankful we were safe, and that most of the stuff was pretty old, covered by insurance, and easily replaceable.  I felt guilty and stupid for leaving the bedroom window unlocked.  I felt angry and frustrated at whoever left the building's back security gate open, allowing someone to walk into our courtyard in broad daylight.

I felt a lot of things.

I wanted to sell the place and move.  I wanted to wander the streets until I saw someone wearing my backpack, and take some stupid vigilante justice that I'm woefully under qualified to administer.  I worried about identity theft hanging over my head the rest of my life. I wrote and then deleted as unsent several scathing emails to our garbage-removal vendors, neighbors, the building we share a gate with -- anyone who I could have potentially guilted into feeling some responsibility for the negativity I felt and blindly wanted to spread.

But eventually I balanced out.  Anger was no solution.  Solutions are the only solution.  And as much as anything in the whole situation, I'm thankful I realized that.

I didn't sell the place and move, or beat anyone up.  But I'm a lot more in tune with safety and security now, and a little more motivated to affect change in my neighborhood in a positive way.

I went to my first Washington Square West Civic Association meeting a few weeks ago, and was disappointed by the utter helplessness many residents feel about the lowlifes that skulk around 12th and 13th streets and the nearby areas.  I was disgusted by Councilman Frank DiCicco's impotent and dismissive response to sincere questions about what citizens can do about crime in their neighborhood.  (Call 911). 

But I was happy to feel motivated to take action.  To take some control.  To have avoided being snowed under by the negative emotions that follow being violated by a lowlife.  To have willed myself into taking a calm and constructive response instead of a rambling or destructive one.

A lot of times it seems we have no control over the negative forces that are a reality of city life, right alongside all the good things we love.  It can seem like the negativity is overwhelming, especially when it hits so close to home.  But the loss of a few possessions is certainly no cause for a loss of sanity or happiness.

Because after all, I find it hard to believe that the person who climbed through my bedroom window and stole my things got any happiness, joy, or sanity out of it.  So I certainly shouldn't squander mine on his account.



Paul Kemp is the pen name used by a writer who lives in Center City.



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