People steal the darnedest things. Two things reminded me of this recently.

The first was something Erwin Nadler, a salesman at Appliance Land on Rockville Pike, mentioned last weekend when my family was inking the deal on a shiny new refrigerator and dryer.

I'm not sure how the subject came up, but -- surrounded by a herd of durable goods from the likes of GE, Whirlpool and Frigidaire -- Erwin said the knobs on ranges, washers and dryers have a habit of going missing from appliance stores. People steal them to replace their own missing knobs.

"People don't want to spend two, three dollars -- maybe 50 cents -- when they think they can get it for free and walk off with it," Erwin said. Most of the time the purloined knobs probably don't even fit their machines, he said.

That just strikes me as pathetic.

Also pathetic was an item in the Loudoun County police blotter. A customer walked out of the Eclips Salon Day Spa in Ashburn last Saturday without paying for her beautification.

The fiftyish woman had "a little bit of everything," Eclips's Kelly Fish told me. "A facial, some hair services, nails . . . some waxing services."

Thus primped, she waltzed out the door without paying her $321 bill. It later turned out that the address and phone number she had provided when she made the appointment were fictitious.

I wondered: If or when she's caught, will she have to give back her beauty? Cuticles roughed up, roots revealed, hair put back to the spots from which it was ripped?

And are we rapidly approaching the point at which spa owners will need to put up those posters they have at gas stations on the interstate, warning people that it's a crime to drive away, freshly waxed, without paying?

Walk on By

Police blotters such as the one Kraig Troxell of the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office sends me employ a unique style of language. Our larcenous spa lady, for example, is called an "unknown female."

Crime reports from all area jurisdictions are collected and printed in tiny type in the local Extras that The Post publishes.

I found myself in the D.C. Extra one Thursday a few years back, after I was mugged not far from The Post. In my tiny listing, I was referred to as "male pedestrian."

I think of myself as many things -- husband, father, beer drinker, connoisseur of lightweight '70s pop music -- but until that day, I never had occasion to think of myself as a "male pedestrian."

It sounded like something you would see about four-fifths of the way through the credits of a bad movie, sandwiched between "Frat Boy #6" and "Annoying Sax Player."

Mr. Bow, Jangled

So you're wondering, perhaps, exactly how I was mugged. Well, I'll tell you.

I had been working late and had left The Post about 10:30 to walk up L Street NW to the Metro. The street was pretty deserted, except for a guy sitting on a curb on a stretch of L Street under a burned-out street lamp. As I walked past, this guy hopped up and lunged at me. He grabbed me by my shirt and arm and started dragging me -- wordlessly -- into an alley.

I struggled, then pulled my wallet out and threw it on the ground. He let go of me, scooped up the wallet and took off. Cursing my lack of superpowers -- enormous strength, laser-beam eyes, overpoweringly bad breath, anything -- I watched him run away down 16th Street.

When I later told the cops this story -- after tucking in my torn shirt and returning to The Post -- I fancied that they gave me a sort-of-disappointed look.

"So he didn't ask for your wallet?" one of them asked. "You gave it to him?"

While that was technically correct, I felt that they somehow were missing the point. My sense was that they were wondering whether a crime had in fact been committed.

To this day, I blame the fact that I was wearing a bow tie. And not just any bow tie. It was a particularly floppy bow tie. I think the message I was sending was, "Mug this wimp."

A Hot Time in the Old Town

Then there are people who don't take things, but leave them. On July 20, police officer Richard Harrell was on "routine patrol" (it's always "routine patrol," isn't it?) in Old Town Alexandria when he noticed that there was more than water spurting from the Market Square fountain. Part of the fountain appeared to be on fire.

Upon closer inspection, Officer Harrell discovered that the flames were coming from a toilet that had been filled with a flammable liquid and lighted. Firefighters put out the fire, and city employees removed the offending commode.

The fountain is pretty much off-limits to everything: kids, dogs, skateboarders. That doesn't stop people from frolicking in it, or stocking it with filched concrete garden statues or pouring in dishwashing detergent to create suds, all of which have happened, according to police spokeswoman Amy Bertsch.

This was the first time, though, that anyone could remember a flaming toilet being left, um, behind.

What else do people steal, and why? Reach me at or The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071. And steal some time out of your day and join me today at 1 p.m. for my weekly online chat. Go to