Let me begin this tale of urban crime with a small piece of family lore. My father was a man so intent on believing in an honest world that he wouldn't, on principle, lock the car. I don't mean the doors to the car. I mean the ignition.
For this particular principle he was well rewarded, or should I say targeted. During one brief period in the early '60s, our car was driven off no less than three times.
I, however, have always considered myself relatively (to him) street-smart, somewhere between savvy and paranoid. Nevertheless, last week I got ripped off and it was, everyone seems to agree, my own fault.
Where did I go wrong? you ask. I blush to confess this, but I was foolish enough to actually be the owner of an automobile radio with tape deck.
But first, the story. We had not one but two visitations from our local tape- deck removal service. On Saturday night, he smashed the vent window and took nothing. On Monday night, returning to the scene of the crime with better tools, he wrenched off a chunk of dashboard and made off with the audio system.
According to experts in criminal time-study management, this probably took no more than 46 to 53 seconds. The hit-and-run music lover did not even deign to pick up the 75 cents I left in the little toll box or the yellow sweater in the back seat. He was, clearly, a specialist.
In any case, I awoke Tuesday morning to find a deep dark cavity decorated with dangling wires in the very spot where Mozart once reigned. How did people respond to this pathetic turn of events in my life? The repairman who heard it replied that, "Well, sure, right, they take tape decks."
The first friend I encountered simply shook his head: "You mean, you actually had a tape deck? In the city? A German tape deck?" He then laughed. At me.
The second friend went through a brief utterly matter-of-fact personal history that included the removal of four tape decks, one of them in broad daylight in a restaurant parking lot. He showed me his Sony Walkman.
Even my husband seemed less upset with the intent of thievery than the technique. He would have accepted a neater piece of work with equanimity. He was angry that the crook had no social conscience. Sure he took the deck; that was understandable. But couldn't he have left the dashboard? Wouldn't a decent crook clean up after himself? (With a dustpan, perhaps?)
By the very end of the day, I have been convinced by an entirely unsympathetic group of listeners that anyone who owns one of these things has to expect robbery. Indeed, one colleague suggested that having a tape deck in a car was in and of itself a form of entrapment.
I, a tape victim, had been asking for it.
Not that these people weren't kind and helpful. In the 48 hours since my experience in the most mundane of crimes, I have received assorted strategies on how to cope.
First, there is the Unilateral Disarmament Strategy. You will never have a car stripped down by others, I have been informed, if you do it yourself. This suggestion came from a man who traded in his 1980 BMW with everything for a 1974 Ford Mustang with rust.
A more pitiful version of this strategy, The Pacifist Plea, was suggested by a sign on a battered Toyota window in the city. This owner, throwing himself on the mercy of the criminal world, wrote: "This car has no stereo, no tape, no money. There is nothing in the glove compartment. Please don't break the window. The door is unlocked."
On the other hand, there is the Escalation Strategy, a bigger-and-better defense for every criminal offense. The current recommendation from the protectors is a $550 alarm system, the MX of burglar alarms, that would at worst puncture the eardrums and at best puncture the motivation of the thief.
With all this advice, I now sit faced with two alternatives. I can chuck the music and the illusion that someday I will spend my commuting hours learning French. Or I can spend $550 for the protection of my right to hear a $5.95 tape.
Of course, I have another thought, that I don't even say out loud: maybe the thief will be caught and the audio system returned. I guess that's the sort of fantasy you'd expect from someone who'd put a tape deck in a city car.