Thursday, September 10, 2009

An Unexpected Phone Call

On Friday afternoon, I was feeling quite happy to finish work early. With a 40% off coupon in my hand, I was blissfully browsing Borders, looking for an interesting new book to buy. While looking at various books in the psychology section, my phone rang. The number was one that I did not recognize, and, drawn by curiosity, I answered it.

The voice on the other end asked, "Is this Silas?"
I said, "Yes."
He continued, "Do you live in apartment 151 at Summerwood?"
Again, I said, "Yes. What is this about?"
With a flat tone he said, "Your apartment has been broken into. How soon can you get here?"
Slightly taken aback by what he had just said, I replied that I would be there in about a half an hour.

Part of me still wanted to find a fantastic book to buy, but the urgency of the situation forced me to hurry home. I quickly called my roommate, Dominic, and then high-tailed it home. While driving home I was trying to determine what sort of emotional stance I should adopt. Part of me felt angry and violated. How could people just break into my apartment! It seemed so wrong, so foreign to my nature. Part of me was frustrated that I hadn't brought my laptop with me to work. Part of me thought, "It's just stuff, I should just adopt a stoical attitude to it all." But, being divided is always the worst mental stance, so I decided to focus on the injustice of the situation and fully embrace my rightful anger.

Upon arriving at my apartment, I saw that our door had been smashed in, and splinters of wood were strewn all over the ground and carpet. The wall had a gaping hole in it, where the doorknob had smashed it. Dom had arrived a bit before me and assessed our losses. The thieves stole all three of our laptops, the PS2, our Guitar Hero controllers, Dom's iPod and dock, and my collection of DS video games. I felt really angry and pissed off at the damn thieves!

Then I saw something that made me laugh. On the mini-dresser next to my bed, I always put my spare coins. I rarely ever use pennies, nickels or dimes, and so there were a ton of random coins heaped up on the dresser. While the theives were mostly stealing valuable consumer electronics, worth hundreds of dollars, for some reason one of them decided he wanted my coins. I can imagine the dialog must have gone something like this:

Thief 1: Sweet! Here's another laptop. We are scoring big time on this place!
Thief 2: Hey, look over there. There's a bunch of coins. We've hit the jackpot!
Thief 1: Coins? Really?
Thief 2: Yeah, man. Maybe we can hit up a vending machine and get some candy bars once we're done here.
Thief 1: Dang straight! Grab them all!

Apparently they are as thorough as they are brilliant... there were quite a few nickels, dimes and pennies sprinkled on the floor of my room. The Summerwood maintenance fellow, Cliff, showed up and hung out with us while we waited for the police to arrive. Apparently, two other apartments had been robbed around the same time. For insurance purposes, I took pictures of the door, to prove forcible entry. For the most part, the excitement of the moment had past and now the inconvenience of the situation entered play. Talking to the police, filing a report, calling my insurance company and beginning the processing of planning to replace needed items aren't especially exciting.

However, the philosophical impacts of the theft have been enlightening. The odd thing about negative and traumatic events is that they always force you to reconsider your perspective on life, at least in some small degree. Stepping outside myself to consider my own thoughts and reactions to everything yielded some interesting observations:

First of all, I realized that I felt a lot more upset that people broke into my apartment than that they stole things. To me, the injustice of the thieves’ actions bothered me far more than any loss that I suffered. The fact that they violated my abode is absolutely unconscionable! They deserve a harsh thrashing!

Secondly, my emotional reaction showed me that my life focus is not primarily materialistic and possessions-oriented. My mindset towards possessions is that they are both highly fungible and highly ephemeral. Nothing lasts, and nothing that I have is ever truly secure. Additionally, all of it is easily replaceable.

Third, to some degree, the robbery reminded me that any item is only as valuable as it is functional. If I am using a $1,000 laptop to do things that only require a $300 one, then I would be better off having a cheaper laptop and a little more cash. A corollary to that principle is that anything I don't actively use has a practical value of $0, rendering my ownership of it completely immaterial.

Fourth, from a social perspective, it is more valuable to have an interesting story and a new connection point than it is to have a few little electronic trinkets.

All things considered, I think the whole robbery might have been a win-win scenario. The thieves gained some proceeds from their ill-gotten gains. I have a new story to tell, some fresh observations about life and I'll be getting a little money from my insurance company. However, most importantly I have learned the following theft-prevention technique. Scattering enough loose change around your apartment will distract thieves so much that they will forget to steal anything of value. The more dimes, nickels and pennies you have strewn across your shelves, counters, tables and floors, the better!

No comments:

Post a Comment