The week after New Year's my house was burgled. I came home, saw the damage, called 911 and some blond thirty-year-old uniformed cop came by. His boots were muddy and his cheeks were flushed. He walked around with his chest puffed out, leaving dirty wet footprints on the wood and carpet, then took out a little spiral-bound notebook. "What did they take?" As best as I could tell -- the place was a mess, mattresses and pillows thrown in a heap, drawers opened and contents scattered, the closet emptied -- the only thing they got was a chest of silver flatware. It was old, mostly brought over from Europe by parents and grandparents, and I had no idea of its value. "A box of silverware," I said. Whoever broke in must've been disappointed -- I don't have a TV or stereo, no jewelry or fancy optics. My neighbors, whose cottage was burgled too, lost their big flat screen job and some speakers.
The burglars tried to jimmy the front door, then the sliding glass doors in back, but I've got a deadbolt on the one and keep a rod in the slider's track. You can't get in that way unless you break the glass, something the crooks were unwilling to do. I was glad of that: wintertime is no time to have to repair a glass door. Instead, they -- who knows if there was more than one? -- came through the bathroom after breaking the crappy plastic lock on the little double-hung window there. Why is everything plastic these days?
The cop looked up and asked how much the silver was worth. I said I had no precise idea, but that the lot had to be worth a few hundred dollars, maybe even more. It was solid silver, not silverplate. I said, "It's value is mainly sentimental. They were family heirlooms." He said it was probably druggies from Paterson who did it. "They look for something they can sell or melt down easily. It's probably someone we know." Of course, when he said Paterson, I knew he meant blacks or hispanics had done it. As though there weren't enough white drug addicts within a ten mile radius of Highland Lakes to fill a pool of suspects. If you read the police blotter in the local rag, you realize pretty quickly how deeply drugs have taken hold up here among the young whites -- heroin, methamphetamines, coke, prescription pills. Arrests are routine. But for the cop, the problem was dark-complected outsiders who had to come from Paterson, up Route 23 to the otherwise safe suburbs, and then back again. Bullshit. I found myself silently defending the burglars, who, after all, had only taken the silver and not broken any windows. I gave the cop a couple of clipped answers, then watched him get into his cruiser and read from his notepad into the two-way radio.
Sweet Lou came over to commiserate. He launched into one of his tirades about the way the world was going to hell in a hand-basket. "I heard your house was broken into," he said, "What did the cops say?" I told him the cops said they would get back to me in a few weeks. He looked up with a crooked smile, "Don't hold your breath, John. The cops up here couldn't catch a cold in an epidemic." He told me that he kept a gun in the house, just in case something like this happened to him. He ranted for a couple of minutes then sputtered out. He looked old and spent. This winter has been hard on Sweet Lou, trying to keep the driveway clear of ice, having to rake heavy snow off his roof, needing to stock up on staples before the big storms. "In the old days, kids would come around the neighborhood with shovels looking to make a couple of bucks. Nowadays, they're off doing their own thing. That's why everybody's got a goddamned snow-blower. Otherwise all the guys my age would keel over with heart attacks."
I invited him in for a quick brandy but he demurred. "I'd like to, John. But I've got to drive down to the vets' to pick up Rosie." Rosie is his daughter. She's been working the reception desk at the animal hospital part-time after being laid off by the school district. She had to get rid of her Acura in December and now lets her father drive her to and from work. Last time I saw her, she was still hopeful. She said, "This craziness -- laying off teachers, shutting libraries -- is only temporary. People will see what's happening to their kids and the pendulum will swing back." I said, "I hope you're right." Neither she nor I could say why people were acting so stupidly or how long the cutting madness would continue to grip our so-called leaders. I once asked Quist, which is harder -- interpreting the past or predicting the future? He said, "It's the same damn thing, poot. It's the same damn thing."