Sunday, January 20, 2013

While I was visiting the stinking corpse lily ...

We were burgled over Christmas. They got my computer, an old iMac. Of all the things in the house this was the most valuable to me. I’d backed up most of the important documents, such as a couple of manuscripts for novels (both in first or second draft – a long way off my daring to submit to publishers). Friends helped me out, producing some soft copies of my work that I had sent them for one reason or another. There were a few photos I would have preferred not to lose. The burglary was committed so quickly, while we were away looking at the giant stinking corpse lily (see above, and she really doesn't smell that bad)at the Botanical Gardens. I was sure the burglar must have been close by, so I started roaming the backstreets of St Kilda, looking for suspicious people. The trouble is, everyone in St Kilda looks suspicious, so I decided to narrow it down to suspicious people carrying or stashing my computer. As I walked through likely thief haunts (I didn’t even discount the children’s adventure playground) I had my hand wrapped around a roll of twenties. All I wanted to do was buy the computer back from the thief. The stuff on the hard drive was priceless to me, but absolutely worthless to anyone else.

It seems the most miserable act of theft is stealing someone’s computer. When the extremely funny comic author David Sedaris was in Melbourne last year, he spoke about a writer’s feeling of despair after having a computer stolen, finishing his speech with a casual, ‘I would never steal anyone’s computer,’ as if he would be prepared to commit other acts of theft but not that one.

The brilliant David Sedaris, who would apparently never steal a computer.

We’re still a bit crim-shy. Every time we return from shopping or visiting giant stinking Sumatran flowers or whatever, we park the car in the driveway and look at that place; the supposedly impenetrable door where the thief/ves managed to get in. It’s not a nice feeling and I figure we’ll probably have it for some time to come. What amazes me is how quickly I ran into the house when I realised we had been burgled, not bothering to worry about if the burglar might still be there, or how he could possibly be intimidated by a tall skinny guy with a speech impediment and a limp, the legacy of the great stroke of 2011. What would I defend myself with? A logie? (They left that, so they obviously have some taste.)

Yesterday morning we did the rounds of all the pawnbrokers on a list provided by St Kilda police. They’re very careful about this list. It is not intended to be incriminating. No one is implying that cash Converters is little more than a fence for stolen goods. Actually, I take that back. I am implying that half the stuff at Cash Converters seems nicked. I had a chat with a staffer at the Chapel Street store, who told me what precautions were in place so that they would never fence stolen goods. None of these precautions seemed terribly reassuring. The staffer pointed to all the security cameras, which I suspect were more about stopping shoplifters from nicking the booty from their shelves, than identifying dodgy sellers. Apparently, the sellers always have to provide photo ID, and we all know how difficult that is. When I was a student at the Victorian College of Arts, and our student cards were issued, my friend Chrissy Best managed to organise a student card for her dog as well. She also got an extra one for herself wearing clown makeup, just in case she happened to be a clown when she was required to produce photo identification. I have it on good authority that the student security I.D. process is now a little tighter at VCA, now part of the Univerity of Melbourne, which is why I now get the Melbourne University magazine. They can keep sending it, it makes me feel smarter.

Pawnbroking is a strange business. The big Cash Converters shops look like supermarkets, only with less stuff you’d even consider buying. Then there are the smaller places, like the pawn shop behind the big car rental place across from the National Theatre in St Kilda. Large-scale car renting and pawn broking seems a strange mix. The place was deserted when I dropped in on Sunday morning and found myself in an office that really looked like the ABC set decoration department had gone a little overboard in their efforts at authenticity. There was stuff everywhere, including many sets of things, such as albums of swapcards, and Elvis figurines – stuff that might have been of huge value to some people, but surely worthless in the modern marketplace. I mean no disrespect to the ABC’s art department, but I always thought that Diver Dan’s shed on Seachange had just a bit too much stuff in it. (There was a very good reason for this. The shed wasn’t actually a set. It was an old storage bay at the back of the ABC building on Horne Street. This was a particularly ingenious idea, and I take my hat off to the art department, for coming up with such a cheap and accessible set.)

Perhaps there's a huge market for Elvis figurines and I'm wrong to turn up my nose at them?

We were insured so I’m now working on a new computer that I don’t particularly like, which is why it has taken me so long to post. Burgling must be a tough job nowadays. Tellies are the size of fridges and dirt cheap at JB Hifi, which is probably a little more reputable than Cash Converters. Electrical goods are dirt cheap, thanks to the globalisation that enables us to exploit countries like China and South Korea. Perhaps this lack of your average houserholder's stash of readily transportable and desirable items, has led to a poorer sort of burglar. There was an ad on afternoon TV recently. It was for a pawnbroker specialising in gold. The ad's presenter looked at us earnestly and said: 'Short of cash? There may be valuable items in your home that you can sell to us. Gold jewellery or ornaments can be very valuable and you'll probably be quite happy with the price we'll offer. I think when it's got to the stage that people need to be told that gold is actually a valuable commodity ('You'd be surprised!') then there is something seriously wrong with society. And can you really picture a person in great financial need being surrounded by gold objects? 'If only I'd known.'

We were actually lucky. The burglars didn’t do any damage to the fortress in which we live. THere was a burglarey around the corner where the thieves thought it might be a good idea to start a fire. They starte it in the bedroom of one of the teen kids. This seems to me to make the crime more despiccable. When you're a teen, stuff matters. I don't know if the burglars were trying to make some point, or they were just complete bastards.

I’ll never look at a giant stinking corpse lily again without a sense of being robbed.


No comments: