Hot Goods

I had a rough landing in New York City after spending four years in bucolic college settings, and most of my life in suburban Ohio. It was 1973, and my girlfriend and college roommate, borrowed her parents’ car so she could drive me from their house in Ridgewood, New Jersey to Union Theological Seminary on the upper, Upper West Side, 120th and Broadway to be exact. It was quite a surprise the next morning when we returned to the car, which was parked on Claremont Avenue, and found that it would not start. Neither of us knew anything about cars, but on lifting the hood, it was clear that the battery was gone. We called her parents and AAA took care of everything.

A few years later, my last year at Seminary, we had some friends from New Rochelle down to dinner. After goodnight hugs at the door, we finished washing the dishes. They returned within 15 minutes. Their car didn’t start, and on lifting the hood, they saw the battery was gone. Many hours later, they made it back home

In 1981, our friend Sarah was off to law school  at the University of Virginia. We helped her pack up boxes and load the U-Haul on 104th Street. One friend sat on the back of the truck to safeguard Sarah’s possessions. We said our goodbyes and prepared to wave Sarah off, but she could not start the truck. Yes, while our friend sat on the back of the truck, someone had stolen the battery!

When my mother came to visit in 1980, it was a big deal as she stayed in the apartment with us. Even though I had come out to her, my sexuality was “unmentionable” as far as she was concerned and it was the first time she met my girlfriend. We were in cramped quarters, it was a tiny one bedroom.

In retrospect, I guess I didn’t do enough research in selecting our Broadway matinee, The Fifth of July. It shouldn’t have surprised me, that as it was a Lanford Wilson play, the lead character was gay. Leaving the theater in a light rain, mom and I discussed the play but left out any mention of the character’s sexuality. Walking through Times Square, two women stopped us to ask if we knew how to get to Sardi’s. Then one woman grabbed her neck and her right arm seemed to have gone spastic as she appeared to be hitting herself in the back with her umbrella. When she stopped, she turned around, pointed and said “That boy was trying to steal my necklace.” It was the peak of the gold jewelry thefts in the City. Gold had risen to the never before seen price of $760 an ounce. From then on, when I wore jewelry out in public, I hid it under a buttoned jacket or shirt. I turned my rings around on my fingers so I appeared to be only wearing plain bands.

After spending eight years in New England, I moved back to New York. While living in Maine, I had purchased a used SAAB 500S, 10 years old. We filled it with our belongings, drove it down from Portland, and parked on 103rd Street. After unloading the car, we returned to the apartment, and I heard the sound of  breaking glass from the street. I looked out the window, and alarmed, shouted “That’s my car!” By the time I descended the walk-up’s three flights, the thief had scurried off with my radio and left me with a smashed driver’s window. Later I would be thankful that they didn’t steal the car. A neighbor came out and said that it was too bad but that it would not be worth it to file an insurance claim as the result would be higher rates. I took his advice, then wandered over to the Projects on Amsterdam Avenue, Frederick Douglass Houses, to see if anyone was selling the radio on the street. I wanted to buy it back, but had no luck.

A few weeks ago, we went shopping at the REI in Berkeley. There’s an auto shop adjacent that had a HUGE sign that read “Cat Protection.” Whoa, were people now driving around with their cats in the car? I hadn’t seen any cats riding in back seats, heads hanging out the window, tongues waving in the wind, taking after dogs. Who were these people who needed Cat Protectors for their cars? There was no way our cat would tolerate riding around in the car with us, she gets hysterical on the short ride to the vet. Yes, I eventually figured out it was a product car owners could have installed to protect their catalytic converters – thefts have reached epidemic proportions. Last week, Livermore police recovered fifty in one raid, along with over $90,000 in cash, presumably earned from the sale of other stolen converters. I read these devices contain precious metals including platinum, palladium, and rhodium. Silly me, I  thought the main use of platinum was jewelry. Nope, lots of uses.  So, apparently the converters are either melted down to extract the metals or sold, as is, to auto shops for resale. I guess to crooked auto shops. My state, California, is one of the top five states for these thefts. Our house has a garage and as long as we confirm that the door closes all the way, we don’t have to worry much about a missing battery or converter. But one morning, we learned the hard way to verify the door was fully closed after discovering it wide open, the driver’s door ajar, and a wallet missing that contained cash, credit cards, a driver’s license and more.  It’s a pain to be a crime victim. At least theft was the only crime in these encounters.

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