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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Julie's Stolen Laptop

Talk about lousy things happening to lovely people: My heart just plummeted to read Julie's story of *both* their laptops being nicked in the land of the Mounties.

And what guts to sit down and write it out with such soul-baring honesty.

Being thieved is such a personal tragedy and affront and no-one can else feel it or offer real sympathy.

Through carelessness or plain lack of forethought, I've been stolen from many times and I've never learnt from it. Certainly, I've never learnt from any of the sympathy I've been doled, usually lightly veiled "told-you-so" homilies that are excuses for the sympathizer to dive into sob stories of their own, the last thing I care about or want to hear.

Mrs Leung has that knack of opening a vein and putting things out there that make me clutch my own emotions and wonder how on earth *I* would phrase such a cri-de-coeur.

Well, I'd rant and rave and eff and blind and bring down curses on the wretches.

It's the feeling of violation that makes one want to take pliers and blow torch to the villains' private parts. And the sheer helplessness.

I think Julie is right to write it out and I hope she's getting support and listening ears because I think one needs to vent rather than internalise.

I've been burgled many times, always as a result of lack of forethought and simply ignoring the signs. Only twice have I had any satisfaction, which I list at the end to prevent this being the sort of indulgent, useless post I mentioned above.

JL's plight resonated with me because I'm soon to return to a London that is much more dangerous and crime-ridden than the city I left 20 years ago.

I keep telling my mother to take care when she returns from Greece to her posh Sloane Street rez, and about which I am already having nightmares of being mugged just as I shove the key in the lock and being forced upstairs at knife-point where they'll ransack the place and ... who knows how they'll button my lip?

Paranoia be my guide.

I've never had anything nicked that contained months of work or vital data but J's post set me thinking and I can't conceive how I'd set about rectifying it all.

I've filed Julie's tale for future reference and comfort because even in the midst of despair and rage and all those unidentifiable emotions, she looks to the good stuff such as Ted's calmness and sympathy, or her own efforts to be strong.

I'd collapse; then I'd make sure I'd not missed any further wallow-able nooks and emotional crannies. Then I'd fantasise about buying the gun and taking them out. Then I'd wallow a bit more and plumb further negative depths ... then I'd do it all over again through the lens of a bottle of rotgut whiskey, no doubt with phone in hand to ensure that all my pals had their ears thoroughly bent in the bargain.

I'm dumping all my self-help cognitive psycho babble tomes and sticking to the far more practical and muscular Seedling of hope and goodness.

Revenge: I can scoff it hot or cold.

Back in 1969 when I had my first bedsitter off Baker Street (I know, too corny: Holmes? Baker Street?) I had a guitar and vinyl LPs nicked by my Aussie neighbors he day before they moved out.

My fault in not realizing that the cleaning lady first unlocked *all* the apartment doors and *then*started her dusting and hoovering.

Much whining to the local Fuzz who were totally unsympathetic.

Then one day I noticed that they were still receiving mail, which used to be laid out on the hall table, an unspeakable lack of security that would never pass muster these days.

I removed each one, opened and read them and soon enough arrived a letter from a pal which identified which part of the land of my birth the thieves came from.

I'd already been in touch with my Oz cousins, cursing that side of the family and receiving nothing but mockery back. With the letter, I got some action, big-boned Bruce writing back to say that he was on the case and to send him all data I could supply.

I forwarded everything, from personal mail to bank statements and soon enough I heard from the thuggish Bruce that he'd set the trap:

"G'day, Sandie - you don't know me but I'm a mucker of Terry's from the Old Country and I'd really like to touch base with that bastard and sink a few jars with him - maybe strum a bit of the old guitar, know what I mean?"

"No worries, Bruce - hey, I don't have Terr's new address but if you look in on the Mackenzie pub any Friday, reckon he's there strumming."

"You're a love! Ta, darling! Tell him I said hi."

Armed with a photo of me and my precious Tatay, and in company with assorted fellow thugs who'd *pay* for the slightest legit chance to get in a punch-up, Bruce looked in on the Mackenzie and sure enough there was chummie wielding my axe.

According to Bruce, it was a cinch:

"Bloody oath, mate, just sorry you weren't there. Even before I confronted the bastard, he'd made some remark to Big Tony that didn't go down too well so it was hammer and tongs.

Afraid the old guitar didn't come out of it too well - Lani used it to smack some geezer who'd grabbed a chair, but there's a cheque on the way and a cutting from the Herald about how their pad was crammed with stuff they'd made off with on their travels.

Tony says thanks a ton for cueing him in. Any more tip-offs? He's on a roll!"

Mr Alex Baggio, of Pittsburgh, PAFairfax Road: My next satisfaction happened at my next apartment, a plush 3rd-floor flat off Swiss Cottage that I was hosting a pal I'd met in Corfu, gentle giant Alex from Pittsburgh.

We'd gone out for our usual Saturday pints at the local Britannia Arms when Al remembered he'd forgotten the chord chart we were going to talk over.

We both went back and as we started up the stairs met a pasty-faced cove coming down, Al's guitar case in one hand and a bag of stuff in the other.

I made to say something pathetic but Al gripped my elbow and stood aside for the guy to come down. As he got level, Al grabbed the guitar with one hand - "I'll take that" - and whacked him across the face with the other.

I'm not a fighting guy, so I have quaint ideas of fisticuffs, such as one builds up the violence. Al just hit him *hard* and when he hit the marbled floor whammed the heel of his boot into his knee cap.

"We need to talk," he started to say, but just then a *second* creep descended and stopped at the landing, looking a bit shaken at the sight of his pal writhing and screaming.

There was no way past us except down the final flight of stairs, so the bloke put down my stereo and best suit (still on its hanger) and took out a switch-blade knife which he flicked open and stood there waving it.

I remember saying "Jesus, Al!", but all he said was a rumbling "Sweet" at the same time unhooking his heavy leather belt from his jeans and wrapping it loosely round his right knuckles.

Thief #2: "I'll f***ing cut you, man".

Al started up the stairs, his belt looking dangerously loose for a make-shift knuckle-duster as knifey waved the blade in pseudo-fighter fashion.

Instead of using it to punch, Al let it unravel in one smooth motion and, holding the tip, whipped the heavy buckle across the guy's face, shouting "ASS-hole!".

Almost simultaneously, he grabbed the outstretched wrist, knife no longer pointed with any vigor, and simply heaved him over the banister for the 10-foot drop to the hard floor below, vaulting it to land next to the prone thief and kicking his head down onto the marble. Which he did again. And again, with appalling violence.

Blood seemed to spatter everywhere.

Thief #1 was trying to sit up and Al turned and asked "You want summa that? Yeh, right." Shake of dazed head.

"Get my belt." Which I did and he heaved the two bodies together, wrapped it round their necks and cinched it tight til their eyeballs were bulging.

"You choking?" Nods. Wink at me, "That means you muthas still breathing - another notch, I reckon."

Frantic red-faced waving.

"Gimme the suit. No, gimme the hanger."

It was one of those wire dry-cleaner numbers. He took it, expanded it to fit round their heads and then told them to hold real still as he directed the hook up towards an eye of #1.

"Buddy boy," he said to the other, "keep still or you'll take your mate's eye out."

Trussed, bleeding, choking, with the wicked curve of the hanger inches from an eye, they lay moaning but very still.

The lady from Apartment 1 had come out and Al asked her very politely to call the police.

Looked at me: "Not that you were thinking of, but don't touch the blade. The cops will check for prints."

The whole thing had taken - what? - 20 seconds?

More interesting was how Al seemed to shrink in stature and verbal confidence as we gave our statements and I could see the fuzz's slight puzzlement at the sheer damage wreaked.

It was messy and we were interrogated as if *we* were the culprits. Luckily, in my state of shock, I supported Al's hesitant description of how he got lucky in his panic, lashing out with his belt and scoring a lucky hit, losing his balance and accidentally treading on a body part; panicking and using whatever he had to "secure their passivity until your law enforcers arrived."

When all was said and done, and we'd mopped the claret off the floor, we went next door and bought a bottle of Lagavulin and knocked back a few.

"I mean, f*** 'em, dude," said Al as I sat there shaking and shivering. "That asshole coming down the stairs with my guitar - I almost lost it."

Over dinner at Peter's that night he laughed:

"Ya know, that was like a normal Saturday night back home.

Jesus, Chris, you know what almost threw me? It was their not doing a single thing right.

Don't you guys know how to fight  round here?"

Fairfax Road: Ha! Just the kind of victory a young man dreams of! LOL...uh, or should I be appalled?
I think "appalled" is the correct reaction. I was considerably shaken, and so - I do believe - were the local rozzers. I don't think the borough of Finchley & West Hampstead's constabulary were quite used to dealing with the likes of Master Baggio. In those distant balmy days, the mean streets of nor' west Londonium leaned slightly more towards the mayhem reported in our Bainbridge Blotter than bucolic lanes of Pittsburgh. I also think they were puzzled by the contrast between the damage done to the thieves and Al's apologetic bumbling about how, in his panic and confusion, he kept bumping and tripping over the pair.

Thanks for comment, sir. And hey -that Arafat poem was strong meat. Hat off to you.
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