Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Final Straw

It wasn't the night last spring that someone came to our door at midnight. We were both sleeping, and Chloe's furious barking woke us up. Muzzy-headed, I staggered into the living room and peered out the front window. A shadowy figure stood hunched up against our front door. "There's someone out front!" I hissed. Mr. Thel and I crossed paths as I retreated back into the living room, and he ominously strode to the front door. He opened the door about five inches, blocking the opening with his body. In a low voice that would've made the devil himself take a step back, Mr. Thel asked, "What seems to be the problem?"

The bulky stranger was nearly to the road by now, but he turned to say that he needed his car jump-started. In the same quiet tone, Mr. Thel calmly explained that it was midnight, that we were sleeping, and that he wouldn't be able to help just then. Then he gently but firmly closed and locked the door. (He then told me that he'd helped someone at the (alleged) crack house who needed a jump earlier that same day; he says this wasn't the same guy, but that he did watch this fellow walk back to the (alleged) crack house after we turned him down.)

But that wasn't the last straw.

It wasn't even the late summer night when we discovered them stealing our water.* Mr. Thel was at band practice that Sunday night. I was reading in the living room when I heard a weird rushing sound. I dismissed it and kept reading; a few minutes later Chloe sounded the alert, and at first I irritatedly shushed her for barking at nothing. Then I heard the quiet male voices just outside. A peek through the bedroom blinds revealed two figures huddled in our side yard, right up next to our bedroom window.

I will freely confess to you that I am, by nature, a timid person. Two men skulking in my yard after 9 pm? The phone was smoking from the speed with which I dialed 911. I kept an eye on them while I talked to the dispatcher, who took me very seriously and had a patrol car at our house within five minutes. But by then, I had watched the two stagger away carrying between them an obviously very heavy laundry bucket sort of container. When the police came, two excruciatingly polite and adorable fresh-faced young officers** had me show them where I'd seen the trespassers. The yard there squelched wetly, though we hadn't had rain for days. One cop ranged out to the street and remarked, "Well, there's a trail of water down the street here."

They strolled off following the wet trail. I watched it lead them unerringly to the (alleged) crack house. Quiet voices, no loud confrontations; soon the police trudged back. One of them told me, "We got up there and asked them about it, and they were like...'Water? Oh, yeah, we do have a bucket of water back here, but that's our own, we didn't take it from anyone.' I was like, 'Dude, we just followed the trail straight here.' We told them they can't be trespassing like that, and they said they were real sorry..." He shrugged. "You got the best alarm system around, though, with that puppy in there," he nodded approvingly.

The next day one of the residents of the (alleged) crack house came by to apologize directly. "Our water's been shut off, and I told them when I left for work that day that I just wanted the toilets flushed by the time I got home. But my God, I sure didn't tell them to go take water from our neighbors." She seemed genuinely angry with the men in her house--relatives or friends, who she said came to stay through a rough patch and hadn't yet hauled themselves out of the roughness yet--and embarrassed about the situation. And yet her best defense was that she had told them to take the water from the other blue house on the street, the one that didn't have anyonen living there. And the neighbors next to us say they had the same water-thieving situation a few nights later. (Mr. Thel cleverly shut off the valve to the outside spigots at that point. I wish I could say we've been merely happy, instead of retroactively disgruntled, by how much lower our water bill has been since then.)

But that wasn't the last straw, either.

It wasn't the constant foot traffic in and out of that house. It wasn't the steady stream of cars that pull up to that house for a minute, wait while someone runs out to them, conduct a brief exchange, and drive away. It wasn't hearing the neighbors' story of seeing one of the residents at the (alleged) crack house get beaten by several other men in the front yard, one of whom (allegedly!) kept yelling out, "Where's my money, man? Where's my money? Get me my money, man!" between punches. It wasn't hearing the neighbors tell us that the victim broke away and ran off to hide in our dark back yard from his assailants.

No, those things piled up, and we said to ourselves, "We need to start documenting this." We got used to rolling our eyes about the (alleged) crack house, and telling ourselves we should figure out where to report this kind of thing.

But a final straw has been detected. A five-gallon bucket, last seen tucked against the corner of our house, has disappeared. Water is one thing; water, after all, is life. Skulking around to steal it is Not Okay, but it's understandable. But setting foot all over our land and taking actual stuff? Even our cheap plastic car-wash bucket? Oh HELL no, y'all.

And that, my friends, was the final straw.

For your reference, the number to call is one of these:

Narcotics Section (206)684-5797 (8:00 am - 4:00 pm)
Non-emergency 9-1-1 (206)625-5011
Community Police Team:
North Precinct (206)684-0851
South Precinct (206)386-9180
East Precinct (206)684-4370
West Precinct (206)684-8996

More info here. The person you speak to will be interested and polite, if my experience is any guide. And it won't be an instantaneous process. I'll keep you posted.

*That was the same night that Chloe locked me out of the house. While I was out talking to the unbearably cute policemen, she was still amped up over all the agitation and excitement. She jumped up against the door several times. She knows the general principle of a doorknob, being foiled in attempts to operate them only by her lack of opposable thumbs. Failing to open the door, she managed instead to lock the deadbolt securely. Naturally my keys were still in the house. Fortunately Mr. Thel arrived mere minutes after I convinced the cops it would be okay to leave me there for the few minutes it would take him to get home.

**I know I sound like such a crone. But it's all true.