The door swung slowly as the Sunset’s usual dusk breeze drafted through my open apartment. Returning home to change the oil on my hair before joining my comrades and associates in the celebration of my boy’s thirtieth, my gut clenched as the morning sped on 8x fast forward through my mind. Did I forget to lock the door? Was someone supposed to be working on the house today? The clench boiled over into nausea as I saw the deadbolt hanging on its lock, screws gripping splintered wood as they sagged loosely in protest. The shoebox inside the door I immediately recognized as the one that had formerly served as the crude file for all my important documents. A few feet from that laid my landlord’s boltcutters.
What is the reason for your call? “Burglary,” I declared to the 911 operator. How long ago did it happen? “I don’t know.”
The police officer – a short, gruff woman who, like me, was somewhere in her late twenties – perked her brow as she approached, casting a skeptical look at my hair. Unsure how to start the conversation, I started timidly, “So, my apartment was robbed,” as I walked towards the crowbarred entry.
“What makes you think that?” she interrogated quickly.
Turning back to her, I did a bit of a double take. “Well, the lock is usually attached to the door when I come home.”
They drew their sidearms and did a leisurely walkthrough of my in-law beach house apartment, occasionally shouting SFPD as they surveyed the damage. They took their time, leaving me to pace anxiously for what seemed like an eternity as the second set of total strangers traipsed through my home that day. After an extensive lecture on the need to leave everything untouched, they let me have a look. Frames and doors alike were shattered with my landlord’s old crowbar, left carelessly like some sick pop culture reference to Clue inside his door.
The inventory of material wealth in order of descending value crystallized instantly in my mind as I walked into my thrashed one-bedroom.
- Guitars? – check
- Photos? – check
- Computer? – check
- Backup drive? – check
- Comic books? – check
- Cash? – check
- Baseball signed by 2007 World Series Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett? – check
- Wii? – gone
- Documents? – gone
Once the initial shock of seeing one’s home unexpectedly decimated passed, the target of the thieves was easily obvious. Drawers with boxes of old checks were left ajar, the contents of their glossy cardboard brand marketing robbed. Shoeboxes with personal correspondence and identity documentation were spilled out on my bed. The past few years of W2s, my Social Security card, and my birth certificate were conspicuously invisible in the careless heap that constituted my federal, state, and municipal life.
The role of the officers shifted from enforcers to archaeologists, insisting every few minutes to refrain from touching anything. They were escorting me in my own home, now the tour guides in the crime scene that was Rob Spectre. I was an inert passenger on a cheap traveling carney horror ride, staring in disbelief as cliche after cliche was presented for my consumption by operators callous after years of pulling the lever marked “Scare.” The same ritual they conducted with my landlord once he arrived, leaving me to sit on my couch in a home I could no longer disturb.
CSI would arrive two hours of exchanging disbelief and half a cigar later. By this time my expectations of any humanity were basement level, sparing me from the disappointment caused by the crime scene investigator failing to be an extraordinarily attractive female pulling up in a sophisticated Cadillac Escalade. Emerging from a filthy and dented Chevrolet Suburban with a doctor’s bag for the crime scene and a expectation management routine, his principal question was “Anything else?”
After dusting the better part of both of our apartments the only print he was able to pull was likely my own, caught off the handle of a Nintendo Nunchuk the thieves had considerately left behind. He did his part to educate, giving us an example of the fruitless pursuit that was his daily toil after a failed attempt on the boltcutters. He left after listening patiently to some obligatory venting from my landlord, expressing his sympathy casually as he left, much like a Burger King shift manager says, “Thank you for your business.”
The incident came at a time of great coincidence. The primary theme of my quiet consideration on the ride home had been identity in California. With the failures personal and professional that plagued my time in this place, the natural conclusion to draw was that the conflict was rudimentary. I’m not one to believe in signs and portents, but the sheer friction that has associated itself with any endeavor large or small is enough to make one a believer in synchronicity. Was the problem greater than a mean streak of bad luck? Was it that who I am caused fundamentally this conflict?
All the Indian customer service representatives I spoke to for the rest of the night marveled at the circumstances that produced my call. Neither they nor the financial institutions they represent had encountered such a situation before. Materially, we got off easy, one could suppose. All that was stolen with a tangible dollar amount was my Wii.
They had broken in for one thing: our identities. They passed the easily pawned instruments of expression and the big ticket consumer electronics, finding more value in the potentially unlimited carnage that will be caused in taking the down payment on the rest of my financial future. Even my small amount of jewelry remained unmolested, the Wii seeming to be a bonus on their objective for the day. For all the violent violation manifested in the overturned speakers and the splintered doors, they weren’t trying to steal my things. They were trying to steal me.
In many ways, they are the first Californians in a long line. From the night I stepped off the plane this place has been trying to take the best out of me. Whether by screams of psychopathic Silicon Valley executives or pleadings of Market Street lifers begging for change, California has tried to take advantage of my charity, extinguish the intensity of my principles, and wither the daily joy of being the man I always wanted to be. Its disingenuous language, its phony ideas, and its bankrupt emotional investments have tried to quiet my rebellious voice and subjugate a spirit that has powered a life like a rocket away from where it began. They’ve tried to take who I am away from me; they’ve tried to make me one of them.
But these fuckers are going to fail. I’m not going to lower my standards one more notch for these people. I’m not going to eat one more shitend of a stick for these people. I’m not going to surrender an inch of myself, an iota of what I believe, or a second of my time for these people anymore. I am stronger and smarter than you, California. I’ve been doing this longer and harder than you, California. And you can break into my house and take my papers or steal into my inbox and jack my ideas or work your weasely way into my heart and piss on the brilliant glow I know lives there and I *will* endure. There is plenty fucking more where all of that came from and you are not so big or numerous enough to get it all.
Fuck *you* California. I’m going home.
Case #080 326 848 – Photos by Daniel Austin