[A paean to Marty Barrett’s Asshole Stole My Bike.]
Getting the mail last week I chanced to look down and see the theft. Recognizing it took almost a full minute. What is wrong with this picture? The gravel is stacked too high and should not be visible, covered as it is by bark. Isn’t there more moss? What has happened here? I realize bricks are gone. I am not an expert in bricks, but it is not my experience that they sublimate into a gaseous form or enter the spirit realm, their secrets intact. There is only one conclusion: someone boosted my bricks.
I am not angry, but flummoxed. Why would anybody steal bricks? You can’t make a treehouse out of them, put them in a gas tank, smoke or drink them. They are the ding an sich of the unstolen. It’s bizarre.
It’s not a major loss. The bricks were offered by a friend, who got them free from a demolition site, and after using them as patio pavers has a big cube of them left over. A bright fall day three years ago, I stacked a small pile of them in my car, the moss cool, the spiders letting them go without a fight. My plan is to make a sort of vertical French drain to make up for an unaccountable gap the builder left in a foundation wall. Jammed in the gap, they keep junk from running down the driveway when it rains. The only thing I paid for were two torn, half-price bags of gravel. It’s no feat–gravity does all the engineering–but moss grows on them and it looks okay. It makes me feel competent that something so cheap can work.
But, still. Four or so bricks stolen out of a wall? Could the thief not be bothered with a crime worth committing?
Kids. I think this like the jowly old man who will suffer any injury to defend his emerald lawn. Damn kids.
Like some life-size spooky interaction at a distance, I have had some arm’s-length run-ins with kids. There is a high school one block up, at the top of the hill, and we all know what nascent dangers brood there: punchies and swirlies, or nowadays, hate texts and black market Adderall.
One morning I found my side gate’s latch torn off, and a backpack stuffed inside. It was pink and small, Dora’s saucer-eyed visage smiling out at me. I realized kids had jumped a girl–a young girl. For several minutes I was enraged. I wish I had been there, with a gun. I imagine the kind of girl that would wear a small Dora backpack, how the asshole boys would have surrounded and pushed her, and at the height of the hitting, called her the worst things they knew. But the backpack is empty: there is nothing to trace, no one to call. I straightened the backpack and buckled it to the mailbox, giving it some dignity. Later it was gone. I repaired the latch and keep it padlocked now.
New Year’s 2014 had me outside at 2 a.m. I forget why. The gate’s latch was again torn off between sometime around 12:30, when I got home, and now. My trash bins are disturbed, and the ground is ravaged with wild kicks and drags. My neighborhood has a lot of Asians, and New Year’s and Fourth of July can pass as re-enactments of the Tet Offensive. I surmise some kids tracked a rocket behind my fence, were terrified of fire, and wrenched the gate open to make sure nothing was alight. This is noble, and I’m grateful. The latch pieces are even collected and placed on top of the nearby mailbox. The next day I consider using stronger screws, but then, it wouldn’t be so easy to keep my building from burning down. I use the same ones.
If adolescence is a continuum, these events mark the far end, and somewhere our side of halfway. Among all the stupidity I remember, there were a few truly depraved young people: the animal-torturing kind, the ones with wild eyes who liked knives and guns, the raw ones who just liked to hit. Some of these went after Dora, I think, and they go to school just up the hill. The ones that checked for fire are what I like to hope are the majority: just having fun, some a little dumber than others, but realizing a house catching fire is worth some risk to prevent. Good kids, I can hear my parents and their co-parents echo twenty-five years ago, with approving nods. Sometimes I wonder. But they’re good kids.
Dumb, to be sure. I see them walk past, heading down to the bus when school lets out, shuffling and lugging packs, laughing in groups or alone and grim-faced in the afternoon sun. Did one of you steal my bricks? I just want to know why, really.
And why is that?
When I was in high school, I had a loose friendship with a kleptomaniac. We wrote surreal poems in homeroom:
I was dead in a bed
With a hole in my head
When I perceived a liquid that appeared to be red.
“It’s only blood,” the doctor said,
But I didn’t care.
I was already dead.
He giggled frequently, was extremely intelligent, affable and failing everything. All he cared about was pushing the klepto boundary. I asked him about it: aren’t you afraid of getting caught? He giggled. Yes. That’s why I do it. It’s the challenge. It’s beating something that’s not up to me.
I never accompanied him, but he would return after weekends with handfuls of cassettes looted from music stores, or electronic pieces from Radio Shack. No liquids. Nothing that smells. Gotta be small and quiet. The audiocassette was perfect for him. He did not take requests, but was thoughtful and would bear his friends’ preferences in mind. I never saw it, but others described a dresser drawer in his bedroom filled with tapes, all still in plastic wrap.
I don’t know if he was ever caught, or graduated. Like whining and fart jokes, I am hopeful his klepto days were something he outgrew. He may not even remember them. I do, quietly, to myself.
He would not steal bricks. Why bother? That won’t impress anyone, not even the thief. But I imagine kids that would steal bricks, laughing as they struggled not to laugh, dumping them off a few blocks away after the minor thrill of doing something stupid has worn off. I haven’t seen my bricks anywhere, but I haven’t seen any broken windows or smashed windshields either. The kids that stole my bricks–if they were kids–were assholes in that moment, but not star assholes. They will outgrow it, probably.
The story behind the Dora backpack lingers. That was not the work of assholes, but sickness. I would rather they had taken all my bricks and smashed anything, but left Dora alone, and let her be a little girl.