A few years ago, my husband’s yellow Nissan truck disappeared from in front of our Columbia City home. When we reported it the police told us that this particular brand of truck, frequently accessible via old Nissan keys and easily tricked out, was common thug bait—even when yellow. “Look around for it,” the officer suggested. “Sometimes they don’t go far.” Yeah right, I told my husband. How stupid could this thief be?
Seriously damn stupid, as luck would have it. About three days after it went missing we were sitting on the floor of our neighbors’ living room, sharing Chinese out of boxes, when one of them looked out the window and shrieked, “Your truck just drove by!” Without thinking I tore outside and ran after it, rashly ignoring my husband’s reasonable inquiries about how long I thought I might keep up on foot or what I planned to do if they parked. Which after about 500 yards—they did. In front of a house just three blocks from ours. I dove behind a laurel hedge and watched them carefully lock up our truck—decent of you, thanks—and go inside the house.
“What do I do?” I whispered to the police via cellphone from the laurel hedge. “Take it back,” the cop advised. “Uh…maybe not this minute.”
So before dawn the next morning, my husband crept over and stole his truck back.
It is perhaps a commentary on Seattle, or on life in famously communitarian Columbia City, or just on the practical streak of two preposterous bleeding hearts that my husband and I gave serious thought to what we would do if they stole it again, and we crept back for it, and they stole it again, and etc. “We could simplify the whole back-and-forth and leave a note,” I suggested. “We need the truck Tuesdays, Thursdays, and most weekends. Please leave it gassed up and drive safely!” They did lock it after all.
The point being that far from threatening our sense of security, something about the coziness of the whole affair—our neighbor’s watchful eye, our triumphant vigilante retrieval, even our handy proximity to the perps—strangely reinforced it. Indeed, when I look back across my brushes with victimhood in this town, I realize that every one of them has left me with a warmer sense of community.
Like the time in my 20s when some trigger-happy yahoo shot out all the windows of my Honda Civic—and I returned home from vacation to six voicemails from concerned friends who had spied my shattered car. Or the time, at a dinner party in the ’90s, when I heard about the famous Interlaken Flasher—some dude was breaking into North Capitol Hill mansions, stealing lingerie, then promenading it through Interlaken Park—and while biking the next day I actually saw him there, fluttering through the trees like a woodland sprite in satin spanky pants. I can’t explain it, but all at once the burgeoning metropolis of Seattle felt like a village. (Maybe because I’d seen its idiot.)
Seattle grew smaller and, bizarrely, sweeter to me in that encounter. In time we moved to Montlake. Our new home was just blocks from my first apartment, where years earlier I’d had my very first car break-in. The burglar took a huge trunk full of old clothes I’d been driving (for months) to Goodwill, along with various papers from my glove box—including my insurance card. Which is why my insurance agent—who happens to be my brother—got the call when cops found dozens upon dozens of my old clothes and undergarments dangling from the trees in the Washington Park Arboretum.
Repeating, just in case you didn’t catch that: dozens upon dozens of my old clothes and undergarments—dangling from the trees in the arboretum.
“It was dazzling, like something from a dream,” as my brother now relishes telling it. “Nightgowns, bridesmaid dresses, jumpsuits, sailor pants, spandex everything,”—it was the ’80s; give me a break—“and every imaginable kind of underwear, all hanging from branches like an insane person’s Christmas.” Some, dating from summer camp days, were helpfully labeled KATHY ROBINSON in large letters, just in case any visually compromised arboretum strollers had trouble identifying the owner.
Honestly, I don’t mean to be breezy. Crime is a serious matter. Any one of these crimes could have gone another way. Innocents can get shot in their cars. Burglaries can dangerously escalate. Indecent exposure is no more benign than littering with profoundly nonbiodegradable ’80s wear.
But damn, people. Because when I think of the person who would trouble themselves to fling someone’s bad adolescent fashion across the treetops of a public park…well, I guess I think I might sort of like that person. That person, I think, might make me laugh.
That person, I daresay, might make me love this crazy city.
This article appeared in the October 2014 issue of Seattle Met.