Officially a Chicagoan, or, My First Mugging

I assume most people have heard about this at this point, but a lot of people are curious about the details, which I totally understand.

I have to walk a little under a mile from the train to home, and rather than walking on the main, busy street I have taken to walking one street off the main street. It’s much quieter and full of these huge, old, interesting houses.

On this particular day it was pouring rain and I was carrying a giant Amazon package which had been delivered to work (a birthday present for Oliver), so my hands were full. I was coming towards a giant puddle and there was someone walking toward me from the other direction.

We were both angling in the same direction and I remember thinking, “Why is this guy forcing me to walk into this puddle?” I noticed that he had spotless white sneakers on so I thought maybe that was why he was taking such a strange angle. “No worries,” I thought. “I will be the nice guy and walk in the puddle,” and I tried to squeeze between him and the fence.

When I got close enough to him, he kind of chest-bumped me with his body and said, “Don’t say anything or move, I’ve got a gun. If you say anything, I’ll shoot you.” He kind of indicated his right coat pocket, but it was closed so I didn’t see if there was really a gun or not.

Now, you’d think this would be kind of panic inducing, but honestly I was not at all scared in that moment. Not even angry. I feel like I was just thinking really fast and I just kind of felt like, “Okay, this is new.”

He reached in my pocket and took out my phone. “Oh, it’s an iPhone 4s,” I said, honestly thinking surely the guy would go, “Lol, nevermind.” He didn’t. “Give me your wallet,” he said instead. “Hey, take the cash, but not the wallet, okay? All of my stuff is in there,” I said. I mean, even a robber understands what a pain it is to go to the DMV, right?

He was not convinced.

I feel like this part took a long time because I didn’t really know what to do, and there were a lot of fumbling exchanges and things. I kept thinking, “Surely someone will look out the window and see this and call for help.” But I guess 1) time might have been a little sped up for me, and it might not have taken as long as it felt like, and 2) anybody who happened to see us probably would have just thought two people were talking.

“What else you got?” he said. “Nothing else. What else would I have?” I said. What I did not say is, “DEFINITELY NOT A HUGE WAD OF CASH IN MY OTHER POCKET!!” Because, see, I had just gotten out an unusually large amount of cash (seriously, who uses cash? What are the odds this happened on this particular day when I just happened to have cash?) (and before you ask, no, he did not follow me from the bank)

He started patting down my pockets. “You holding out on me?” he said when he hit my pocket. “No, I don’t have anything!” I insisted but he reached in and grabbed the cash. His eyes lit up and he ran for it (at least one of us was having a good day). I didn’t realize it until that minute, but there was a car running, waiting just up the block, and the guy hopped in.

“Hey, can you leave the wallet though?” I forlornly called after him. “Just leave the wallet, okay?”

As they drove away, my first thought, crack detective that I am was, “Oh hey, I should get a picture of the license plate!” and reached for my phone. Which of course had just been stolen. And then in my confusion and disappointment from realizing I didn’t have my phone, I didn’t actually catch the license plate (which I have been kicking myself for ever since…stupid, stupid!)

I stood there for a minute, and then started walking home. I just started walking quicker and quicker until I was almost running. I think that’s when it started sinking in. I really hadn’t felt bad or anything more than frustrated until then, not even as he was running away with my stuff. Honestly, it didn’t seem real, like it was a scene from a movie and I was playing a part.

It was raining pretty hard but I kind of forgot about my umbrella, which was just dangling from my hand. When I got home I remembered that I had given my gate key to Sara and the buzzer didn’t work and naturally I didn’t have my phone. I had no idea what to do. I really didn’t know what to do without my phone, and I think I wasn’t thinking that clearly.

This was my lowest point; it felt worse than the robbery. I was cold and soaking wet and the adrenaline was starting to ebb, I scraped up my arm trying to break into the fence and everything just felt so, so hopeless. I thought, “If I just stand here in the rain, maybe eventually someone will start wondering where I am and come looking for me?” It just felt like there was a big weight pressing down on me.

Finally I managed to force the gate open and came inside. “Sara?” I yelled. “I’m really busy right now!” she said in a no-nonsense voice from the kitchen. “I’m busier!” I yelled back, voice cracking, verging on hysterics. I think there was something in my tone, because she did come pretty quick. I was pretty close to crying.

The kids were a little upset (I really wish I could have handled all of this without them knowing, but it just would not have been possible), and of course we needed to call the police and cancel the credit cards and everything. The CPD were surprisingly quick and they canvased the neighborhood with surprising efficiency. My phone was registering that it was nearby, so they took off over there, but it turns out they had just chucked my phone out the window of the car (hey, I tried to tell them…nobody wants an iPhone 4s!)

Getting my phone back seemed like one bright spot in all this, but it turned out not to be since the phone was damaged. I’m still glad to have it back. It feels so…weird that someone has all of my stuff. My mind keeps going to the business card Evelyn gave me when they made their businesses in 2nd grade and how somebody else has that now.

I always imagined if I were in a situation like this, I would fight back. “I bet he didn’t even have a gun,” I told Sara. “There are a lot of guns in Chicago,” she said, “I think it’s safe to assume he had one.” It’s like there is the logical part of me that says, you did the right thing, everything worked out okay. Obviously the main thing is that I was not hurt; the rest is just money. And then there is another part of me that thinks I should have fought him off or called his bluff or ran or taken another route or infinite other possibilities. Hard not to keep replaying it.

That night I thought I was fine. I had a lot of extra energy; I couldn’t stop pacing. “Maybe you should run on the treadmill,” said Sara. Everything just kept looping in my head. By the next morning I was really wishing it could stop looping in my head. By the time I was waiting for the train, I was feeling some massive anxiety. My heart was racing and I felt sick to my stomach. I just felt like there were so many people and I was trying to look at all of them. Why is that guy looking at me? Why is that guy coming toward me? Oh, he’s just getting on the train. I had to put my back to a wall.

I had planned to walk home from work, but Sara had offered to pick me up, and I uncharacteristically took her up on it. I knew that I was going to have to walk sooner or later, and usually in that case I figure might as well get it over with. But I put it off until Monday.

Naturally Monday was rainy, just to simulate the exact conditions as closely as possible. I got anxiety just looking at the weather report. But of course it was fine, and Tuesday was fine, and every time it’s going to get a little bit easier.

At this point, I think everything is more or less back to normal. I have wavered on publishing this post, because I feel like I want to talk about this and put it out there as honestly as I can. I wrote most of this the night it happened because Sara, understanding very well how I work, encouraged me to write it down, knowing that’s how I process things.

But on the other hand I don’t really want any sympathy from anybody. I really, truly don’t. It’s a thing that happened, and now it’s over. Life moves on.

The thing that gets me the most is that I don’t want to walk around my neighborhood anymore. That’s what was really stolen from me. I was really enjoying that walk, and now instead I have to go on the busy street and evaluate everybody for threats. I worry about Sara walking, or the kids. I wonder if by sharing this I am somehow justifying every person from back home who thinks that Chicago is not safe and you shouldn’t live here.

One last thing I want to say. If someone tells you that they’ve been mugged, do not say to them something like, “Whelp, you gotta be aware of your surroundings!” I can tell you from many experiences over the past few days, this is the absolute worse thing you can say. It is the worst kind of victim-shaming nonsense. I assure you that I was 100% aware, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. I saw him, I stared at him, I knew something was strange about him. It’s why I had such a good description of him for the police. I am not the one who did something wrong.

I could have walked a different way. I could not have taken that package home and had my hands full. I could have had less cash. That does not mean I deserved to be mugged. That guy was going to mug someone, and I was the only one on the street at the time.

I understand that people say this as a way to reassure themselves. I was the same way; I always thought, “Well, I don’t walk around at 2 am” or “I don’t walk around with my phone out” or “I don’t do the dumb things that *those* people do, so it won’t happen to *me*.” Well, I was aware and it wasn’t 2 am and I didn’t have my phone out and it happened anyway. If you want to reassure yourself, fine, but don’t do it on my back thank you very much.

In a weird way, I guess I’m glad that it was me that was at the wrong place at the wrong time. If I would have taken a different route or looked like a less tempting target, then the guy would have waited for somebody else. It could have been Sara or someone else with a kid, it could have been a teenager, it could have been someone who already had some kind of mental problems. It could have been a tough guy or a nervous guy who could have tried to fight back, and it could have gone poorly.

I came through unscathed. Let’s hope that was my one, and I’m good now. You hear that universe? We could really use a break.


Break-in Follow-up

Since the break-in at our house, everybody has been asking me the same question: what are we going to do about it?

The short answer? Nothing.

In the aftermath of the whole thing, I expected to feel very unsafe. The fact is, I never felt it. I’m sure losing so little has a lot to do with it, but honestly I don’t feel any different today than I did before this happened. It’s just a thing that happened.

Yes, we talked about putting bars on the basement windows. We haven’t ruled it out. But at the end of the day, if someone wants to get in, they’ll get in. We’re not going to bar up every window of our house, and there are plenty of windows they could break if they wanted to. Heck, they could just stand outside and break windows, and that would probably be costlier than anything they could steal.

Honestly, if I felt like we needed bars on our windows, then I think we shouldn’t be living here anymore. But I don’t feel like that. I feel like some stupid kids did something dumb, and it could have happened anywhere. First and foremost, don’t blame Chicago. Everyone who doesn’t live in Chicago gets a look on their face like, “Well, that’s what you get for living in Chicago!”

Look, statistically speaking there are probably more break-ins in Chicago, but there are a lot of factors in that; you have to look at it on a per capita basis, you have to factor in neighborhood and habits and personal associations. Even after all of that, we might still be more statistically likely to have a break-in, but I bet the difference is smaller than you think. And certainly anecdotally I know of at least two break-ins that were much worse and happened in much smaller towns: one with 2.3% of the population of Chicago, and one with 1.1% the population.

I think you also have to look at the cost of “preventative measures”. There’s always more you can do to “protect” your home, but is it really worth it? The window would have been broken in any case; would it have been worth $1000 to save $30 in stolen items? Is it worth creating an atmosphere of terror and paranoia for the kids to save *any* amount of money? My happiness and well-being would be negatively affected by surrounding myself with security measures and bars on my windows. I don’t know what my happiness and well-being is worth, but I’m certain it’s worth more than any object my house has to offer.

At the end of the day, it was just a thing that happened. It could happen again, or it could not. Maybe I could have prevented it, maybe I could not. Maybe next time it could be worse; they could have stolen more, or damaged more, or we could have been home. I could get mugged or hit by a stray bullet. But I also could be hit by a car, or hit by a falling anvil, or contract antibiotic resistant MRSA. You can not 100% ensure your safety.

So the question is, do I spend my time between now and then living in fear, or do I forget about it and move on? I think you already know the answer to that question.

Someone broke into our house

I was at work when I got a call from Sara.

“Did we leave the bedroom doors open today?” she asked.
“Hmm, I don’t know. I don’t think so, but I guess we could have,” I said.
“What about the front door, did we forget to lock that today?”
“No, for sure that was locked. I waited by the back door until I heard you lock it, because I wasn’t sure if I should come lock it or if you were going to get it.”
“Huh, well, it’s not locked now. Maybe I just partially locked it?”

5 minutes later she called back again.

“Someone broke into our house. I’m standing outside, and I’m calling the police.”

As far as we can tell, they cut the screen on the back window first, before circling around to the front and breaking a window. They must not have been in the house long, and they must have exited through both the front and back doors. Our neighbor saw the front door open around 3 p.m. and called a few times to see if we were home. Finding we weren’t, he shut the door for us, but did not notice the broken window.

I’m so glad for our neighbors, one of whom checked out the apartment for Sara to make sure it was safe before I could get home, and another helped us fit a board contraption over the missing window. Right at that moment I don’t think I would have known exactly what to do, and I seriously doubt I would have been able to come up with something logical. But now I know what to do! So I guess I gained some experience out of the whole ordeal. Whoo hoo!

Now, the joke really was on whoever “robbed” the place, because they broke into the wrong house. We really don’t have much for them to steal. I can only imagine the looks on their faces, like “Oh no, someone got here first and stole all the tvs!” That being said, we’re not exactly talking about “professionals” here, considering they didn’t take any jewelry (including Sara’s engagement ring) or our cameras, all of which were sitting out.

Instead they stole some loose change and a bike I bought at Goodwill for $10.

The strangest part is that they stole about $0.65 off the counter in the bathroom, but they picked through it and only took the silver, no pennies. Beggars can’t be choosers, my thieving friends! Pennies still spend here in America! They rifled through quite a bit of stuff, including emptying a bag on the bed (side note, we CAN NOT figure out what bag they went through, since it contained only really old kid’s clothes; when’s the last time we had a child wearing 2T pants?) and taking change out of the bowl I keep next to the bed (leaving the pennies untouched, naturally). The “big score” was our container of probably $10 in card-playing change.

Sara pointed out that if they wanted to make some real money, they should have grabbed a couple of hundred dollars worth of yarn.

By far the most bizarre incident was the box of shoes. We had ordered some shoes for Oliver for the wedding, and they had just arrived the day before. So the box was sitting right by the door, unopened. I don’t know if they saw the box and said, “Hey, a package, might be electronics!” or if they recognized Zappos and said, “Maybe they just bought some cool kicks!” In either case, they were bound to be disappointed (unless they were, in fact, criminal 3 year olds).

So Sara said, “You know, I’m going to go look around in the alley, because when they realized they were kids shoes, they probably just dumped them right away.” Even more so when she discovered the box in the dumpster; so we knew that they had opened them and saw what was inside. Sara was sure she would find them somewhere, but we didn’t. So she quickly hopped on the computer and ordered a new set of shoes so we could get them in time for the wedding.

Later that night, totally unrelated, Sara opened up the knitting cabinet looking for some knitting needles, and there were the shoes!

This completely baffled us. So they opened up the shoes in the house, saw they were kids’ shoes and then hid them in a cabinet? And then politely took the box out to the dumpster? Sara and I have been puzzling over this ever since. How could that possibly make sense? Sara said, “I’m not going to sleep tonight. Not because I’m scared, just because I’m confused.” In fact, we were so confused we kept saying, “One of us must have done that and then forgotten, right? I mean, that’s the only thing that makes sense.” Eventually though, Sara pointed out that if we had opened the box we would have put it in the recycling, not the dumpster. So it definitely couldn’t have been us.

So, as far as robberies go, I’d say we got off as lightly as possible. The broken window was by FAR the worst of it.

The truly miraculous part was that the kids weren’t here. This was actually the end-cap on our first nights without the children EVER. That’s just about six years without a night off. I would say it was wonderful, but, you know, it kind of ended badly. On the other hand though, I’m so glad the kids don’t know that this happened, and we’re certainly not telling them. Evie would probably never sleep again. She is such a worrier, and I just know this is the sort of thing that would really rattle her. So it was amazingly fortunate that they just happened to not be here. We’ve been able to keep it from them, but we wouldn’t have been able to that night while we were dealing with the cops and broken glass and everything.

Speaking of the police, I was less than impressed with the stellar performance of the Chicago PD. Despite Sara telling them on the phone she wasn’t going back in the house until they came, it took them 4 hours (and 2 phone calls) to actually make it out (luckily Sara relented on waiting outside!). By that time we had already cleaned up the glass and boarded up the window. The officer was really nice and apologized for the delay. At that point I just wanted to have an official report in case we needed it for insurance or something, but she actually called for a crime scene technician to come out and take a look. We filed the report and she said the CSI tech would be out in “twenty minutes to an hour”.

Now, call me crazy, but I did not expect any kind of attempt to actually solve the crime. I mean, we all know they’re not going to catch these guys. But having a CSI tech come out was kind of badass, especially when he was dusting for prints. And then this happened:


Unfortunately, the CSI guy did not arrive in “twenty minutes to an hour”, he arrived at 11:30 p.m., about an hour after we went to bed and a full 7 hours after we originally called 911.

“Did you touch anything?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah. We called at 4:30,” we said.
“Oh. Well, we won’t be able to get anything then.”

He did attempt to dust for prints, but basically he pointed out that anything we had touched, or breathed on, or looked at funny would have lost the prints. And cardboard doesn’t hold prints. And doorknobs are no good for prints. Apparently fingerprints are delicate little snowflakes and are almost impossible to get (especially if you show up, like, a day after the crime was committed). Needless to say, he didn’t find anything and it was a big waste of everyone’s time.

So that’s it. As far as break-ins go, pretty tame, and I almost feel funny mentioning it. Things are already back to normal around here and we haven’t even gotten the window fixed yet.

As for our ferocious guard-cat, Nala did take the opportunity to make a break for it. Kind of. She walked out through the broken window, munched on the plant a few inches away, and then immediately came back inside and threw up said plant on the glass-strewn windowsill. Not a Shawshank Redemption-level jailbreak perhaps, but she did experience several seconds of freedom and apparently that was enough. I can only imagine these thieves walking around our house with Nala following after them everywhere they went, talking their ears off. Maybe she is a good guard cat; that’s probably why they left so quickly – they were sick of that nuisance cat.

How to break into a padlock

(Click for larger)

Step 1: Starting at 0, gently pull down as though opening the lock, then slowly spin the dial counter-clockwise until it sticks. If the number is a whole number (i.e. not resting in between two numbers) record it, continuing the process until you reach 0 again. At this point you should have 5 whole numbers.

Step 2: Four of the five numbers will end in the same digit — the one that doesn’t is the last number in your lock’s three-number combo. Since certain numbers on a padlock are inextricably linked, this number narrows down the possible combinations to 100

Step 3: Trial-and-error out the combination grid linked below, and pull the lock open.

Life sentence via Thrillist.