Crime Story, part 2: Mugged!

I was once held up in the parking lot of a Las Vegas hotel.

In town to interview Mel Tillis for something-or-another, I was staying for the night at the hotel (Frontier?) he was playing. Set to leave the next morning, I decided to load most of my luggage into my car during the commercial break between Johnny Carson’s monologue and the rest of the Tonight Show. So that’s what I was doing in the parking lot, suitcase in hand and trunk open, when the young man approached me.

His hand was in his jacket pocket; holding, he told me, a pistol. I chose not to dispute him, and he told me to get into the car, where we wouldn’t be seen. Once there, he asked for my wallet and emptied it.  Fortunately, me being me, there was only $80 or so, plus some minimum-limit credit cards. He ran.

Within seconds, a car carrying two of  the hotel’s parking lot security people rolled by. I flagged them down, described the guy and told them what happened, and motioned in the direction of his escape. They directed me to the security office deep in the bowels of  the hotel and drove off.

Before long, the radio in the security office came alive, with the patrolmen reporting that they’d caught a suspect and were bringing him in. “Before they do,” I told the officer in charge, “let me describe him.” For a mugger, he wasn’t too smart: wearing an easy to remember, easy to identify, red windbreaker (maybe he was a fan of James Dean in “Rebel without a Cause”).

artist's poor rendition(artist’s poor simulation of mugger)

(Sometimes this picture — James Dean — shows; sometimes not. If you have to, use your imagination)

I gave them a few other identifying signs, and told them how much money he’d taken. Sure enough, he was wearing the same jacket and had the same amount of money. And, as I’d suspected, no artillery; the “pistol” had been his finger in his pocket. Security didn’t keep the cash as evidence, thankfully; they Xeroxed it and handed it back to me.

I was back in my room in time to catch the end of Carson.

Crooks love tourists, because we tend to go home and aren’t available to testify against them. On the other hand, Las Vegas casinos want your money, and don’t encourage competition from amateurs. With that in mind, the Las Vegas district attorney offered to fly me back and put me up in a hotel if I’d testify. This would be in a few weeks.

One day, my home phone rang and it was…the mugger. Somehow he’d got my name and number, and was trying to get me to withdraw charges. He was a young guy, never did it before, had a wife and kid to support, yada yada.

I was terrified: if he had my name and address, odds are that he had — or could get — my address. Even though my phone was unlisted.

I returned to Vegas. The hotel wasn’t, shall we say, Caesars Palace. Not even the Frontier. Rather, it was a nondescript (but clean) motel somewhere out of the way of anything even potentially interesting. I didn’t go out that night.

The Las Vegas courtroom was very small, and I wound up sitting, unwittingly at the time, next to the guy’s wife. We didn’t exchange pleasantries. The whole thing went by pretty much as quickly as this paragraph.

The mugger plead out, so I didn’t have to testify. But from then on, I made sure that I kept my doors at home locked, and never did discover how he had got hold of my phone number.

 

(part 1 here)

Published in: on December 5, 2014 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment  

The most useful class I ever took

I took typing as a class in summer (high) school. We had to repeat the same exercise — a sort of fairy tale — over and over, presumably increasing our speed and accuracy each time. Before long, I was typing so fast that out of boredom I started supplementing the original story with my own additions.

Taking me aside, the teacher explained that while I was typing faster and more accurately than anybody else in the class, he’d have to fail me because I was still hunting-and-pecking. Graciously, he added that were it in his power, he would have given me an “A” in creative writing.

He let me drop out, giving me an incomplete, which didn’t work against me as a “fail” would have.

Which is why when I was drafted into the Army, I figured I’d wind up as a clerk-typist, as the required typing speed was something like 12 wpm. But that’s another story, with no typing — and a lot of floor-mopping — involved.

I’ll have to tell you, though: I have typed pretty much every day of my professional life and beyond. And, other than English (which was a series of classes), there isn’t another class I took that has rewarded me as much.

Published in: on October 29, 2014 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Crime Story, part 1: Robbed!

For once, I had made it far enough in the selection process that I was undergoing voir dire — the bit where the prosecuting and defense attorneys try to discover if a prospective juror might be unsuitable for some reason (this usually meaning some sort of prejudice that would affect his or her vote, regardless of testimony).

It was a criminal case, in the downtown Los Angeles courthouse. Some kid was accused of theft.

“Mister Everett,” the defense attorney asked — maybe I imagined the fire in his eyes and the accusatory pointing finger — “have you ever been robbed?”

“Not by this guy,” I wanted to say, motioning in the direction of the defendant.

Instead, I told him another truth.

“I live in Hollywood. The question isn’t ‘have you been robbed?,’ but ‘how many times have you been robbed?'”

In my case, the answer would have been four — or, maybe, seven, if you count thefts outside Hollywood.

The first time, I was parked on Wilcox Street, just north of Sunset Boulevard. I was visiting an office on the other side of Sunset. It was daytime, which didn’t deter someone from breaking into my Volkswagen Beetle and making off with the Rolodex I brought home every day from my trade-paper office to deter my co-workers from appropriating it or the hundreds of phone numbers it held, each on a little card with other contact information.

Another two blocks down Wilcox, as fate would have it, was the Hollywood Division police station. I went in to make my report. As I walked in, one of the officers greeted me: “Have I seen you here before?” No, I assured him, I had never dealt with the police other than the odd parking violation. He snorted and walked away as I approached the desk sergeant. “My car was broken into, just up the street,” I told him.

“Where?” he asked. I told him that it was in front of a liquor store and shady-looking hotel. The desk sergeant gave me one of those “well, what did you expect?” shrugs, and asked what had been taken. “A Rolodex,” I responded. “What’s a Rolodex?” he asked. “Like that,” I sighed, pointing to the one on a shelf behind him.

Not my Rolodex

There’s a happy ending to this story. Knowing that no thief would find much use for a Rolodex filled with names of record company publicists and personal friends, on a hunch I ventured into the hotel. “My car has been broken into,” I told the desk clerk, “and they stole my Rolodex. I’m sure nobody here would have done such a thing, but if maybe one of your tenants spots it in the trash or something, there’s a $25 reward” (this was about 1977).  Within the hour, my office phone rang, Fifteen minutes later, I had my Rolodex but my wallet was $25 lighter.

***

Robbers had broken into two different apartments. The first one was while I was moving from one place to another, and all that was left in my former residence was my record collection. The thief, whoever it was, selected (fortunately) for the most part, things that could be easily replaced — Beatles albums and the like. (In fact, I didn’t buy new copies until compact discs started coming in, and I bought my first set of Beatles CDs). A couple of hours after I reported the robbery — someone had broken the door in, and left quite a mess — a couple bored-looking police officers showed up (in fairness: it’s not like the robbers were waiting to be apprehended) and told me that taking fingerprints or any other such, you know, investigation would be pointless.

The second home robbery, several years after the first, I wasn’t home. It was daytime, they broke in, but were evidently pretty nervous — all they got was a camera and a tape recorder; maybe a couple other things.

Thoughtfully, they left about half a six-pack of beer behind them. The police who showed up, again an hour or so later, much have been the same ones who didn’t think it was worth looking for evidence. Some months later, I learned that a person who lived down the street, one of those older people why stand around seemingly aimlessly, had seen the break-in take place, but hadn’t wanted to get involved.

While I was still living in the old place, someone had broken into my car; then parked on the street, though I had a space in the garage. The thief’s main score was a couple of cassettes I’d made of old rockabilly records. I hope he enjoyed them. I hadn’t bothered the police with that one; I don’t think I even bothered my insurance company.

For the second car break-in, my car was parked in front of Jerry’s Garage, a few blocks away on Argyle, just south of Hollywood Blvd and half a mile or so from my apartment. It was Sunday, and I had left the car on the street so the mechanics could get to it first thing Monday morning. The thief broke in and stole a cheap OM car radio.

All four of those were in Hollywood. The fifth was when I was at a club downtown, enjoying some punk-rock act or another. Some more authentic punks broke into my car. I can’t remember what they got, but I do know I never went to Al’s Bar again.

Sixth, again downtown, was when I was working at the paper on a Sunday afternoon. My car was parked on the street; someone broke in and lifted a battery. This was before the Automobile Club got into the battery-delivery business, so I had to go to Pep Boys, several blocks away. There were other people working at the paper than afternoon; all of them were too busy on deadline to give me a ride. I forget how I got the new battery.

A couple of weeks later, someone broke into my car again. It was parked in the same place; this time, I suppose the thief knew, with a new battery. And that makes seven times while I was living in Hollywood.

Yes, I told the d.a., I’ve been robbed.

I was excused from service.

 

Published in: on October 27, 2014 at 5:10 pm  Comments (1)  

The dog who wasn’t there

I heard barking from a nearby apartment for a couple of days before I corralled the super who opened the door. The occupant had skipped without notice, leaving the dog behind in an apartment that was empty, other than days’ worth of doggy-droppings and maybe a bowl of water.

I volunteered to watch over the dog, a long-haired terrier mix about the size of a shoe box. A week or so later, the woman came back, explained that her new apartment (a block away) didn’t allow pets, and said she’d pay for dog food while I kept the dog for her. I countered that it was now MY dog.

Time passed — maybe a year. The woman’s daughter, who was maybe 10, would stop by every once in a while and say hello to the dog. Then one day she knocked on my door and told me that her mother had said that the kid could borrow the dog for that night, her birthday.

The noive,” you say. As did I. On the other hand, I knew that dogs weren’t allowed in the new place, and I felt sorry for the daughter. So I let her borrow the dog, which she was to return before school the next morning.

Seven-thirty in the morning, the phone rang. It was the girl, in tears. The dog had got loose, she explained, and was hit by a car as she dashed across the street.

That’s terrible, I replied. I’ll come right over and pick up the body, so I can have her properly buried. As I’d expected, she said the body wasn’t available. The police said it was a civil matter (theft?), so I sued. The mother didn’t show up in court; later, the marshals said they’d been unable to serve her — though I didn’t get their fee back.

I finally said the hell with it; the kid has enough problems with her mother. But for many months, I would instinctively reach down to pet the dog who was no longer there.

It’s been twenty years, easily, and — thought there were always dogs, and for many years a cat, in my family home as I grew up — I’ve never had another pet.

Published in: on June 22, 2014 at 12:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thrills and (Stephen) Stills at the Granada in Santa Barbara

 photo applause.gif

I, at least, don’t go to a Stephen Stills show for the singing – at least it isn’t high on my list of priorities. When I see Stills, it’s first for his guitar playing, and second for his songs. Singing, which to me has never been his strong suit, comes in third.

That said, Saturday night’s two-and-a-half hour (plus intermission) performance at the 1,600-seat Granada Theater in Santa Barbara lived up to my hopes. It even supplied a fourth priority: showmanship. That, Saturday night, placed between “guitar” and “songs.”

With a few exceptions (surprisingly, maybe, in his upper and lower register), Stills seemingly approximated more vocal notes than he actually hit.

The old folkie in Stills made a strong appearance as he chatted with the audience between songs: cracking jokes, telling stories, making political comments and even imitating the speaking (!) voices of Tony Bennett and Fred Neil. In addition of the songs probably expected of him – he opened with, “Change Partners” and “Helplessly Hoping” and closed with “Bluebird” and “For What It’s Worth” – he tossed numbers from his Greenwich Village contemporaries Neil (“Everybody’s Talkin’,” Tim Hardin (“Reason to Believe”) and Bob Dylan (“Girl from the North Country”). He also performed songs identified with Graham Nash and – maybe the most powerful performance of the evening – Neil Young’s “Rocking in the Free World.”

Explaining the number of other people’s songs in his set, Stills explained that he’d been listening a lot to the upcoming Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young box set, and that “I’m sick of ‘me’.”

(Incidentally: I’m all in favor of acts doing outside material — they can often tell you more about the performer than his or her own songs do).

Highlight among his own songs were a relatively rocking version of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and, from the album he did with the band Manassas, “Johnny’s Garden,” preceded by a funny reminiscence of his long-ago residence in the UK.

While far from lazy, the energy level of most of the show was varying degrees of “relaxed,” with this version of “Bluebird” downright flaccid in comparison to the Buffalo Springfield original.

Backing was by a strong quartet of Todd Caldwell on organ, bassist Kevin McCormick, former Wallflowers drummer Mario Calire, and Stills’ young son on percussion. Mid-set, a cake was brought out to commemorate Caldwell’s birthday. David Crosby, who lives in the general area of Santa Barbara, showed up early in the show to duet on “You Don’t Have to Cry.” Caldwell was the only other soloist, and Stills played a lot of guitar.

From the look of it, the average age of the near-capacity audience was north of sixty; still young enough to rise from their seats several times during the show and greet “Love the One You’re With” as though they — and Stills — were still in their twenties.

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