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.
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.