If I were ever stupid enough to believe in karma, that would have ended last night.
Saturday afternoon, I agreed to meet up with some friends at Standard downtown. I saw some downtime ahead of me, so I packed my iPad and a couple of books in my messenger bag. Just when I was headed out the door, I heard a ring, quite rare in my neighborhood. The ringer was a volunteer for the UN’s refugee program, a tall man with an unpronounceable name and thick accent.
“I am, ah, raising money for refugees,” he said. He handed me a laminate with background on the program, and another laminate of different donation plans. “This is what you can give.”
I was skeptical, because — as my friend remarked when I told him why I was held up — who still fundraises door to door in D.C.? I don’t ever donate like this, and I told the man I preferred to give online. He stared me down with huge, plaintive eyes. “This is how, ah, our work is assessed… if we get people to give.”
Fuck it, I thought. It was a good cause. I make good enough money. I was about to blow $14 on a movie. I signed up for the $15/month plan via the rubber-encased iPad the man had been assigned to use. A few minutes later, I got an e-mail confirming the legitimacy of the exchange. This was a pleasant experience. I’d done a good deed.
Around 10 hours later, someone noticed that I had left my messenger bag next to friends in a D.C. bar, Dodge City.
Some context. Normally, I’d have been next to my bag. But two different groups of friends had appeared at the bar that night, and one of them, for all the usual twentysomething reasons of sexual angst and betrayal, did not want to make nice with the other. So my bag was nestled next to the bench where the first friends were sitting as I talked to the second friends. After a while, I walked to the bar to get a drink, after which I’d rejoin the first friends.
In this interval of time, someone noticed the bag, probably noticed that the people who knew its owner were focused on drinks and talk and cell phones, and he/she stole it. He got a $849 iPad, a $40 Philip K. Dick hardcover, some assorted pens, and — oh, this is the good part. Because this was one of the rare times I’d locked up my keys to the fob inside the bag, he got those keys. House. Office. Bike. Parent’s house. Lock box. Gym. Everything.
I would soon tell my friends, in between bouts of punching a pillar until my hand went numb, that I would have been happy taking the character-building lesson of the iPad theft had I only not lost my keys, too. There were sentimental and practical reasons for this. The practical reasons I was discovering straightaway. My bike was hitched to a bus stop sign and unusable. I realized that my lock-maker had a program under which I could register the key, and get the lock easily cracked in a situation like this. But of course I’d never done that. (I’d never taken the time to set up “Find my iPad” on that machine, either, and my mind wandered to the millions of time-wasting things I’d done instead of something that could have saved me $1000+ dollars and some untold number of wasted hours.) I called a cop, because that’s what I was supposed to, and I held an incredibly naive hope that cops have some sort of answer for questions like “how do I get my locked bike so I can go home?”
The cop was not helpful. I told him my story, stone sober at this point.
“You realize that you shouldn’t have done that, right?”
I did realize that! I realized that I shouldn’t have brought my expensive iPad out that day — that, in fact, I had wavered over whether to keep it charging or to grab it for the possibility of using it for 10-20 minutes as I waited for a friend. I realized that I should have put my keys in a pocket instead of the bag. I realized that I should have and could have put it closer to the center of the table where my first friends were sitting. Move it six, seven inches and it would have become prohibitively hard to steal without anyone noticing.
But smart people take advantage of situations, and stupid people let them. I was stupid.
It was some time after the cop had lectured me, after I realized that getting my bike freed would cost at least $120, after I realized that if I wasn’t such a slob I’d have registered the key, that I thought back to the UN donation. One way that people cope with being robbed is imagining that they’re happier than the robbers. On Saturday, I had a perfect little Goofus/Gallant fable set up. I’d just opened a checkbook to help some refugees stay alive, theoretically. Someone had lifted my messenger bag (which is itself $140 to replace, for a new and inferior model). Which of us is happier, really?
I would say the thief is happier. Congratulations: You have committed a perfect crime. You understand completely that Millennials who work in the media don’t pay attention to their surroundings, because they’re either wrapped up in themselves or wrapped up in their cell phones. (This is a distinction without a difference.) You get to play with a shiny electronic toy, read some fine science fiction stories, and perhaps even steal a bike, if you’re clever enough to find mine. Perhaps you can break into a house or office, though because those are crimes that take a little more effort, I doubt you’ll do it. You don’t need to go there — you can relish in the feeling of having humiliated someone and ruined a few days of his life. Believe me, you’re very happy. You should be.