Coffee heat rising

Burglars

The guy who’s taken the lead in our local homeowner’s association is having a frenzy over a rash of break-ins and burglaries we’ve been enjoying around here. He’s been e-mailing “Safety Alert” bulletins filled with neighbors’ reports on the latest happenings.

Surprisingly, he missed the shooting, though, which did make the local Play-Nooz. Over in the ritzier section, several armed neighbors have formed an impromptu posse. They actually caught an SOB breaking in to one of the million-dollar homes, and so one of them broke out his blunderbuss and blasted the guy’s tires. The cops were not amused. But the homeowners looked pretty smug. “We’re armed,” one of them growled, glaring into the camera. “Don’t come around here!”

He did send us this great story:

. . . watch out for a window washer. We live on E. Orangewood Ave. My husband was out mowing the lawn about 10:30 May 7th when a white, long bed Chevrolet truck between 1998-2000 drove up to the house. Driver was an African-American man over 6′ tall and 220 lbs. in his late 30’s-early 40’s. He said he was supposed to wash the windows of the house. He said “The homeowners want me to wash them.” My husband said he didn’t have any tools in the back of his truck.He must have thought my husband was a yard worker because when my husband told him he was the homeowner and asked for his business card he sped off very quickly.

That address is a ways from here. Pretty funny, though. Poor guy was too dumb to tell the difference between a homeowner and a yard dude. Ohh well.

Closer to home, we have the following entertainment:

Three weeks ago at about 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, we had an incident near 15th Avenue and west Golden Lane. A man and woman in a car were being followed by PD. They parked in our driveway and told the officers that they lived here at our home. (Both my husband and I were at work at the time.) We are so thankful that a vigilant neighbor (who is in law enforcement) saw what was happening, came over and told the police officer that the people did not live at our house. A quick background check revealed the car was not registered, the driver’s license was suspended and who knows what else. The driver was arrested.

Heh heh heh heh heh!

Yesterday morning while I was breakfasting on the patio, the neighbor’s alarm went off. Sounds like she has the same squeally little Costco stick-on alarms pasted to her windows that I’ve installed. Darn things are ear-splitting, and they can be heard across the street. I walked over to look down the alley-Manny caught some perps by spotting their car parked outside another neighbor’s back gate-but couldn’t see anything. By the time I got there, the alarm had given up the ghost. Forty-five minutes later, the cops pulled up and I heard her talking with them; she’d apparently come home and found a window open.

It’s not much help to call the police. They don’t show up in time to do any good. Last time I called 911 when some guy was outside a bedroom window, the dispatcher said (I kid you not!), “Well, if he tries to get in, call us back.”

Uhm…and why would I have dialled 911 if I didn’t think he was trying to get in? The only way you can get the cops here promptly is to tell them you have a shotgun and are prepared to shoot an intruder. Then they show up instantly.

Frankly, I don’t think dwelling on these matters does much good. Broadcasting alarms at every little incident just frightens people. Other than locking up the house and sticking alarms on the windows, there’s not a thing we can do about prowlers. You can’t stay home guarding the palace every minute: sooner or later, you have to go to work or at least out to the grocery store. Nor is it healthy to live behind bars, glaring security lights, and alarm systems. The bad buys belong in jail, not us!

During the vandalism episode, when my lawyers were urging me to take a $100,000 bath and sell the house for my own safety, I installed a fancy burglar alarm system, which is wired to the cops and the alarm company. Never turned the darn thing on, and after the contract lapsed, I quit paying the recurring fees. The main reason, above and beyond the hassle factor and the costs (you get a fine for a false alarm, which is easy to set off), is the feeling that I’m not the one who should be living in prison and I’m not going to make my home into a prison. Eventually I put a few of those stick-on battery-run alarms on the windows and the only easily opened door, so that I’ll know if someone tries to get in while I’m here.

One of the advantages of simple living is that I don’t own a lot of stuff worth stealing, and so I don’t feel very concerned about burglary. The only thing I’d really prefer not to lose is the computer. Otherwise, I own practically nothing of significant value, and the only negotiable instruments in the house are hidden in some very unlikely places (no, not the freezer).

The only possibility that concerns me is home invasion, which is pretty commonplace around here. I keep the security door in front locked, never answer the door to strangers, and have alarms on the windows. And, decrepit as she is, Anna can still emit a fierce-sounding bark. So I don’t worry much that anyone will get in while I’m home. Matter of fact, I’ve made a conscious decision to reject worrying about the bogeyman.

Maybe if we all got rid of the stuff, burglars would have to find another line of work!

Get a job Sha na na na, sha na na na na
Every morning about this time
she get me out of my bed
a-crying get a job.
After breakfast, everyday,
she throws the want ads right my way
And never fails to say,
Get a job Sha na na na, sha na na na na
Sha na na na, sha na na na na,
Sha na na na, sha na na na na,
Sha na na na, sha na na na na,
Yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip
Mum mum mum mum mum mum
Get a job Sha na na na, sha na na na na

—The Silhouettes

Financial goals, urban angst

Yesterday afternoon when I got home from work and climbed out of the car, I smelled burning rubber in the garage. Thinking something was wrong with the van–did I drive across two rain-soaked freeways with the handbrake on? is that fan belt flaring up again?–I looked the vehicle over but could find nothing wrong. Then I walked out to the curb to pick up the daily delivery of junk mail and smelled acrid fumes on the air. Lo, to the northwest a plume of black smoke was rising toward the clouds.

It looked like it was coming from the decrepit strip shopping center where Fry’s recently shut down a ghetto grocery store. Neighbors were glad to see that store close. It’s been a public nuisance for years, allowing (illegal) 2:00 a.m. trash pickups that sound like a wrecking yard in action, sheltering derelicts in the oleanders behind the parking lot, and charging inflated prices to the captive audience of low-income apartment dwellers along 19th Avenue who can’t afford a car or whose driver’s licenses have been suspended.

The fire appeared to be close to my friend Shari’s rental house, the place she’s been trying without luck (largely thanks to Fry’s) to sell for the past two years. I jumped on my bicycle and headed over there to check on her property.

Slipping past a fireman whose back was turned as he wrestled a hose onto a fire hydrant, I got onto the street that borders the run-down shopping center. A few houses up the road, one of the neighbors was standing in his carport watching the commotion, which was directly behind his home. I asked him what had happened.

He said that some idiot had tried to commit suicide–at least, that was his take on it. The guy had driven his vehicle up to one of the locked steel loading doors and floored the gas pedal, spinning the tires until he quite literally burned rubber. And then the car exploded! He said he was sure the perp had to be dead.

Charming. Explains the screams that could be heard from my front yard.

My friend’s house seemed to be OK; it backs onto the east side of the shopping center and the cremation occurred on the south side. But I personally am not OK with this. It’s another incident in a string of incidents and circumstances that say it’s time to get out of this area.

I’ve been undecided whether to stay in my house in retirement. It probably costs more than I’ll be able to afford on a reduced income (some months I barely make it on what I’m earning, a good $20,000 more than I’ll have in retirement). But I like the house a lot–I’ve put a ton of work into it, and the backyard is now very pleasant, full of fruit trees and flowering gardens. I love the wonderful swimming pool, my only real indulgence. I like living in a diverse neighborhood and I like being centrally located.

However, the truth is that the middle-class infrastructure has moved to Scottsdale, the East Valley, and the far Northwest Valley, following white flight and the money that fled with it. To buy clothing and upscale food, to go to doctors and talented hair stylists, to take the dog to a top-flight vet, even to shop at an ordinary department store, you have to drive halfway across the planet. The Costco a couple miles down the road is an entirely different store from the one seven or eight miles up the road at the 101 and Cave Creek, and the difference is not to the advantage of shoppers in our neighborhood. And the city is about to spend the next four years ripping up 19th Avenue for our insensate light rail project, an unsightly monstrosity that will bring us festoons of overhead wires, a curb up the middle of the road prohibiting left turns into the few surviving businesses, and traffic funneled through our residential streets as drivers dodge around the traffic jams.

How exactly the endlessly touted light rail is supposed to enhance property values escapes me: it’s no improvement over the bus, because it makes exactly the same stops and moves people at exactly the same milk-run speed, taking two hours to cover a commute I can drive in 30 minutes. It trashes the streetscape and is truly hideous. My guess is we’ll be lucky if our property values don’t drop even further once that thing is in. Certainly four years of chaotic, noisy, dirty construction won’t help values.

So, I guess it’s time to set a new financial goal: Find the money to move someplace quieter and safer by or upon retirement.

But how? Houses are selling here, but only if you set the price low and wait a long, long time. My house is paid off. At my age I’d be crazy to take on a new mortgage. What I can get for this place will not buy a comparable house, free and clear, in a better neighborhood.

And move where? I certainly can’t afford Scottsdale. I don’t at all care for the East Valley, I truly don’t want to live in Sun City, and the West Valley doesn’t turn me on any more than the eastside does. The relatively short commute I have now sets my teeth on edge, and the prospect of driving from Surprise or points west into Tempe fills me with horror. The downtown area suffers from the same issue as North Central: it’s surrounded by blight and devoid of middle-class infrastructure. All that “historic” (read “outrageously overpriced”) housing down there is even more decrepit than what I’m living in: holes in the ground into which to pour money. Newer downtown housing, mostly hard-edged concrete “lofts” that are really nothing other than mid-rise apartments, is priced in the out-of-the-question range.

To accomplish the goal of moving, I guess I need a set of strategies:

Within the next three years:

  • Pay off the Renovation Loan, or set aside an equivalent amount in cash holdings.
  • Find a desirable, affordable place to live.

Explore Prescott and Tucson.
Reconsider Sun City.
Revisit Fountain Hills.

  • Determine how much of a bath I can take on housing and still have enough in savings to live adequately in retirement.
  • Calculate the best timing for putting the house on the market.

Sell before light rail construction begins?
Wait until commuting is no longer an issue?
Rent it until the market improves?

  • Consider putting the house on the market now, since it may take two years to sell.

The conundrum at hand is another case where money issues and stress go hand in hand. To live within my means, I apparently must live in a neighborhood where I don’t feel safe. There has to be a way to resolve this!

Lights in the night

At first I thought it was a helicopter. But copters don’t dodge around at sharp angles, reverse themselves on a skyhooked dime. Then I decided it was undoubtedly a flying saucer. Well, except for what looked like a red tail light. Helicopter viewed through the atmospheric distortion of a cold desert night?

Tonight is clear and crisp. Just outside the front gate, Orion is climbing up the eastern sky right behind his scout, the god of war. The saucer or helicopter or whatever it is jerks back and forth in the sky, somewhere between the earth and the cosmic hunter. I walk in its general direction, east and south toward the park.

My neighbor has, bar none, the best Christmas display in the city: the Burning Bush. Every year he wraps the big deciduous tree in his front yard with what must be several million lights. Somehow he contrives to have them glow in different colors every night–don’t ask, I have no idea! The colors rotate, so if you stand and watch for a while you see the tree’s trunks and branches burning red and then blue and then gold and then white and then red. . . . Tonight as I pass they’re mostly white, with a few flecks of blue here and there.

As I draw closer to the park, I realize the saucer is not somewhere over downtown Phoenix but actually is doing its acrobatics much closer to hand. And it isn’t just white and red; it’s glowing red, white and blue. Lo! It’s a model airplane, all tricked out in colors, its wings outlined in blue, its tail lit red, and its fuselage dinged in white. Up and down and around and around it swoops through the air like an illuminated swallow, tracing its owner’s delight.

When m’hijito was little, we used to bring his model rocket ships into this park to launch them into orbit. One of them, I’m sure, actually did reach those heights. It shot through a leaden gray overcast and–I swear!–never came back down. We snooped in all the neighboring yards and found nary a sign of it. As we speak that rocket is passing over southern Australia.

A mile’s walk through a cold dark, lights earthly and unearthly marking your way: stress control, and it’s free.

Life in the big city

For the second time today the cop copter is buzzing the neighborhood. This morning it was over the fierce apartments to the west; now it’s racing back and forth above the two-block-long residential street to the north of me. For this mission it’s been up there almost an hour, and because it’s so close, my stereo can’t drown out the racket.

Cop flyovers are among the chronic stressors that go with living in this neighborhood. Every now and again, the airborne police will chase a fleeing perp into someone’s yard. A couple years ago, my ex- and his wife, who live about a mile and a half from my house, watched a teenaged boy jump the fence into their backyard with the cops and their copter in hot pursuit. When they caught up with the kid, they grabbed him and slammed him into the fence so hard it broke the gate. Another friend and her family moved into a house not far from here. On their first night in the home, they heard a helicopter parked overhead, its loudspeaker shouting. Unaware their street was a dead end, the perp had driven into the cul-de-sac, jumped out of his car (leaving it running, so that it climbed into a neighbor’s front lawn), leapt the fence, and was cornered in their backyard by police officers with their guns drawn. The children were terrorized, and you can bet the parents were less than thrilled themselves.

So this aerial presence is not soothing and not comforting. Sometimes I think I’d like to retire to a small town or enclave where the natives don’t feel under siege all the time. However, in Sun City not very long ago a couple and their house guests suffered a home invasion. Sun City is a place where most people leave their doors unlocked and feel confident in the knowledge that the sheriff will show within ten minutes of a call. The thugs grabbed the male guest, dragged him into a bedroom and shot him to death—just for the hell of it.

So. . . It may be better to be reminded regularly that you’re not safe, that you really should keep the doors and windows locked, and that an 80-pound dog with pearly whites to match has something to recommend it than it is to lull yourself into a false sense of security.

What does living in your city or town contribute your overall sense of angst, and how do you deal with it?