Coffee heat rising

What WERE we thinking?

So I’m sitting here thinking about the ’Hood, about whether I should stay here, whether I should move. It really isn’t very safe. Over the past couple of weeks it’s been one damnfool thing after another:

  • Drunk driver swerves off Main Drag South up Feeder Street N/S, crashes across a resident’s front yard, and ends up rolled in the park.
  • Sh!theads recorded on Ring cameras serially raiding neighbors’ cars.
  • Sh!theads retrieve garage door opener from a car an idiot resident left parked overnight in their driveway, open garage door, rifle cars and contents of garage.
  • “. . .white Subaru WRX sedan with loud exhaust and no rear bumper racing up and down Neighborhoood Ln . . . . must have been going 50 mph zooming up and down the street a couple times. He nearly hit my six year old son.” (FB Nextdoor page)
  • “. . . 3 very loud bangs (like 5 mins ago)? Sounded like gun shots to me.” (Ibid.)
  • “Today a horrible thing happen to me outside of Target on 19ave and Bethanyhome a women tried to kidnap my girls! As I was walking out with Mila in the target cart and Ella in her car seat inside the target cart a women talking very loudly in the parking lot said oh she has beautiful eyes… I looked at the women about to say oh thank you but she shrugged at me and said oh I’m sorry so I assumed she was talking on her Bluetooth and not to us. as I start getting closer to the Jeep she comes up behind me and my mom and says that’s my daughter she has my eyes! In that moment I couldn’t believe what this crazy bitch was saying and she kept repeating it and getting louder and then I hear her say Travis! Hurry up the baby is right here come get the baby!!! In my mind I was freaking the duck out I grabbed Mila and told my mom stay right here with ella I’m gonna put Mila in the car. I strapped Mila in and locked the door just Incase that women tried and opened it. I came around and told my mom we need to go now! As I’m getting the car seat out the cart this crazy women is still yelling that’s my baby god is going to strike you dead! I turned to put Ella in the Jeep and she grabs me by the hair and pulled the car seat and all I remember is my mom pushed her and I frantically started hitting her in the face! This women ATTEMPTED to take my child!!!!! I was yelling at her I will KILL you!!!! As all this was happing people are coming out their cars recording me with their fuxking phone instead of helping! Like are you fuxking serious my kids are in danger and all you idiots are just there recording me!!! Only one person tried to help me and asked if I was ok! I had no problem beating that women up but the only thing I could think of was who is this Travis she’s calling for??? What if he comes and hits us and takes my girls!!!! I finally got all of us in the Jeep and god knows I could careless if I ran her over! She took off but I did call the police and they arrested this crazy bitch!!!! She will be charged with assault and attempted kidnapping! Please please don’t ever ever look away not for one second! I was gonna do everything in my power to prevent her from even touching my babies.” (Ibid)  (She’s talking about the Costco shopping center that serves the North Central district…the one where we’re told the company will close the store when the lease runs out…)
  • “Be on the lookout for a grey car (possible Chevy Malibu) with a busted out back window. The driver stole lawn equipment about 30 minutes ago from our landscaper’s trailer. My husband opened the garage door and the guy took off, but had already loaded several things in the car. So bold in broad daylight and heavy traffic! And terribly frustrating for someone who works hard for a living.” (lbid)
  • ” I came home from work tonight (5:15 pm) and discovered my truck had been ransacked today. Definitely today since it was fine when I left for work this morning. They stole a couple of small items, pepper spray and a multi-tool.” (lbid)
  • “Person walking our neighborhood checking mailboxes and then got in this vehicle. [Photo of nondescript pickup posted.] Keep an eye out! Non emergency called with description.” (lbid)
  • Number of drug rehab outfits in our zip code: 7. Number in next zip code directly to the east: 0 (AHCCCS, Annual Report: Substance Use Treatment Programs, State Fiscal Year 2018)

Claro que this area isn’t very safe, even though it’s hot with the young gentrifying set. If I were to unload this house and net, say, $325,000 on it, I could afford to buy in a number of much less drug-ridden, crime-ridden venues:

  • Sun City
  • Fountain Hills
  • Oro Valley (a Tucson suburb)
  • The vast tracts of elbow-to-elbow ticky-tacky north of the 101
  • Yarnell, by damn!

Trouble is, big-city headaches aside, I like my house. I like my yard, I like my pool, I like my neighbors. And for what I could get on a sale of the house, I could not buy anything comparable, anywhere.

Adding another layer of complexity to the issue: I’ve been here and done this before. The first house DXH and I bought was a beautiful old place in the historic Willo district of mid-town Phoenix. Like my present neighborhood, this area suddenly became a favorite of the young, the affluent, and the upwardly mobile. We all flocked in there, bought the pretty old 1920s and ’30s houses, madly fixed them up, inflated their value, and created a HOT gentrified district. To give you an idea: that house, which we bought for $33,000 and sold about 15 years later for $130,000, was recently on the market for one million dollars.

The Willo area and its adjacent, more upscale Palmcroft district were indeed dangerous, especially to a woman who didn’t happen to have a German shepherd or a man watching over her 24/7. Like the ’Hood, the area was overrun with homeless drug addicts and (in those days) alcoholics. Per capita drug use in our zip code was the highest in the city. How dangerous was it?

Well, let’s see…

  • In the first week we lived there, we were awakened in the wee hours by cops swarming around our yard, glaring flashlights and spotlights shining in our bedroom window.

“Should I call the cops?” I asked Hubby, reaching for the bedside phone.

“No,” said he, “I think it is the cops.”

Yea verily, they were soon at the front door, demanding to search the house. Their crew was pursuing a cat burglar/rapist who was on the run from one of the neighbors’ houses. This fella’s MO was to slip into a darkened house, make himself to home for awhile, then pounce the sleeping residents, tie up the man, and rape the woman in front of him. Poor fella had been caught in the middle of a midnight snack by an awakened occupant, and he ran off before he got to the main act.

After the excitement subsided, we went back to bed.

Right at dawn, we heard a strange noise: S-c-c-r-a-a-a-a-p-e rumble rumble rumble…THUMP whack whack whackety whack WHACK!

Yucca gloriosa ‘Variegata’ in dry garden with Euphorbia myrsinites, Lavandula and Gaillardia

Turned out the perp had indeed run into our backyard, as the cops suspected. But when he got there he found an old, rotten wooden ladder that DXH had propped up against the back side of the house (the walls were about 20 feet high) in a failed effort to figure out how to turn the rooftop heater on. He’d left it there for the service guy he planned to call the next day…and forgot about it. When the poor schmuck tried to climb down, a rung broke under his weight and he fell all the way down to the ground, narrowly missing a Spanish dagger agave.

  • Then there was the time I was sitting on the floor typing a seminar paper in front of the TV set, while DXH was at a firm meeting. It was well after dark — he usually didn’t get home until after 10 p.m. I keep hearing this “rustle-rustle-rustle” sound from the service porch, which I think is the cats (we had several) scratching around in their sandbox. I reach a stopping point in the research paper I’m typing and get up to see what the cats are doing out there. When I walk into the laundry room, I see the latch on the side door wiggling up and down.

Holy shit.

This was before there were wireless phone extensions, and LONG before cell phones. It was also before we inherited the neighbor’s German shepherd. I run through the house to front door, fling it open to the screened front courtyard, and scream FIRE!  FIRE! FIRE! CALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT! HELP! F-I-I-R-E!!!!!!

This brings out the neighbors, who no matter how reluctant they may be to rescue you from an assault will cheerfully come out to watch your house burn down. It also spooks the would-be rapist — a couple of the neighbors watch him jump on his bike and take off down the alley.

That was interesting.

  • And the time my friend Retha and I were hanging out at another neighbor’s house. Those folks were out of town, and they’d asked me to keep an eye on the place and said we could use their pool as desired. So Retha and I were loafing at the pool.

We heard a lot of sirens down the street, cops carrying on. But we didn’t think anything about it. Police activity was commonplace, and with a fire station around the corner, sirens roared around all the time.

Yes. We didn’t think anything of it until the evening news came on. That was when we learned that the elderly lady who lived at the end of the street had come home from the beauty parlor, parked her car in her garage, strolled inside, and encountered a hopped-up burglar. He attacked her, grabbed an axe from inside the garage, and chopped her to death!


Retha and her husband Ron moved out of the neighborhood shortly after that. Huh. Wonder why?

  • Then there was the night that DXH and I came home late one evening. He crashed in bed and fell straight to sleep, which meant I couldn’t get to sleep, because he would snore so exuberantly that if I didn’t get to sleep before him, I wasn’t going to get to sleep. Sooo…I got up and went into the living room to sleep — in the altogether — on the sofa.

By this time we had inherited the neighbors’ German shepherd, who, thank God, came to us when those two divorced and moved away.

So I’m sleeping there, not very well, when I wake up and see a flashlight flickering around in the kitchen.

Here’s what goes through a young mother’s mind when she is awakened at three in the morning:

ooooohhh! The power must have gone out and John must have gotten up to get the baby a bottle.

I hear the Greta, the German shepherd — now quite aged and half deaf — go “boof?” from outside the bedroom door, off a hall on the other side of the house from the kitchen.

Still imagining the flashlight wielder in the kitchen is my husband, I go “John?”

When Greta hears my voice, she EXPLODES! She ROARS into the kitchen and goes after the poor schmuck whose flashlight beam is now soaring around as he frantically seeks a way out. The dog is between him and the door he came in, and she is about to send him back to his Maker. Instants before this re-introduction, he finds the side door (the one the would-be rapist had tried to enter, some years previously), yanks it open, flies out through it, and slams it shut in the dog’s face.

Still completely ignorant, I walk into the kitchen and find my husband standing there.

“Who was that man?” he asked.

“What man?”

Yeah. Well. I came rather too close to finding out, hm?

Still, we persisted in living in that house, living in that highly questionable neighborhood. Like the present ’Hood, Encanto was bordered on the south by a decrepit area (since much gentrified) and by slums on the west side, extending westward ever westward. The ’Hood, today, is bounded on the north side and on the west side by meth slums. The west side of Phoenix is, shall we say, low-income all the way out to Sun City, mile on mile on mile of seedy development that was cheaply built when new and is falling apart today. Falling apart, and crime-infested.

Retha and her husband Ron moved out. The divorcing friends across the street moved out. The neighbors with the pool moved out. Property values continued to increase. So did the crime rate. It was unsafe to let our son play outside unless the neighbor’s housekeeper was there with her employer’s little boy and would stand out there watching them every instant. We could, of course, not put him in the local public school — all of the lawyers’ and doctors’ kids in the area went to expensive private schools.

Finally, we threw in the towel and moved, too. I think what persuaded us was the transient who walked into a dirty-shirt law office on McDowell, the main drag just to the south of us, and caught the office’s legal secretary in the act of fixing coffee before her employers came in. God told him she was the Devil, so he murdered her on the spot.

  • Not very long after we moved out one of our former neighbors called to chat and reported that something had happened at Retha and Ron’s former house — right next door to the home of one of the women who used to babysit our son. The new residents were an affluent young professional couple. He traveled for work a lot, and was often out of town.

Ron and Retha had installed an elaborate burglar alarm system in that house, which was a large and sprawling place. The only window that was not alarmed was one of those tiny little bathroom windows, the kind of thing that slides open about 18 inches, just enough to allow air to ventilate the room after a shower.

The guy had been watching the wife for months, and he’d been studying the house. He knew where all the alarmed doors and windows were, and he had observed that this window was not alarmed. He also knew when her husband was out of town.

So one evening he entered the house through this window. Surprised the woman, captured her, and spent the entire night raping and beating her. How she survived, I do not know, and nor do I know what possessed him to leave without killing her. Maybe he thought he had killed her.

I really disliked our new neighborhood. It was full of snobs who wouldn’t have anything to do with White Trash like me, and the houses were 1950s look-alike ranchers, pretty boring by and large. What friends I had were all at the university, which was even further from North Central than from Encanto. For me, it was an unhappy place to live. But at least it felt safer.

Probably because by then we not only had the German shepherd, we had another big dog, too.

But really, the question is what possessed us to stay in Encanto as long as we did? We did love the house, which was spectacularly beautiful. We did have nice neighbors, though the older ones were dying off and the ones our age were moving away. It was close to DXH’s office and relatively close to the university. But…resident drug-addicted bums sleeping in your yard and any car you forgot to lock? Rapists? Ax murderers? What WERE we thinking????

So…{sigh}. Today I find myself in the same predicament: Great neighbors. Central location. Lovely home. Beautiful yard. And…constant cop flyovers, wackshit incidents every week, none of the inner-city medical facilities are adequate to the kind of emergency I’m likely to experience, and…hey! Listen to that! Here comes a siren wailing up Conduit of Blight Blvd, even as we scribble…

Among the several discouraging issues…

  • First, it’s an expensive godawful hassle to move. I really don’t wanna do that again.
  • I don’t know how much longer I’ll live, but I figure not more than another ten to fifteen years. Do I really want to make myself crazy moving to some other house for that brief a period? Can I really not hold out, pistol in hand, for a few more years?
  • Newer housing is just flat not as desirable as houses built on lots with some elbow room between the neighbors and with walls made of WALLS, not plasterboard and styrofoam.
  • The “safer” middle-class areas, while priced about the same as this part of the ’Hood, are mile on mile on endless look-alike mile of ticky-tacky. You may want to live in a house that looks just like your neighbor’s and your next neighbor’s and your next neighbor’s, but I sure as hell don’t.

So…what am I thinking? What on earth to do?

I dunno. What we have here are a lot of small to medium-size plusses and one HUGE negative (in the form of nearby crime- and drug-ridden slums). Or, we could say, a huge negative in the form of a society that does nothing to deal with its exploding problem of mentally ill drug addicts…possibly because no one has found any consistently successful way to do that.

Far as I can see, there are two potential solutions:

  • One is to stay here and hope for the best. I have a noisy little dog and I am armed to the teeth. And it’s never too late, I suppose, to adopt another German shepherd.
  • The other is to move.

Neither of those strikes me as ideal.

When in doubt, I suppose…don’t.

The Burglar Jamboree: Nine Ways to Protect Yourself

Yesterday at four o’clock in the morning La Bethulia was awakened by a knock on the front door. A cop was standing out there, inside the courtyard. When she opened the door to him, he said, “I think we have something of yours.”

And thereon hangs quite a tale.

As it develops, the entire neighborhood was targeted by a band of burglars last night. One of them entered La Maya and La Bethulia’s courtyard and stole a small, slick piece of a table, apparently to use as a tool in burglarizing their neighbor’s house.

Meanwhile, the Next-Door Neighbor Husband awoke some time before 4:00 and walked out to the kitchen to get a drink of water. As he went toward the front of the house, he noticed the lights were on in his car, which he’d parked in the driveway. Looking out through a window, what should he see but a guy methodically going through the vehicle, stealing everything that wasn’t red-hot or nailed down and neatly stacking it all in a box.

Rather than confront the creep or try to scare him off, he called 911.

The 911 dispatcher told him that all the cops in our area were occupied, dealing with other burglaries in progress in the neighborhood! They sent a squad car that was, at the time, clear over on the east side. It took about a quarter of an hour for this crew to arrive.

While the cops were in transit, Perp strolled across the street and broke into another car, having carried all the loot from Neighbor Husband’s car around the corner to his accomplice, who was waiting in the getaway car. The neighbors watched as he looted that vehicle, too.

Eventually the police arrived. They trapped and caught the perp, but the guy in the getaway car escaped, taking with him everything his pal had taken out of Neighbor Husband’s car, including about $700 worth of stereo equipment. The officers did retrieve the piece of junk Perp had lifted from La Bethulia and La Maya’s yard.

Perp, it develops, has quite the rap sheet. He and his colleagues live next-door to each other, apparently in a colony of felons. They targeted our neighborhood last night, spreading out to raid the properties that interested them most.

Fortunately, they didn’t enter Neighbor Couple’s or La Bethulia & La Maya’s homes. But as you can imagine, the women were pretty creeped out, realizing the perp had been right outside the vast and vulnerable banks of French doors and windows that look out onto the enclosed courtyard. La Bethulia attempted to repair the lock to the courtyard door before she left for work, succeeding only in jamming the mechanism. So now that will have to be fixed, presumably by a locksmith.

What does this mean for us bystanders? Knowing that our homes are targeted now or one day will be targeted, what can we do to defend ourselves?

First and most obvious: don’t park your car on the street. Clean out the garage and park your cars inside.

If you live someplace where you have to park on the street, for heaven’s sake don’t leave any valuables in the car. And don’t equip your car with expensive electronic equipment!

If you have to park your car outside, drive a junker.

Perp didn’t touch the aging Toyota La Bethulia had left in the driveway. She bought her daughter’s car recently, when Daughter moved to Hawai’i, and she hasn’t had time to sell it. So the decrepit car was sitting right under Perp’s nose. With richer pickings nearby, Perp left the pile of junk unmolested.

Lock your doors and windows at night.

Alarm your doors and windows.

If you don’t have a burglar alarm system (they’re expensive and a nuisance…some of us do without them), you can get small, unobtrusive alarms that emit an ear-splitting squeal when their magnetic connection is broken. They’re very cheap and very easy to install—they run on small batteries and require no wiring. I bought a package of ten at Costco, and found they work on screen doors as well as regular entry doors and windows. So I’ve got one on the sliding screen for the Arcadia door and one on the security door in front. Security doors are easy to break into…but won’t Perp be surprised when he takes a crowbar to that thing!

Amazon sells them in packs of four as Mini Door & Window Contact Alarms rel=”nofollow”. I think they’re well worth the low cost. Fifteen bucks is sure cheaper than whatever a burglary might cost you.

Don’t own a lot of expensive junk.

This basic tenet of the frugalist works nicely to frustrate burglars. SDXB was visited by burglars the night he moved into his house around the corner from me. Foolishly, we remarked that he could stay at my house that night, since his house was chaos…and we made that remark in front of the moving men. Equally foolishly, he had an NRA sticker on his truck, advertising his interest in guns. That night “someone” came through the only door that didn’t have a deadbolt on it (interestingly, they didn’t try any of the other doors or windows) and went through all his boxes looking for weapons. He had stored his guns elsewhere during the move, but they took a collector’s bow and all the knives and machetes he’d collected during his military travels. The bow was the only thing that really mattered…otherwise, his possessions came from thrift stores. Poor guys—they made a wasted trip.

Don’t put an NRA sticker on your vehicle.

This is a big red flag that says “I have a gun in my house.” Thieves are attracted to guns as flies to molasses.

Lock weapons, cash, negotiable instruments, and jewelry in a safe.

Gun safes are expensive, but your investment in arms also represents a big expense. More to the point, though, no lawful gun owner wants to contemplate having his weapons used in a crime or shipped across the Mexican border to be used in that country’s drug wars.

Be sure your safe is bolted to the floor.

Insure your home and its contents.

If you do own anything of value, get a rider to cover it. While a rider does add a small amount to your homeowner’s policy, if you have to make a claim, you’ll be glad you planned ahead.

Don’t even think a dog is going to protect your property or you from a burglar or home invader.

Though I had one German shepherd that chased off a home invader, that is not what dogs normally do. If you’re not home, it’s pretty easy to make nice to the dog. If it’s a protective or mean dog, all the burglar has to do is shoot it.

In our part of the country, burglars are given to tossing poison over the fence where targeted homes have a large dog. A day or two after the dog is out of the way, they come visiting again.

Rely on locks, alarms, and common sense instead. They’re a lot more reliable, and it’s fairer to the dog.

Police Presence and Property Values

Ever wonder whether frequent cop helicopter buzzing affects the property values in your neighborhood?

About ten minutes ago one of the cop copters came blasting in, low enough to rattle the windows in the house, and started circling about three lots to the west of me. This is a not-infrequent occurrence here, because my part of the neighborhood forms a buffer between some very upscale, Old Phoenix streets to the east and a cluster of slummy tenements to the west. The residents of the people kennels get up to all sorts of mischief, from petty theft all the way to shooting and killing Phoenix’s Finest. So as you can imagine, the police are somewhat sensitized.

I used to live closer to the tenements. Since I moved about three blocks deeper into the neighborhood, the cop flyby’s haven’t been so noticeable, but in the old house, which stood near the intersection of two main drags just south of a war zone, I could set my clock by the 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday night flyovers. They literally would park right over my house while they ran spotlights around the area and hollered down at perps from their bullhorns.

Besides shattering the peace and quiet (well…there’s not that much quiet to be shattered when you’re right on top of two six-lane thoroughfares), these episodes are disturbing. I figure if I were a perp and the cops were on my heels, I would try to get inside someone’s house and hide. If I were armed, I’d be well equipped to intimidate the residents—or worse.

So every time the cops come flying over (again!), I get up and go close and lock the doors and windows. Annoying, especially when the weather’s nice and you’d like to have fresh air moving through the house. This evening when I got up to do that, I found I’d left the back door hanging wide open the last time I let the dog out. Reassuring…

If you were to look at the city crime reports for this neighborhood, you’d see that the crime rate in this area is relatively low. It’s much lower than it is where my son is living, just two or three miles to the south, and we have fewer sex offenders living nearby. So, in theory, if a buyer were sensitive to that issue, the ubiquitous cop helicopters wouldn’t make much difference to the sale of your house. How, anyway, would a person know that we live under a cop helicopter traffic lane without being here to observe it?

On the other hand, middle-class residents’ nervousness about crime, especially in the presence of nearby low-income housing, has its effect.

When SDXB got up in the middle of the night and found two dudes climbing in his front window (he chased them off with a pistol…far as we know, they’re still running), the first thing he did the next morning was alert all the neighbors. Literally. He went from door to door telling the neighbors that he’d caught a couple of cat burglars in the act, after they’d quietly lifted out one of the windowpanes.

Within days, his next-door neighbor put his house on the market and moved away. He underpriced the place so as to unload it quickly, because, being a middle-class homeowner, he could afford to do so. He bought a house in Sun City, where property values are surprisingly low, and pocketed 60 grand in the exchange.

The buyer? Mr. B***, a.k.a. the suspected vandal.

As soon as this guy moved in, he started buying up houses in the neighborhood, often from elderly original owners who had no idea what they were worth. Before long he owned seven houses in this six-block-square neighborhood, five of which he converted into rentals. He added a tumbledown summer kitchen to the house next-door to SDXB, illegally connecting to the city sewer line. He did all the repair and fix-up on the other houses, always without benefit of building permits—apparently in the Old Country building codes, if they exist at all, are most honored in the breach.

These activities served to push property values down, leading to conversion of still more homes into rental properties; hence Biker Boob and Bobbie McGee in the house across the street.

You could argue that it was the absence of police protection that led to this state of affairs. It was an hour before the cops showed up after SDXB called 911 and said he had a .45 trained on two men who were clambering in his front window. And he made a big point of complaining to the neighbors about that, too.

At least nowadays the cops do show up (if noisily) when you call. A 45-minute to an hour’s wait used to be SOP; if someone actually was breaking into your  house, the trick was to open a door on the other side of the building and start screaming FIRE!!! This would usually bring the neighbors, who’ll come out to watch your house burn down but will hide behind locked doors when they think a crime is under way.

Still. There’s no question that when people who can afford to move don’t feel safe in a neighborhood, they will move. One of our long-term neighbors just moved out, before her house even sold, saying she wished to live “closer to people like herself” (read more white folks, less brown folks).

I wonder if too much police protection, especially when it’s conspicuous, is bad for business. The real estate business, that is.

Ominous development

This afternoon the head of our neighborhood association sent this interesting report from one of the residents:

My family and I live in the northwest part of the R*** P*** neighborhood. At 5:15 pm my five children were home together as their dad was working and I’d gone to a school function—about 20 minutes after I left with a girlfriend, whose son was also at my house, a beat-up black Cadillac or that type of car pulled up right in front of our driveway and one man got out and came to the door while three others waited in the car. My oldest daughter (15) watched the man come up to our front door and knock—she didn’t recognize him and got the little ones (4, 3, 19 months) together in my oldest son’s room (11). My son’s room is right next to the front door and he could see the man, in his 20’s, white, buzz cut with light brown or reddish hair and wire glasses. He was also wearing a green shirt that said “Carp” on the back. My daughter said the man didn’t seem too clean and had nothing in his hands to suggest selling something. She said the passengers saw her through our front window and one in the back seat was texting on the phone. The man knocked and then rattled the doorknob for approx 7 to 10 minutes. The man looked into my son’s room through the window and my oldest daughter shut all the shutters and curtains and called the police, but the man and his friends left before the police arrived. My daughter saw the car turn around and drive towards 19th ave. Luckily, we have an alarm and my daughter set it after the police left so she could feel a little safer.

My girlfriend and her son and me and my children were all in my front yard for about an hour before we left to go to the school function, so it makes me think our house was being watched. The odd part is that we had two cars parked in front of our house, so it did look like someone was home. (Normally the cars aren’t there.) Then again, the man definitely saw my daughter and son and heard the younger ones. It seems he wanted in the house.

I’m only going into so much detail because of course I feel terrible that I wasn’t home, but also because it seems like our house was targeted. I’m concerned that these people wanted in the house, that it was daylight, there were obviously children home, and in fact a neighbor’s bike was near our front door but it wasn’t taken.

Holy mackerel! That’s one of the scariest stories I’ve heard in the 17 years or so that I’ve lived in this neighborhood. During that time, we’ve had two home invasions that I know of, but neither involved Bad Guys going after a clutch of children.

The northwest section of the neighborhood is not very good. It’s an area that’s been severely thumped by a series of unhappy circumstances: a slummy supermarket that went unregulated by the City despite chronic code violations; a huge, noisy intersection over which the cops like to park their helicopters while chasing perps; proximity to a set of apartments that have been allowed to turn into tenements and to a blighted district that’s your basic war zone; and most recently the corrosive destruction wrought by the unfinished and apparently never-to-be-finished lightrail train tracks. It was harder hit by the depRecession than any other part of the neighborhood, with the result that even more of the housing than before has been turned into rentals—and they already had plenty of weedy, run-down rentals.

Because of the blighted rentals, it’s reasonable to suspect these characters meant to visit one of their drug-dealing colleagues and had the wrong address. On the other hand, if the mother is right in thinking they were being watched, then obviously they knew only children were home. In that case, it’s very creepy.

I walk the dog at night. And when the weather is nice—as it has been today—I like to have my doors and windows open. Guess I’m going to have to rethink those behaviors…

Odd$ and End$

First crack out of the box this morning, it was off to the credit union at the (relatively) nearby West campus, there to hand-deliver 15 pages of paperwork.

Well over a month ago, M’Hijito and I had asked to negotiate a loan modification of the downtown house’s mortgage. They asked for evidence of every deep breath we’d taken within the prior 30 days, which after much thrashing around we scraped together into a big digital pile and e-mailed to them.

Well, this mound of debris reached the loan lady one day after the credit union outsourced its loan management. So now, instead of the six-day turnaround on a decision we had been promised, we were told there would be a one-week “blackout” on all information coming from this outfit, and that after that…they had no idea what would happen.

Weeks went by: nothing.

So I called Loan Lady the day before yesterday and asked her voicemail if I was correct in assuming that silence means “no deal,” since we would need to figure out how to pay the mortgage or decide whether we should take a walk, given last month’s munificent earned income of $161.

Within hours, comes a call from Higher-Up Loan Lady, who says that the credit union is “taking some loans back in-house,” among them ours, and would we please send the entire mound over again, only add written proof that I actually was canned and update several other documents, now gone stale. Translation: “we lost your documents.”

Of course, the fuck-you-very-much announcement on ASU letterhead was not in digital form. The new printer/scanner refused to scan it. So that made it impossible to e-mail the new pile of junk, which took a good half-day in the collecting and updating. The new printer/scanner doesn’t have a FAX, and even the old printer/scanner/FAX machine would not talk to Cox’s modem and so would not have sent a FAX anyway. She suggested I either mail it (about $2.00 worth of postage) or take it to the credit union and get them to FAX it.

I chose the latter. This ensured that someone there actually saw to it that the documents went through, and they gave me the printout of confirmation showing the stuff reached Higher-Up Loan Lady. The cost of the gas to drive over there—about $2.53—was probably as much as or more than the cost of postage, but at least it ensured that the pile of paper didn’t disappear again.

Despite the annoying waste of time and gasoline, this junket did allow me to take advantage of a serendipitous occurrence of the Money Happens phenomenon.

A few weeks ago, a client gave me a $25 gift card to Fry’s grocery stores, a nice little under-the-table lagniappe. I never shop at Fry’s, because the two stores in my general vicinity are located in pretty threatening neighborhoods. After the manager of the restaurant in the Fry’s shopping center at 19th and Glendale was murdered by thieves, I quit going there. On the way to ASU West, though, I passed a store in a working-class neighborhood that looked pretty safe, and so decided to spend the money there.

Not bad. For $20 I nabbed milk and eggs with which to make some excellent biscuits for breakfast, a small stoneware bowl of the sort I’ve been needing for a while, a bag of chunk hardwood charcoal, and some produce. The pork, much needed for Cassie, was ten cents a pound higher than Safeway’s, so I passed on that. But I did find a pair of kitchen tongs with handles, not those chopsticks on a spring that are currently popular. Real tongs have have turned into a hard-to-to-find item, as I discovered when my ancient pair wore out.

Yesterday I had a meeting that took place after I finished teaching in the middle of the afternoon. Because I couldn’t afford to have lunch out even if there were something available on the campus that I’d want to eat, by the time I stumbled in the door I was dead starved. It was evening by the time I’d fed myself and the dog taken the dog for the required doggy-walk and added more acid to the pool. Then I had to wrestle with the mountain of paperwork (above). After that was ready to go, I

was sooo tired I sat down to relax by working on a pencil drawing I started yesterday. The next time I lifted my head, it was quarter to eight and I was an hour late to choir practice.

Started to climb into the car to race down to the Cult Headquarters, but with the garage door open and the engine on, I realized I  just couldn’t do it. So went back in the house and missed practice. Now I’ll be in the doghouse again. Oh well.

My beleaguered former RA, who lives just a few blocks from me, was burgled last Sunday. They stole all her jewelry—most of it sentimental gifts from her mother with little monetary value—and her husband’s laptop. {sigh} This neighborhood is under siege from the cockroaches who inhabit the tenements across 19th Avenue. Burglaries are as common as falling leaves around here. I’m almost inclined to go back up to the pound and see if that fake “bloodhound” is still there. Whatever he was, he was no bloodhound. Neither did he appear to have any pit bull in him. But he was big enough to mean business, or at least to look like he might.

I don’t know. I can’t afford another dog. Just feeding me and little 25-pound Cassie is a challenge. On the other hand, I can’t afford to be burglarized, either.

Speaking of the neighborhood, when I got home late yesterday afternoon a carpet cleaning crew was over at Biker Boob and Bobbie McGee’s house, overseen by a hulking bruiser of a man swaggering around in a wife-beater. Turns out said bruiser was a great big, charming gay guy who is a Realtor. He strolled over to introduce himself and say Boob and Bobbie are history and he’s putting the house on the market. He’s asking $239,000, substantially less per square foot than the $285,000 our local Real Estate Empress is trying to get for the same model two blocks to the north and west. He said the place is in pretty bad shape and needs a lot of fix-up.

Not surprising.

As sweet as Queer John was, at one point he had five men living in there with him. (QJ was the original renter, an affable little guy but pretty nuts.) After QJ was chased down in a dramatic pursuit through the neighborhood and hauled off by a team of five cruisersful of cops, he was replaced by Biker Boob and his lady, Bobbie McGee, a raunchy cowgirl given to dumping car trunkloads full of mystery garbage in the big trash bin behind my house and Sally’s. We figured if whatever she was stuffing in there (neither of us cared to tear open the bags to see what it was) couldn’t go into the bin behind her house, it probably wasn’t supposed to go into the city garbage bins at all.

According to Zillow, $239,900 is what the present owner, who lives in upstate New York, paid for that house in 2004. He must figure the market has recovered enough to unload an ill-advised investment. Let’s hope he’s right!

While fooling with the Excel files yesterday by way of cranking the new reports the CU wanted, I made an interesting little discovery.

In January, I only spent $1,698. Multiply that by 12 and you get an estimated 2010 expenditure of $20,376. Optimistic, to be sure—summer power bills will raise that by about $200 a month, adding approximately $800 to the projected total: $21,176.

But if you include the tiny drawdown I’m taking from ASU’s 403(b) plan so as to qualify for the state’s sick leave payment (the net is only $385 a month), you come up with this net income:

“Pension” net: $385 x 12 = $4,620
Social Security net: $1,000 x 12 = $12,000
Net teaching income: $14,400 – 25% = $10,800

$4,620 + $12,000 + $10,800 = $27,420, projected net income

$27,420 – $21,176 = $6,244 positive cash flow for 2010

That’s a far cry from the $1,400 year-end balance I estimated by manually adding up all my projected costs, month by month, and subtracting them, month by month, from projected income (and, during the summer, nonincome).

So far I haven’t been able to account for the difference. I think I’ve included all predictable costs. The $1,698 January expenditure includes the $314 I had to cough up for COBRA, significantly more than either COBRA or Medicare will cost after this. The only thing I can imagine is that my month-by-month estimates of what the community college will pay must be wrong. But they couldn’t possibly be wrong by $4800…that doesn’t make sense.

Time will tell. If the shorthand calculation turns out to be correct, maybe I won’t have to teach three-and-three!


Life in the Big City

Dang! Now I’m stuck in the house for an hour or so.

Burglar tools, 1875
Burglar tools, 1875

Thanks to a seemingly endless stream of missives from the neighborhood association warning of burglars who wait and watch on the street and then clean out your house when they see you leave on an errand, I’ve been checking all around before I drive my car out of the garage. At one point, our intrepid leader reported seven burglaries and prowlers caught in the act over a 15-day period—one every two days. Many of the perps arrive in pairs or groups; pretty clearly, some of this stuff represents organized gang activity. Others are singletons. The level of their determination to rip off the residents keeps step with the rise in the unemployment rate:



I’ve received several emails and calls about an incident that occurred in the 8000 block of N 8th Ave today.


A 20-30 yr old Caucasian male approached two homes that we know of in the middle of the day. After ringing the doorbell and pounding loudly on the door but getting no answer, he attempted to drill thru the lock and pry open one of the doors. The homeowner was home but wisely chose not to answer the door for the stranger. When it became apparent he was attempting to break in, the homeowner yelled at the guy and he left.


I’m happy that he left and did not get into the house, but he’s still out there. Phoenix PD was called but the guy was long gone. They indicated they were aware of this guy and have been looking for him. We need to be especially watchful for this creep as it could be very dangerous if he gets into a house where the homeowners are home as he almost did today. If you see someone matching this description, call 911 immediately. You do not need to wait for him to do something. If he matches this description, call 911 immediately. If the dispatcher gives you any grief about it, tell them we’ve been told the police are looking for this guy and our Community Action Officer has asked us to call immediately.


The guy is 20-30 years old, white, about 5-10″, shaved head, dark, tightly trimmed goatee. His face was described as gaunt as you might expect a drug addict to appear. He arrived at the house on a red and black motorcycle, wearing a Yamaha motorcycle jacket and a helmet , carrying a backpack.


Be watchful, be safe, be quick.


Okayyy… Just a few minutes ago I gathered my junk to make a run on Costco, Sprouts, and Target. And what should I see parked about three doors down but an old beige Oldsmobile with someone sitting in the driver’s seat. Just a-sittin’ there, minding their own business, eh? Because I couldn’t see far enough to get the license plate from my front yard, I drove my van down there, wrote down the license number and car description, and then came back. The occupant had a shirt hung in the driver’s side window so I couldn’t get a good look at her. (Some of the perps of late have been women, BTW.) I wasn’t even sure it was a woman or a man in drag—the hairdo looked like a bad wig. It could have been a guy tricked out to look like a woman, by way of camouflage.

Damn it. I had a lot of stuff to do today, and I didn’t have in mind spending an hour or so waiting around for a cop to show up. That’s the usual wait time when you call 911 around here. Ohhh well.

In the protective coloration department, yesterday I realized that if I’m to continue shopping at the Sprouts, Costco, and Target in my general area, I shouldn’t be doddering around the parking lots with a purse slung over my shoulder. Since I charge everything, really there’s no reason to haul a bag around everyplace I go.

For a little old lady to carry a purse into the Sprouts or the Albertson’s shopping center down the street is like wearing a sign saying “Mug Me!” The Albertson’s is just creepy—I won’t go in there even in the daytime anymore. Sprouts’s parking lot is a bit sketchy, too. The Walgreen’s in that strip mall allows young toughs to loiter outside the front door, so when you go in there you have to run a gauntlet of threatening-looking men and boys, and you get to enjoy passing through a thick cloud of their cigarette smoke. They may be harmless fellows, but IMHO if you dress like a violent thug and affect the mannerisms of a violent thug, there’s a fair chance you are a violent thug.

La Maya had a close escape from a mugger at the gas station adjacent to the Sprouts parking lot, and then, more recently, she watched a hooker pick up a john in the parking lot. So, your choices are to burn gas driving into a better area, where the stores are nicer and the parking lots less littered with questionable patrons, or to take your chances closer to home.

dcp_23971So, realizing that when I shop I rarely use anything other than a credit card, I decided to disinter an old fold-over wallet and use it to carry the AMEX card, driver’s license, and Safeway nuisance card. It will fit in my jeans pocket, and as long as I’m wearing a shirt on the outside, the resulting bulge is unnoticeable. With any luck, the perps will prefer to knock over some other little old lady with her purse slung over her shoulder, and maybe leave me alone.

And besides, it has a benefit: one fewer piece of junk to drag around.

Of course, leaving my purse in the house poses the chance that it will be stolen, if indeed The Burgular decides to come visiting. But I have a weird little hidey-hole that is SO strange I doubt even a pro will think of it. So I’m going to hide the purse there whenever I go out.

Image: Burglar’s Tools Found in the Bank, Wikipedia Commons