Reflections Upon the Theft of My Phone

Two faces of Buddha.
Two faces of Buddha.

Last night, maybe an hour or so ago, actually, marks what might be only the third time in my life I can recall someone stealing from me. Now, it’s quite possible that there are other, minor offences that I don’t recall, or once or twice something was taken from someone close to me. And there were books or records loaned to people who then vanished from the material plane. But something that was specifically mine and deliberately taken, that’s been a rare occurrence.

I honestly don’t know if if it’s luck, or karma, or vigilance on my part. Maybe its that I tend not to have shit worth stealing very often. The benefit of not being into material possessions, I suppose.

The first one I can remember was a backpack that was stolen from me after school in 6th grade. I was goofing around in the playground after school and left my backpack by the side of the grass. I noticed someone over there at one point, and when I back, I realized it was gone and the contents–my book of sheet music for piano, had been torn in half and left behind.

This was kind of more than my 11yr old brain could handle. I flipped out, broke down to my mom. And, because I paid attention, I had noticed who had been standing over there near the bag. My mom called his mom and we drove over to deal with the situation Mom-o y Mom-o.

Here’s what I remember from that confrontation: the kid was a classmate of mine who shall remain nameless, his mom was mortified and made him apologize and return the backpack, and the thief was embarrassed and deeply sorry. I also remember that this was was the first time I had ever been in apartment in my life.

I don’t know why he took my backpack and vandalized my book. I’m not even sure if he knew why. He wasn’t a bully or a thug. We didn’t have a problem with each other that I can recall. In fact, in first grade he had been one of my three best friends. So it was all a bit baffling, and I ended up feeling sorry for him. Because as much as I lamented the temporary loss of my backpack, I’m sure he got it much worse from his mom after we left that day.

The second time someone stole from me was more complicated. It was nine years later. I was 20 and living on my own with a few friends from college and theater. Two of these friends lived in an apartment upstairs from an apartment I shared with two other friends. We went bowling together a lot. Most of us were in a league. I even had my own shoes. I also had these amazing black leather gloves. They were cowboy style, long, with fringes on them.

Man did I ever love those gloves. Even then I had some sense of my own, weird, personal style.

Then went missing one night at the bowling alley. I had been convinced by my roommate who was there at the time I had left them on a pinball table or something, and someone must have walked away with them. It didn’t make any sense. I hadn’t seen anyone else around, no strangers who might have taken them. It was a mystery that kept bugging me for a few months until the pieces fell together.

The roommate who had worked so hard to convince me that I had lost them was arrested for check fraud. Seems she had pilfered a sheet of checks from the place she worked and wrote one out to herself. When she was arrested, that entire circle of friends got together and started comparing notes. Seems she was a bit of a pathological liar with a established pattern of embezzlement and outright theft. My gloves had been hocked at a pawn shop and were long gone.

It seems that she hadn’t been able to hold down much of a steady job since being fired from a bookstore where she had lifted tons of product and, if memory serves, cash. And here she was with no one to fall back on, needing to make rent, and a serious problem being able to tell the truth. I have no doubt to this day that she had some serious mental health issues. I don’t know if they ever got treated. I got engaged and moved in with my fiance within a month of the shit hitting the fan, and she sort of dropped out of sight after that.

Yeah, I missed my gloves. Heck, still miss those gloves some times. But for her, they meant groceries. And they meant having to live with stealing from a person she considered (at least on some level) a friend and then perpetuating an ever deeper series of lies about it. And I’ll never forget the first thing she said when she came home after the arrest, knowing that we knew about it. She asked, “What do you know.” Because she knew the cycle of trust had been broken, but she was cagey and needed to know what lies were left standing and which ones had fallen. I know what a cycle of lying can do to a person. I’ve seen it first hand.

It’s been almost 25 years and I still feel sorry for her.

And then Saturday night, I had gone to my “third place,” the karaoke bar near my home to celebrate the end of November and the completion of my most recent novel. People have given me shit for hanging out there and call it a dive. I know people who live in the neighborhood who refuse to go in there. And yeah, it’s a dive, but it’s my dive. I’ve never felt unsafe there. And trust me, I have seen the belly of the beast in that place and had conversations with some truly amazing people, from rock musicians to ex-cons. But it’s like a second home in some ways.

It wasn’t even a busy night. There was a birthday party there and a handful of people at the bar. But for a Saturday night, it was tame. I checked my phone at one point before going on stage to sing, and maybe half an hour later checked my sweatshirt pocket to find it gone. While I had been on stage, someone had slipped my phone from my pocket and walked off. For all I knew, they were still in the bar. I had no way to know.

All I knew was that it was gone. Not misplaced. Not slipped out and fallen on the floor.


And here’s the thing: that phone is a piece of shit. It was the lowest end smart phone that came free with a 2-year contract almost two years ago. Once I deactivated it and changed my passwords, I can’t imagine it having any value to anyone.

Anyone but me, that is.

I had almost two years of contact information in there. Phone number of people I have no way of getting again. And of course a handful of pictures that would mean nothing to anyone but me. Losing the phone is an inconvenience in a lot of ways. I use it as primary means of communication with some people. I use it for my alarm to wake up in the morning, my calendar to keep my schedule straight.

I’m trying to find the Buddhist path through this, to divest myself of attachment to the physical. It’s not that difficult. Like I said, it wasn’t a great phone. Replacing it will be inconvenient, there will have to be some adjustments made as a result, and I’ll just have to accept that many of those phone number, etc. are gone forever. The worst thing is that those people who chided me for hanging out there will feel their derision was justified. And that’s just not the case. Bad stuff happens everywhere. If anyone’s at fault, it’s me for not keeping my sweatshirt on or in sight the entire time I was in a public place. That was reckless.

And I’m feeling sorry for whoever took my phone. I don’t know who they are, but if their life has sunk to the level where they need to do something like that, then their life must be unbelievably shitty. I can’t imagine how stealing my phone will make it any better for them. Heck, maybe they’ll turn it in to the bar. Stranger things have happened.

And if nothing else, the right hand of karma is a motherfucker.

One thought on “Reflections Upon the Theft of My Phone

  1. Your story-telling is amazing. Indeed, you’ve had a great run. Just three incidents in such a rich life and the first two being so worthy of a tale. Interesting – or perhaps not at all – that both were perpetrated by someone you knew.

    I won’t speak to the nature of karma or the way of the Buddha here, but maybe you might come up with a story here. So often, I watch a television show or a movie with a spy on the run who must find a phone to make a call without being tracked and he or she almost always lifts one from an unsuspecting victim in the vicinity. It may be a wonder to imagine such a scenario here. Your phone may be in a refuse bin, taken apart, not far from that karaoke bar. Your inconvenience may have saved the life of a spy.

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