Laying Down on the Job

Laying Down on the Job
The Santa Monica Easy

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Security of Illusion

As I drove home today from Trader Joe's, I happened to listen to Krista Tippett, the host of NPR's "Speaking of Faith", interview Mary Doria Russell about how she discerns God. I always enjoy this show when I happen to hear it even though I no longer attend church, having long ago made the conscious choice to carry my church "on my back" -- so to speak -- to live a life that follows the Golden Rule 24/7 instead of just on Sunday. Regardless, I often carry on existential explorations in my head about God. I found today's broadcast provocative and thought I would expand on it for today's post. However, before I got started with my own, I read my friend's blog (as I do most every day), "The Gurly Life", and discovered she already blogged about the same broadcast and topic! The author of "The Gurly Life" and I are dear friends but we live on the opposite sides of an incomprehensibly humongous, traffic-challenged metropolis and we both lead very different life styles so it's a succulent serendipity that we were both driving our Priuses (I in my dark green 2001 model and she in her red 2009), at the same hour, listening to the same radio channel. What is not surprising is that our respective reactions to the broadcast would be the same ("must blog about this..."). Is this evidence that great minds do indeed think alike or have thousands of bloggers across the planet blogged about this topic in the aftermath of today's broadcast? Of course, I'm not really blogging about it because after reading her blog, I have nothing more to add. I do recommend listening to the broadcast and then, for dessert, reading "The Gurly Life"'s equally provocative and witty observations, "Some god thoughts".

Instead, I'll yap about the illusion of security. I am of two minds regarding gated communities, barred windows and electronic security in general. My first reaction is, "what a good way to protect one's self and belongings from the dangers of the world." My second reaction is that these precautions and safety measures create a false sense of safety, a false sense of the world and reinforce fear. I'm not critical of those who choose to live in gated enclosures, use Lo Jack or ADT, I'm just torn.

In late 1990 the rear passenger window of my lovely 1975 Honda Civic was smashed by some creep who wanted my stuff, and he stole about $200 worth of newly dry cleaned clothes along with some love letters from a boy friend, my prescription sunglasses and a pair of jumper cables. I'd locked the car but it had no alarm. If I'd left the car unlocked, it's quite likely the window would not have been obliterated. As it turned out, the damage was less than my insurance deductible (isn't that always the case?) but costly enough to put a huge crimp in my budget. For six months I drove around with a duct-taped garbage bag for a passenger window -- and I'm sure it's illegal to drive a car with a garbage bag window -- before I could afford to have it replaced. I think the specific saint who protects driver's from being ticketed must have been my guardian angel for those months. Every car I've owned since that sweet little Honda -- a `94 Saturn station wagon, my 2001 Prius and a 2004 Mercedes Benz -- all had alarm systems. Nevertheless, some creep broke into my Prius and stole the TomTom GPS on the same rare night I left the car unlocked and unarmed.

In April of 1992, while at work, my bungalow apartment was burgled by a duo of creeps who wanted my stuff. As is usual for B and E, the windows were the entry-point of choice. One member of the duo hoisted himself (assuming it was a he-type) through the unscreened kitchen window, easily pushed open from the outside, and into my apartment where upon he passed the microwave, sewing machine, 19 inch TV, answering machine, VHS player and two gold bracelets from my grandmother, to the other thief waiting outside the other kitchen window easily opened by the first thief. I had no renter's insurance in those days so it was a total financial loss for me. The hardest part though was everything stolen had been given to me by someone I loved and who loved me. I slept at a friend's for a week before I felt safe enough to sleep in the apartment again. The landlord replaced the window screens, I got renter's insurance and I installed a battery-operated motion detector. The motion detector didn't do more than make an obnoxiously loud noise when activated, but it was all I could afford at the time and gave me a sense of security.

The motion detector became more of a nuisance to the neighbors than a deterrent. In the summer, when the bungalow gets beastly hot, I leave the side windows open during the day. The alarm would blast if one of the drapes even slightly billowed from an occasional passing breeze. No one called the police when it tripped. I just found post-it notes on my back door informing me that the alarm blasted for 30 minutes. Sometime in the sumer of 2000 I just stopped using the motion detector.

In the aftermath of my property loss, two of the four other apartments were also burgled. In 2005 the landlord, who lives in the "Big House" on the property, bought a dog. While the terms of my lease won't permit a pet, two other newer tenants now also have dogs. There are six dogs living in three of the 5 apartments. One tenant has two chihuahuas and a Jack Russell, another tenant has a chihuahua-terrier mix and the landlord now has two dogs, a Vizsla and a German Shepherd. Personally, I couldn't be happier to be surrounded by dogs. They're balanced, well-trained dogs cared for by responsible, considerate owners. Amazingly, the dogs only bark when someone's at their respective doors.

Yet, 3 weeks ago one of the dog-owning tenants had a near home invasion. The tenant was taking a shower. Meanwhile, the intruder-creep began to pull himself through the relatively small bathroom window from the outside. As he was nearly half-way through the window, the tenant (a petite young woman) stepped out of the shower and startled the would-be invader enough for him to lose his balance and he quickly withdrew from the window into the night. Her dog only barked when she blurted out some kind of exclamation upon seeing the guy balanced on his arms in the window. The most unnerving detail of this story is that the invader chose to break into an apartment where it was obvious someone was at home and in the shower. It was 9 PM and her apartment had a light on in every room. The attached apartment was dark as was the "Big House" and the "Little House" at the front of property. However, the bathroom windows face the back of the property where there's no light at night. None of these buildings have any insulation and it's easy to hear a TV or running shower, especially when standing right outside the window. There was only one dim light lit in my apartment, although I was home, on the phone with my cousin. My apartment was probably less attractive because it's easier to see someone climb in a window from the courtyard or the alley and my bathroom window has a nice bright light hanging right above it. This guy selected the most attractive target for his purposes. That's why the police categorized this event as an attempted home invasion not attempted robbery or attempted B & E.

The next day, while on the phone with my Dad, I was humorously relating about the illusion of security we all felt with six dogs and yet, an uninvited visitor had nearly made it through my neighbor's bathroom window while she was in the shower. I joked that I'd decided to buy a few "beware of the rottweiler " signs for my windows as deterrent. As soon as I finished relating the story I was sorry I did. Dad's response was, "I'm calling ADT today and getting it installed for you." I felt bad. I shouldn't have told him. Dad's never expressed worry about my safety before -- except when I first learned to fly (but that's another blog) -- so I felt a bit embarrassed by his reaction. After all, it wasn't my apartment -- it was the young woman across the courtyard. Regardless, I couldn't put that squirt of toothpaste back in its tube no matter how I tried to backtrack and downplay the whole thing. The truth is, if a similar incident had happened to my daughter, I'd have done the same thing as my Dad. I'm not overly concerned about my safety although, I have no idea if six break-ins over 18 years on a single property is average, excessive or lucky in this city. I feel safe when I'm out and about although I am careful to take precautions. I scan my surroundings, have my keys out when I approach my car or home, I lock my car while I fuel it and I never park next to a van or SUV if it's dark or will be dark when I return to it.

Yesterday the ADT installer came and now, I'm all ADT-ed up. My doors beep every time they open and there's an extra glowing light amid the panorama of LEDs that litter my computer-laden space. I feel like a princess in her castle or a celebrity living in a gated community or a trustee in a minimum security facility. I need to get used to "signing in and out" with the security system. I left the house for a few hours today and forgot to set the alarm. If, when it's set, there's a break-in I will be called -- like on the TV ads -- then the police will be called if I don't answer or if I report a break-in. I feel kind of embarrassed that mine is the only apartment on the property with ADT signs out front and on the windows but I'm also very lucky. Thank you, Dad! I'm fortunate to have such a generous father who obviously worries about my safety more than I realized. I wish my neighbor's father had done for her what mine has done for me but she probably was considerate enough not to tell him what happened.

So am I really safe and secure? Is my stuff safe and secure from ne'er-do-wells of the world or the immediate vicinity? Am I in an illusion of safety? What do I lose in the bargain for security? In my observation, criminals build these security systems -- indirectly -- because everyone else is busy with the demands of day-to-day life. I appreciate the options for security but I resent having to live in a bubble of security because a relatively few criminals and dangerous thugs use their brains and energy to devise ways to circumvent the law. I particularly resent that airline passengers are wanded, x-rayed, patted, unzipped, unpacked, searched, de-shoed and have to arrive two hours early every time they fly because a relatively few but exceptionally deadly criminals shattered the illusion that we all want to arrive at our destinations alive. I have a metal hip joint so I always set off alarms and get pulled aside by the TSA agents for an extra dose of touchy-feely wanding when I fly. I'm reminded, as I stand, arms-out like a criminal on a cross with some TSA agent slowly concentrating her ultra-mega sensitive metal detector over my body outline, that even with each new precaution or procedure, our security systems will not guarantee safety. It's like a Mobius strip. The rules, the actions, the efforts create the illusion of being more secure and some sense of security is born of that illusion.

No comments:

Post a Comment