So we had a near-miss burglary attempt a couple of nights ago.
We had all been up late – but upstairs, we had finally gotten everyone into a darkened room to fall asleep by around 1am or so. But – a little after 2am, there was a knock on the bedroom door…my oldest son, Dylan, who lives in the basement apartment, came upstairs to tell us that his girlfriend had heard the back door open, and the two of them got up and opened the door that leads from their downstairs bedroom into the garage/studio area and saw the door cracked open. Dylan said that as soon as he came out into that part of the house, he heard the gate close outside in the yard – the gate that leads from the driveway/carport area into the backyard and ultimately to the door that opens directly into my home studio (which is barely a studio by even the most liberal standards, but it is what it is).
Dylan ran out into the studio carrying a wooden baton that he’d named after my beloved ex-mother in law (although he called it “grum’mum”, logically enough)…he walked out into the garage/studio space and yelled “speak the fuck up!” before running out into the yard and then the driveway. Oddly, the security light that hangs above the garage doors hadn’t come on when he opened the gate. The light is usually very sensitive – it often comes on when cars turn off the intersecting street just off our driveway – but it hadn’t come on in this instance. It is possible to walk up the driveway against the house and not trigger the lights, but it requires some pretty deliberate effort. He had a flashlight and canvassed the entire back yard, the driveway, and checked every direction up and down the streets, looking for any sign of movement…but didn’t see anyone.
He gave us a full report when he came upstairs, once he was sure that whoever might’ve tried to get in was well up the road by then…and it was pretty unsettling to think that some random meth-destrian had just inventoried the Overdub Nook and knew what I had in the garage at this point.
Needless to say, there wasn’t much possibility of going back to sleep after this…I went down and walked through the garage and studio with Dylan as he took me through the whole incident, step by step – he was pretty wound up at that point, and so was I. So – we locked everything down and I came upstairs and took a seat at my desk in the office. I wasn’t about to go back to sleep anytime soon, so I spent the remaining hours of the night editing video footage from a couple of Poco shows that my friend Jon had sent me. The sky started to lighten around 6am, and – as has been my penchant since I was a teenager – the moment the sun started to come up, I started to get tired…I finally fell asleep in the recliner in the living room for an hour or so before my phone started ringing and I had to log onto my “day gig laptop” and start tending to the days’ IT issues.
The knowledge that someone with less-than-amicable intentions has availed themselves of the opportunity to form a mental blueprint of the place where you live, where you work, where you eat and sleep, where you KEEP YOUR STUFF – it’s a perpetually unsettling feeling that takes a while to go away.
And it’s not the first time I’ve felt it.
There was, after all, this one other time.
Now, the story I’m about to tell you is one hundred percent true, start to finish, and I still have the paperwork to back it up…what with being the guy who keeps everything and all.
Return with me to a time, over 20 years ago, friends…
New Years’ Eve, 1997.
My first marriage had broken up, and I had moved out of our house into an apartment that I was renting for $275.00 a month in 1997 dollars in the 200 block of North Fifth Street in Reading, PA – it was affordable and…after settling in, I kinda loved it.
It was a third floor walk-up in a row home halfway down a hill, a couple of blocks from the main thoroughfare through the center of town. It was an old, old house…probably built in the twenties, if I had to guess. The style of the woodwork, the staircase and banister, the window fixtures…it was a throwback to what Reading must’ve been like decades prior to the summer I moved into the top floor apartment over the course of a single weekend as my family was splintering.
The apartment itself was perfect – for one person.
The front door had two locks on it – a handle lock and a deadbolt – and the door to my apartment was similarly locked down, with two locks.
When you unlocked the door and walked in, the door opened into the main room that faced North Fifth Street, with two huge windows overlooking the street below.
There were only two rooms, plus a bathroom.
(Forgive my compulsion to get into the weeds in describing the apartment…it feels as though it’s important to give you an idea of the layout of the place. It was the first place I ever lived that was mine, all mine – my stuff hung on the walls, my choices in furniture, my choices in dishes, MINE…and it was a pretty intense period in my life.)
The front room that faced the street had a kitchen of sorts built into the wall that would’ve been on your right as you faced the windows…two accordion-fold doors opened to reveal a stove, a sink, a small refrigerator, and overhead cabinets – everything a newly-minted bachelor needed to fold sandwiches, make ramen noodles and boil eggs. If you weren’t actively engaged in the boiling of the water for the ramen (or the eggs), you could close the doors and the entire kitchen would magically disappear into the wall…along with your dirty dishes.
Facing the “kitchen”, a door to its left opened on the wall facing the street that led into the bathroom – tub, sink and shower. There was a (homemade) wall unit that I built on the other side of the windows that housed CD’s, books, a small TV, records, tapes…all manners of stuff that I’d brought into my new place, and I built a place to put it all. Planks, screws and brackets – boom. Done.
A wall separated the two rooms, with closets built on either side of said wall – I kept guitar cases in the closet in the front room, but the back closet was home to my clothes and a clip-on Nerf basketball hoop and backboard that provided endless entertainment to me and the kids when they’d come over (to the eternal disdain of the militant cat-lady second floor tenant).
The “back room” was a mirror image of the room in the front – with two windows that looked out over a makeshift backyard behind the building…one window – the one next to the bed – covered by the same lush green ivy that covered the entire back of the building, and the other adjacent to the fire escape – but both windows were painted shut. I had tried to open the fire escape window not long after I had moved into the apartment, because I had this romantic image in my head of sitting out on the fire escape, playing my guitar in the dark…but it wasn’t meant to be, because I couldn’t get the damned window open…and I lacked the necessary motivation to force the issue.
Once I’d moved in and settled, I called BerksCable to install cable service in my apartment, and they had to pry the window open – literally – in order to run the cable up the side of the building and drill a hole underneath the “fire escape window” to run the cable into the apartment in the back room so that the kids could watch TV when they were there.
I’ve felt varying degrees of affection for places I’ve lived since then, but that place – it was special. It was transitional, it was solace, it was home.
The girl that I thought I’d spend the remainder of my life with had come there to stay with me a couple of times, I wrote songs at the makeshift multi-purpose table in the middle of the “front room” that I bought in the parking lot of a gas station in Morgantown…these two rooms and a bath were the one constant in my life during a time when literally everything else about my life was in limbo as the earth continued to shift beneath my feet.
So, as 1997 came to a close, the company I worked for had a long holiday shutdown that encompassed the week between Christmas and New Years’ – but even with the company having been furloughed, I still needed to go into the office on New Years’ Eve to complete the month-end reports that had to be run manually from the office. There wasn’t a means to complete this process remotely back in those days, so I had to sit down at my desk in the office and run the reports manually from a UNIX terminal.
It was important, because the very act of running the reports initiated the internal system processes that closed out the production figures for the month, and – in this case, during this final month – the year as well. The reports had to be run in order to compile the numbers, so it was important that I get them done during the last day of the month (or year) in question.
So I went in to the office that day to run said reports – Wednesday, December 31st, 1997.
For whatever reason, I felt the need to call my home phone number and check my messages while I was at work…for those of you who might be too young to remember this particular drill, us old-timers used to have actual machines – standalone recorders with analog cassettes inside them – that functioned as “answering machines”. If you had one of these machines, one of the features they offered was the ability to call your own number and enter a numeric code that allowed you to check the messages left on the tape to see who had called you. This involved calling your own number, waiting for the tone, and hitting the “star” key, followed by the numeric security code that would then prompt your machine to play back the messages that had been left since you’d last checked them.
So, while I was in Morgantown at my day gig, running reports and printing out page after page of worthless paper, I decided to call home and check my messages…and yet, when I called, the phone continued to ring past the customary four rings at which point I’d normally enter my combination of keystrokes to retrieve my voicemails. I called again, and the phone again continued to ring past that point…on and on. No message greeting, no nothing.
So, clearly, this struck me as odd – but not as an emergency. I thought that perhaps there was something wrong with the tape, or the answering machine itself. Usually, my first thought at that stage of my life would’ve been that I’d neglected to pay the bill and my service had been suspended, but on the occasions when that was the case, there was a menacing three-note tone followed by a message that stated that “the number you have dialed has been temporarily disconnected or is no longer in service”. The absence of said message told me that this wasn’t the issue.
I filed the issue away in the back of my mind and completed the month-end and year-end reports required of me and made my way home to my third-floor Fortress of Solitude…parked the car and unlocked the front door of my building and climbed the flights of steps up to my penthouse. I put my key in the door and found that the door was unlocked, for some reason.
I suppose I was too naive or otherwise unaware of the potential red flags that this should have thrown at that point…because it should have been obvious that something was amiss, if I were to consider The Door and the Answering Machine issues in tandem with one another, but I hadn’t put it together – yet.
I opened the door and walked into the apartment, and the first thing I did was to step through the doors between the “front room” and the “back room” and look on the shelf where the answering machine would have been…only to spot the phone cables dangling off the shelf in the spot where the machine had been when I went to work that morning.
I did that usual dance of disbelief that most folks probably do when they find themselves in a situation like that and started looking around the room to survey my situation.
Here’s what I saw.
Immediately after noticing that the answering machine was gone, I cast my eyes around the apartment and saw that the windowshade that covered the window by the fire escape had been severely mangled – the burglar had come in from the fire escape through that window, the one that had been painted shut prior to the visit from the cable company. He had pried the locked window open from the outside and came in through the window from the fire escape – and, in the process of raising the window, had left a perfect set of eight fingerprints from both hands on the inside of the window frame. Once he had gotten into the apartment, the sky was the limit – or so one would think. There were guitars in the closet, a TV, a VCR, various other electronics – but instead of taking the high-dollar stuff, the thief left instead with my answering machine, a portable mini-cassette recorder that lived on the table in the front room, and a shitload of CD’s.
Now, about that wall unit in the front room…it ran the length of the room from the end of the closet all the way across that wall to the window that faced the street. But – even with my meticulous planning, I still had more CD’s than I’d allowed room for on the wall unit. So, the overflow from the wall unit lived in the windowsill of the window in the left corner that overlooked the street. In fact, that became the home of the stuff I listened to the most regularly, as it was within easy reach, next to my desk that sat between the two windows.
As such, those were the most accessible – and those were the ones that my unwelcome visitor took with him.
In retrospect, it appeared that he clearly passed over the more valuable but larger items for stuff that he could smuggle into a backpack or a bag of some sort and sneak out of the apartment without attracting too much attention to himself.
So, of course, I called the cops (upon reconnecting my phone to the cables that reached the outside world) and the patrol officers who showed up to investigate alerted an investigative unit to let them know that they thought they had a set of “live” fingerprints – after which point they had someone show up to dust the windowframe and retrieve said prints. The officers told me that this was a legitimately big deal, as this would place the owner of said fingerprints in the apartment. Many times, they told me, they might catch someone with stolen items, but that alone wasn’t enough to arrest someone for burglary, because possession of stolen property only meant that they had the stuff, not that they stole the stuff. The fingerprints, however, changed that.
So the police stuck around for a couple of hours – they assigned my case to a detective, whose business card they provided me with, and told me to call whenever I wanted an update, or in the case that anything else came to light that they should know.
Aside from the normal feelings that one would expect to encounter in this situation: the queasy, unsettling feeling that an unwelcome presence has walked through your home and helped themselves to your possessions, taken inventory of your stuff, and knows where to find you AND your stuff now – that was heavy enough, but there was the matter of having a newly uncovered Achilles Heel. I had a damaged back window that I needed to secure somehow. I had to think about this for a bit…how was I gonna pull this off?
It was late, and it was New Years’ Eve – and I assured myself that there’d be enough of a police presence on the streets to deter the guy from making a return appearance that night, so that was the story I told myself to get to sleep that night.
The next day was New Years’ Day – just about everything was closed, so I stayed close to home for the day. I called my landlord to let him know what had taken place, and he assured me that he’d have someone there to fix the window the next day (a Friday). I went through my CD collection and tried to figure out what was missing…I wasn’t really that attentive to what I had and what I didn’t have under normal circumstances, but in looking through what I had on the shelves, there were some definite omissions that I knew I’d had before my burglar had paid a visit…I wasn’t entirely sure what he’d taken, I only knew what was missing.
That Friday that followed…turned out to be a big day.
My landlord’s repair guy showed up early – he told me he’d need to replace the windowframe and re-align the locks so that the window functioned the way it did the day before the burglary, but in my mind – I had the unsettling notion that I was no safer with the restored status quo than I’d been to begin with. He assured me that he’d be back tomorrow with the parts and supplies he needed to make it right, but I felt like I needed to find a way to reinforce this past the point of whatever the status quo was…so after the handyman had finished up, I took a drive in to work and retrieved some wooden slats from the shipping area where our guys boxed up large rolls of paper for shipment. I took them back to the apartment and cut them to length with a hand saw and fit them to the exact length they needed to be to act as reinforcement between the top of the closed window frame and the top corner of the sliding window itself. Once they were in place, I drove two small nails into the wood in the top window frame to hold up the slats so they wouldn’t fall inward toward the center of the window for any reason.
I figured that, between the lock itself and the slats, that prying the window open would be nearly impossible with this particular modification.
Once I’d finished that, I felt like I could leave the apartment for a little longer than I’d been comfortable with prior to getting the window reinforced, so I parked conspicuously in front of the apartment (I figured it’d be best to have my car there in case whoever it was knew which car was mine) and took a walk down to Penn Street, a few blocks away, to canvass a couple of the pawn shops along that stretch of the street.
The first place I went was a store where I was already something of a regular – Pawn Plus, right off 5th and Penn Streets. The proprietor was a red-haired guy relatively close to my age named Randy – I didn’t bother to tell him why I was there…I just said hello and started perusing the CD’s.
The first thing my eyes fell upon when I started rooting through the discs were two “sampler” CD’s from Oasis – not the arrogant Gallagher brothers’ flash in the pan, but the CD manufacturing company that had done the printing and duplication for my Mutual Angels album.
In those days, I used to scrawl my initials near the center of CD’s that I’d bought, and sure enough, I opened them up and there was “tom” in my handwriting near the spindle hole in the disc.
BOOM! I had the bastard dead to rights!
I stood there for over half an hour, going through the CD’s on the shelves and stacking discs in my arms…Randy made a crack about how “somebody must’ve gotten a sweet Christmas bonus”, but I just smiled and kept going.
I harvested a stack of about twenty discs and went to the counter and spread them out, opened them up, and told Randy my story – in retrospect, this probably happened more often than I might’ve realized at the time. He sympathized, and…knowing that he was probably acting in the interest of keeping a regular customer…he got a plastic bag for me and sent me on my way. Thinking back on it, he was probably saving himself the trouble of inviting the police into an uncomfortable situation as much as he might’ve been interested in helping me out. I asked all the usual questions – “did he have anything else he was trying to sell?” “Do you remember anything about the guy?” – but he was just another dude in what had probably been a long line of guys who’d come in to sell stuff on New Year’s Eve, and he didn’t have much to offer in terms of additional details.
So I took my CD’s home, put them back in the windowsill where they’d come from, and settled in for the weekend, and barely left the apartment at all the entire time.
Monday came around – Charlie, the handyman, was due to come back on Monday and fix the window…and I had to go back to work.
I hadn’t heard a peep the entire weekend, and I hadn’t expected to – as I left lights on at night just to be safe. By Monday, I had managed to cultivate a bit of a false sense of security regarding the barriers I had put in place to keep the window closed, and hadn’t given much thought to the notion of going to work on Monday. I made a call to the detective working my case to let him know what had happened on Friday at Pawn Plus, which he noted in the case record. He mentioned that they had warrant jurisdiction over the stores’ records, and he’d try to stop by and have a conversation before resorting to getting a judge involved to see what he could find out.
Monday nights, I hosted the songwriters’ night at Grape Street Pub in Manayunk – as such, I left work and went home to get myself together to leave for Philadelphia that night. I did the customary walk up the steps to my apartment and put my keys in the door and…it was unlocked.
“Hmmm…” I thought. “Charlie must’ve left the door unlocked when he finished fixing the window.”
I opened the unlocked door and walked in to find the windowshade trashed yet AGAIN, over the same window by the fire escape that the thief had come in before.
My presumably ingenious means of entry-proofing the window had left out one important scenario – the notion that, if the window was struck at the center just so, the slats would come loose and fall straight down, as opposed to collapsing inward.
Charlie hadn’t come back on Monday at all…but the burglar had.
He knew what he’d found in the apartment the first time, so of course, he had a pretty good idea of what would be there if he came back.
So, with a rare stroke of criminal genius rarely possessed by thieves, my burglar came back to my apartment just a few short days after he’d come the first time – and, instead of taking the high-dollar stuff he’d seen in the apartment the first time, he elected…in his wisdom…
…to return to the windowsill, where the CD’s had been stacked on his first visit…
…and he took the same CD’s he’d taken the first time.
The very ones I’d retrieved from Pawn Plus just days earlier.
Now, it should be mentioned at this point – Pawn Plus used those round Avery stick-on labels to categorize their used CD’s. Green was rock, yellow was country, pink was R&B/Hip-hop, et cetera…when I had retrieved the CD’s that had been stolen on his first raid, they had all been “categorized” with the Avery stick-on dots on the spines of the jewel cases.
I hadn’t bothered to remove them when I brought them home.
When the thief came back, the stickers were still on them.
So now, the CD’s were already marked with Pawn Plus’ category labels.
Of course, I called the police – again…then I called the club to let them know what had happened and that I might be a little late getting there that night. I waited for the officers to show up and gave them the report number from the prior break-in so they could correlate the two incidents, and they stuck around while I reinforced the window and locked the place down so I could leave for my gig.
I arrived at the Grape to a barrage of questions about what had happened…both break-ins had taken place in the time since I’d been there last, so I had a lot to tell.
In a crazy twist of serendipity, I ran into a buddy that I’d met there just a few weeks prior – my friend Michael Tolcher was coming back to town to make a record with a producer named Dave “Stiff” Johnson at Tongue n’Groove studios and needed a place to stay.
A place to stay, you say? Dude, I’ve got you. You can sleep at my place for as long as you like, brother, because I would LOVE to have someone around while I’m at work right now.
So “Tolch” came back to Reading with me that night, and I was – for a minute, at least – able to go to work with some degree of peace of mind, knowing that someone was there if anything else happened, if anyone else decided to pop in through the back window.
Still, I called off work the next day – told my boss what had happened the day before, and called my landlord to let him know that I’d had a return visit and that I didn’t think Charlie had been there on Monday, considering what had happened…he apologized and told me that he’d make sure he was there THAT DAY to get the window fixed.
While Tolch caught up on his sleep and listened for various knocks on the door, I took the familiar walk up the street to Pawn Plus, because…well, I had a hunch.
I walked in and caught Randy’s eye almost instantly.
“Hey, man – guess who came back today?”
“I think I have a pretty good idea, because he came back to see me, too.”
Yes, friends…what I’m about to tell you is true.
The dude came back to my apartment a second time, stole the same CD’s he took the first time, complete with Avery color-coded dots on the spines, and took them back to the same pawn shop to sell them to the same guy – AGAIN.
So Randy filled me in – yeah, he came in…yeah, he had a bunch of stuff. But Randy only bought a handful of them and sent him walking with the rest.
“SERIOUSLY!!?!?? You let him walk off with my stuff??”
“Dude, I already bought your shit once, and I’m already out that money…you don’t think I wasn’t gonna buy them a second time just so I could give them back to you AGAIN, do you?”
I had to admit, he had a point.
“BUT – I did get something you might be interested in over here, because…maybe you don’t know this…you have to have PHOTO ID to sell or pawn anything in the State of PA, so I had to see his photo ID to buy your stuff.”
He then reached under the desk and grabbed a piece of paper with a Xerox copy of a driver’s license and waved it in front of my face.
“I could get in serious trouble if I showed THIS PIECE OF PAPER to anybody…THIS PIECE OF PAPER RIGHT HERE – this is privileged information, after all, so you’re not supposed to see THIS PIECE OF PAPER….RIGHT HERE…”
He was literally holding the copy of the guys’ driver’s license maybe eight inches from my face: Reinaldo Rolon, 300 block of South Fourth Street, etc. – I didn’t make any observable motion that would indicate that I was memorizing what was on the page…I just said, “OK, so it’s OK for the cops to see that when they come by, right?”
“Already on it. That’s why the copy is under the desk.”
“Thanks, Randy. I just wish you hadn’t let him leave with the rest of my shit.”
“Hey, man…just so you know, I watched him walk right across the street to Borelli’s with the rest of your stuff, and he didn’t come out with it. You’re welcome.”
Borelli’s was part bodega, part pawn shop, part jewelry store – if you’ve ever lived in a city like Reading, you already know what I’m talking about.
I didn’t know the people at Borelli’s, never really went there, so when I went in to plead my case, they told me in no uncertain terms to take a hike, so – I walked out the door to find a pay phone and called the cops, read them all the case numbers, dropped my detective’s name, the whole nine yards.
Within fifteen minutes or so, a patrol car met me there on the sidewalk and we went into the store together and I watched them confiscate everything that Reinaldo had sold them earlier that day.
So now, at least, my stuff was in an evidence locker instead of sitting on a shelf in a pawn shop, waiting to be sold out from under me – and they had a pretty solid case against the guy.
If he ever turned up, that is.
As it turns out, I didn’t have to wait that long.
A few days went by – Tolch was a great hang and would’ve most certainly been an awesome roommate if he’d decided to stick around. We hung out with my kids, he came to their basketball games with me, we shot hoops in the apartment on the back room closet door, we busked on South Street in Philly…he was such a great guy and we became instant friends.
The Thursday night of the following week, we were sitting at the table in the front room when someone knocked on the door.
It was my neighbor from across the hall, a Latino guy named Davey Santana.
Davey wanted to use my phone.
He explained, in a rather frenetic manner, that someone had broken into his apartment and had taken his TV and VCR, and further stated that “if I find that motherfucker, I’m a gonna go back to jail.”
I told him yeah, come on in, go right ahead and call the cops and let me know when they get here, please…they were there relatively quickly, and when I heard the footsteps coming up the hall, I walked out to meet the officers.
“Listen – please – DO NOT leave before coming to talk to me. I need to give you some information that’s directly pertinent to what’s happened here.”
The officers went next door to canvas Davey’s apartment and knocked on my door a few minutes later.
I stepped out into the hallway with the officers as Davey listened from his doorway.
I told them the whole story, with case numbers, names, dates, the whole nine yards, right up to the point where I fingered the suspect by name.
The minute I said the name “Reinaldo Rolon” within earshot of Davey, he erupted…totally lost his shit…and not just in a “I need to see your manager” tone. It was one of those Desi Arnaz half-English, half-Spanish freakouts he made famous in “I Love Lucy” that took a minute to absorb.
So, clearly there must be some backstory there.
As it turns out, Reinaldo and Davey had been in some form of rehab program together at some point, and when Davey got out, he went straight…got a job at a dairy plant and moved into his apartment, got up and went to work every day. When Reinaldo got out, he went to return to his old life, but his girl had kicked him out, he just hadn’t found out yet. So he showed up on Davey’s doorstep with all his stuff in tow looking for a place to crash. Apparently, at some point, it must have become obvious to Davey that rehab didn’t exactly “take” for Reinaldo, so Davey kicked him out as well, and that had been the last he’d seen of him – until he started coming in the windows of various apartments in the building.
The officers found all this information…well, interesting. They gave me an updated case number and said that they’d update my investigating officer’s record, but to call him in a couple of days and make sure that he had everything on file and up to date.
So, OK – the weekend was upon us, and it was the weekend that I’d have the kids – their mom was super-understanding about the situation and knew that I had someone staying with me, but we managed to make it fun. The Saturday of that weekend, we decided we were gonna take the kids to the movies – we had gone to Philadelphia to visit my producer, Steve (it was a social visit, as he and I were very close) and we were planning to go see “Titanic” after the visit, but it was sold out. We settled for a trip to the Manayunk Diner and returned home that night and walked up the stairs to the sight of two large black plastic garbage bags and a paper grocery bag sitting outside Davey’s door, and the sound of Univision blaring from inside his apartment.
I was SUPER curious…I knocked on the door and Davey answered. I said hello and asked him, “hey, man…did they find your stuff? I heard the TV…”
“No, no…television belong to my girlfriend.”
“Ah, gotcha…well, is this her stuff out here in the hall? Because with all the stuff that’s been happening…”
He stopped me mid-sentence.
“No, that shit belong to that motherfucker break into my apartment. I’m tellin’ you, I see that motherfucker, iss’ OVER.”
Davey began the not-so-slow descent back into the Ricky Ricardo dialogue from a few nights before as he closed the door behind him.
I stood there with Tolch and the kids in the foyer between Davey’s door and mine…we exchanged looks…and it was clear we both had the same thought at the same time.
We unlocked the door so the kids could come inside and we dragged the bags from the hallway into the apartment.
We left them untouched until I took the kids home later that night, and when we got back, we tore into the whole stash. The curiosity was killing me.
Michael and I tore into the stuff – there were tons of clothes, ranging from the usual range of T-shirts and pants to some pretty trendy matching denim outfits that were stylish among folks of Latin descent at the time with gold-threaded and embroidered oversized shirts and reeeeeally baggy shorts…without sounding any more judgemental than I probably already do, let’s just say that they were clothes that would make it difficult to disappear into a crowd.
He and I divided up the stuff that would fit, stuff that we would wear…and we actually managed to hold onto quite a bit of it, but there was some stuff that was rather – unique – that we had already hatched a separate plan for.
One of the matching denim outfits went on a hanger that I could hang on a hook on the outside of the back room closet door where it was plainly visible from the window at the fire escape.
Not being a cat burglar, I can’t really make too many assumptions about what might traverse the mind of a thief like that at any particular point in time…but I think that if I were attempting to force my way into someone’s apartment and saw MY OWN CLOTHES HANGING INSIDE, it might inspire some interesting trains of thought.
Moving on, then – the paper grocery bag was even more interesting.
It contained a couple dozen cassette tapes, some photos of what I would assume to be family – girlfriends, perhaps…and a hefty pile of paperwork that included parole violation notices, traffic citations, warrants – just about every form of mail that you don’t ever want to receive.
So we decided to finish rolling out the red carpet in the event that Reinaldo should ever decide to return for the hat trick.
In addition to hanging his clothes on the closet door, I removed the few remaining CD’s from the window that had become his “go to” spot and I replaced them with his own personal stash of cassettes, and also taped the photos from inside the bag to the glass in the window directly above them.
Between the cassettes and the photos, it almost looked like a little shrine of sorts.
At this point, I almost wanted him to come back for a third time.
Alas, it was not to be.
Apparently, he had been picked up not long after breaking into Davey’s apartment on some form of a domestic disturbance, and when the officers ran his name, the computer lit up like a casino slot machine. As such, he was remanded to custody in Berks County Prison on a literal buffet of charges.
When the detective called to tell me that he’d been arrested and bound over for trial with no bail, I told him that I wanted to be notified of his trial date.
I needed to be there.
I didn’t tell him why, but he obliged, and eventually I got a notice of his plea date and made a point to be there when he appeared, in person, before the judge to be bound over at his hearing.
And I got there early, so I could get a seat directly behind the bench.
So when they brought him in to appear, there I sat…
…behind the bench…
…wearing one of his matching denim short sets from the black garbage bag we’d found in the hallway.
I wish…oh, HOW I wish…that there’d been the kind of reaction that one would expect from something like that, but I was disappointed to find that he either didn’t see me or didn’t remember the outfit. Maybe it had been so long since he’d actually had it in his possession that it didn’t register that it belonged to him, I don’t know.
I had this moment in my head where he’d call me out for wearing his clothes and make some kind of a scene, but – it just wasn’t to be.
He ended up getting a combined four year sentence for multiple robbery counts, in addition to whatever his domestic charges were – he started serving his time in 1998, and by the time he was eligible for release I had moved, gotten married, and had put the whole thing behind me.
The total value of the stuff he’d stolen was negligible – he’d left my valuable stuff in favor of nickel and dime items, perhaps specifically to avoid higher charges when he ultimately got caught, I don’t know.
Tolcher stayed on for some time while he worked on his record, and ultimately went back to the Atlanta area – as with so many of my friends who travel the same road as me, we haven’t really done a great job of staying in touch…it’s part and parcel of how this life works, but I try to make a point of reaching out from time to time to check in and see how he’s doing.
And in the basement of my house here in East Nashville, tucked away in one of a mountain of Rubbermaid containers – I still have a pair of shirts that came from the depths of one of those black plastic garbage bags that ended up outside my apartment door all those years ago, in 1997 when I still lived in my magical bachelor penthouse in Reading, looking out over North Fifth Street…where I used to sit at my table and write songs or draw or scribble in my journal. I watched Mark McGwire break the home run record in that apartment. I mourned Michael Hedges’ death in that apartment. I slept listening to the rain on the ivy leaves outside my window in that apartment. Eventually, I met someone else and moved on – sooner than I should have, in retrospect, but hindsight is always 20/20.
But when I think of those days, Reinaldo is my go-to story.
So – for all I know – when Carley and Dylan heard the door open the other night, maybe it was Reinaldo – hoping to take a look through the mass of Rubbermaid containers on the wall to try and find his clothes…who knows?