“the choice” by Jens Finke – fotografie grafik verlag

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All in a Day’s Work

  I have known, broken bread with, and counted as friends a couple of heroin addicts. They weren’t the sort of people I imagined that people hooked on smack would be like. One of the guys ran a successful business. It was the kind of business where he could make his own hours, and when he wasn’t desperate and hurting, he could make excellent money at it. That was because he was damned good at what he did. He was in demand from his business clients, none of whom knew about his problem. I met him in the art business, in the buy-and-sell end of things. He asked me to help him figure out signatures from time to time, and to verify the authenticity of the pieces he scared up – in country auctions, flea markets, thrift stores and the like. When he was straight, he was energetic, and he either did his regular business tasks, or scoured the city for salable art pieces – when professional services requests weren’t stacked up on his desk. When he had to, he went to his connection, then laid low in his apartment until his head cleared and he was functional again. He was a very intelligent man, but he was a smack freak, too. I liked the guy, and I felt sorry for him. He certainly wasn’t a “bad” person. We caught lunch a few times, and talked art, and his lady friend, who ran an art gallery, and worked for a 900 exchange chat line, hung my art in her gallery on a regular basis. The three of us saw one another on a regular basis, as a result.   He tried to quit, any number of times. He’d go to an out of town methadone clinic, and try to kick the habit systematically, try to go somewhere away from his old neighborhood, agonize, and dodge the needle for as long as he could stand it. He couldn’t quit, though. Toward the end, he was at death’s door any number of times, sick and emaciated, and one day he gave up the battle and died, about thirty years ahead of schedule. Most of the people who knew him didn’t know about the other side of his life. He was always very private about that. He never told me about how he got hooked, and I never asked. I’ve been a little vague about his identity; if he didn’t want people to know, I’ll respect his wishes.   There’s another guy who’s still alive, but I’ll tell that story when I can justify it.   And another, who is exactly like the people I thought  addicts would be like – before I actually met any. I mean by that the variety who are completely out of control, selling their bodies, stealing from anyone who has something they can turn into smack, living like animals in unheated, filthy dumps, and hurting everyone around them. In and out of jail, answering to a probation officer on a weekly basis, human refuse. That one isn’t anything to anyone, except a burden and a problem, and a source of unending pain.   I’ve known some thieves, too, who were personable people, some of whom were very likeable. I wasn’t particularly uncomfortable with them – if they weren’t in my home. They stole things, I supposed, as much for the thrill as for anything else, but you couldn’t really be friends with them, because you could never trust them. Some of them stole to use the money to buy things they wanted. One was an insurance person who handled the policy for a company one of my friends owned. It turned out the premiums he was collecting on a monthly basis from my pal’s business went into his pockets, rather than into maintaining the web of insurance coverages necessitated by our litigious society. It amounted to a substantial sum, over time, and my friend would have been in hot water if he’d had to make a claim against an insurance company whose policy had lapsed due to his agent’s misdeeds. The money stolen in that case went into a vain attempt to impress a demanding new wife. The guy lost his insurance license when the theft was discovered, and he was required to make restitution, although my buddy decided that since no major loss occurred as a result of the premium theft, he’d go easy.   When I was in banking,  there was a teller in charge of policing what are termed the “dormant accounts”, those which have had no activity – deposits or withdrawals – for an unusual length of time. The teller bought a new car one day, showed it to some of his fellow employees and explained that a childless great uncle of his had passed away and left him a substantial amount of money. Everyone was happy for him. He was a likeable chap, always in a good mood, and fairly popular. Then, he bought a recreational vehicle: an expensive one. The alarm bells still didn’t go off, though, until the account owner, who lived in Europe, received a statement that revealed his savings had been diminished by nearly a hundred thousand dollars. He wrote a letter to the bank, wondering what had happened. The Feds were called in and arrested the teller.  He’d apparently gotten the feeling that his theft had been noticed and called in sick. The “Fed” was an FBI agent in the ‘White Collar Crimes Unit”. The bank quickly replenished the account to the tune of the amount stolen, told our customer that everything was fine, and he was happy again. Dormant accounts are the ones most usually chosen for theft: or a “defalcation”, if you want the technical term. Our former employee got a couple of years in the jug for his deed, and moved to another state after his release, according to the grapevine. Like I said, he was a likeable guy, always in a good mood. My guess was that he wanted to be seen as a person of substance and wealth, and the path he chose to try to do that was the wrong one.   I had a couple of beers with the FBI guy later, and we talked about a few of his experiences with the folks who used pens to rob banks. He told me that about nine times out of ten, the dormant account watchdog was the most probable person to steal cash. Usually, they’d see that the depositor hadn’t done anything with an account, sometimes for ten years or more, and would begin to consider the money “abandoned”.  Maybe the account owner was dead, or in jail. Maybe the funds in the account were stolen by the depositor, or…..well, something along those lines. Probably, no one would notice, they might begin to think.   Sometimes, I get ripped off personally, and sometimes the guy who does it doesn’t get caught. A few years ago, five or six, I guess, I’d purchased a trailer to live in until I could find a replacement for the house on the beach that I’d sold in Florida. It was a nice mobile home park, on the inland waterway, and populated by “snowbirds” from the Midwest or Eastern Canada, who came to Florida to dodge the cold weather back home. Nice, honest folks, nice park, nice mobile home. I’d bought a burglar alarm warning sign at a local flea market, probably stolen, in reflection, and planted it next to the front of the trailer to ward off the felonious element, while I was in Maine over the summer, just in case. There hadn’t been any theft problems in the park, according to neighbors, and I elected to leave a couple of guitars in the mobile home until I returned in October. I put them under the bed, locked up, and left at 3 a.m.   Upon my return in the fall,  I unlocked the door and was hit by the stench of rotting food. The lights didn’t work, and it was dark. I got the flashlight out of the drawer I kept it in, and looked around. There was a broken back window, now standing open. The stench was from the condiments and things I’d left in the fridge.  I called the cops. They were there in minutes, poking around in my place, dusting the window area with a sooty black powder, then the back sliding door which was unlocked, and obviously the exit door. Then, they fingerprinted me so they could see which prints weren’t mine. I told them I’d call  in the morning.   I discovered the two guitars I’d left behind were missing, along with some bottles of liquor, wine, and my “welcome home” six-pack of Miller Lite. A tray of loose coins was missing, along with the TV and a few other things… The thing of real value was the 1944 Martin D-18 worth about twelve grand. The insurance company cheaped out and gave me $2000 after the deductible. The second guitar was a hundred-dollar “beater.”   I hired an attorney to sue the insurance agency; they settled for $5,000 from the agency that sold the policy — an amount equal to their fee. Theft by pen, yet again.  The guitar probably went to a pawn shop for a farthing, though I scoured many and never found it. Or it might simply have been traded for drugs. I’ll never know.   I try to look at things like this as learning opportunities, and categorize losses as tuition paid. I’ve paid a lot of tuition, but I’ve quit worrying about the D-18, replaced the missing beer and wine and am good to go, as they say. I’ll talk to you later.

– Bill

About the Author

Bill Dixon is a contributing columnist to Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.