Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Broken Glass

It had been another long, hard, frustrating day at the job. (Not nearly as long, hard or frustrating as being unemployed, I'll confess, but nothing nice either.) I wanted nothing more than to get home to La Casa del Terror; feed Olivia and Ms. Christopher, who circle like furry, finless sharks as soon as I walk in the door; microwave something passably edible; and relax for a few minutes.

That was before I opened the storm door at the back to the apartment and saw the broken glass.

I stood there for at least a full minute, transfixed. The back door of La Casa del Terror has four panes of glass in it, each a square foot in size. The pane on the lower right--the one closest to the lock, the one Olivia liked to look out while standing atop the garbage can within--was now mostly missing but for jagged fragments sticking out of the window frame. Shards were scattered at my feet.

The meowing of the cats from within brought me back out of myself. I tried the door--it was still locked. I pulled out my keys, unlocked the door and stepped inside, only to find more glass spread out across the kitchen floor and two hungry, nervous-looking felines who wanted very much to run up to me, but who had to be shooed away so that they didn't walk across the broken glass, assuming they hadn't already.

I found one more thing on the kitchen floor as well--a palm-sized chunk of concrete.

What had happened was now obvious, and should have been before: Somebody had waited until I'd left for the day (which was later than usual, since I'd worked so late the night before), walked all the way up to my place on the third floor and chucked the chunk of concrete through the pane of glass.

This member of Mensa then stuck his/her arm through the broken window and reached for the lock, hoping to flip the lock open and grab the easy pickings. Too bad for him/her that the back door to La Casa del Terror opens with a key on both sides, not just the outside. Sucks to be you, Burglar Bill.

(I later found out from other neighbors that I was far from alone. Others in the building had been hit as well. Storage lockers in the basement had been looted. Doors had been pried.)

I put down a tin of Friskies for the Girlish Girls--partly because they were genuinely hungry, as they always were when I got home from work, but mostly to distract them while I dealt with the mess. It worked, but only partially--as soon as I opened the door to sweep the glass of the porch, both Ms. Christopher and Olivia wanted to go outside to investigate and had to be kept at bay with gentle recriminations and an occasional foot block (a skill acquired in my days as a goalie in street hockey games). They hadn't been hurt so far, and I didn't want that to change now. TVs, DVDs, cameras--these things are valuable, sure, but eminently replacable. The Girlish Girls? Not so much.

After sweeping both inside and out and then vacuuming both spaces, I looked them over to make sure no stray glass shards had escaped my efforts. They looked clean. (They weren't. Sunday morning, a sliver found its way into my right foot.) I then got down to the main job: fixing the hole where the rain gets in (and the burglar didn't).

Buried deep within one of the hall closets was a storm window for the storm door. It was original to the building, and the panes of glass within it were a perfect match for the back door. It hadn't been used in years--not since the first (and only previous) break-in at my place.

And the burglar on that occasion? Was me.

I'd gone out the front door--probably just to check the mail--and realized only after I'd shut the door that my keys were still on the coffee table. The good news? The back door was unlocked. The bad news? The storm door was hooked, and the storm window was in place. So I walked all the way up the back steps to my place, unbuttoned my shirt, pressed it against the pane of glass nearest the hook and busted the window open--not quite as crude as chucking a chunk of concrete through the window, but, in the end, just as effective.

Once I dug the storm window out of the closet, I slipped a pane out of it, slipped it into the door (after prying the decades-old wood molding off) and did the worst puttying job in the history of home repair--if you heard a loud whirring sound in the distance, that was my dad spinning in his grave. At least the pane of glass won't be falling out anytime soon; the putty is as thick on it as toothpaste on a brush.

After that, I was sweating thoroughly, but was not yet done. I needed to put the storm window back in its old spot in the storm door--if I can't stop burglars, I might as well at least slow them down--and needed to fill the two-pane-wide hole in it. Once again, I went to the closet, where I pulled out a disused wooden cutting board, determined that it would fit well enough with a bit of trimming, and started to chisel away at it with a hammer and slotted screwdriver.

It was only then that I noticed--or, at the very least, acknowledged--how badly my hands were shaking.