Saturday, August 26, 2006

Playing Peter Lorre: Dr. Chaffin the Informer

As I recently had a brush with the law, imagine my surprise when I heard a rapping on my front door, which irritated me, as the importunate individual didn’t come in when I shouted, “Come in!” Instead I was forced to unwind my creaky and overweight body from its easy chair to let the visitor in (and right now it isn’t easy to rise. When I push on the arms of my chair to lift myself up, sparing my back, the bursitis in my right shoulder makes it a molar-grinding proposition).

Did I mention the knock came from a detective? He was in uniform, perhaps because he was from the County Sheriff’s office. He was tall, dark, and Italian, with eyes of blue topaz. Rarely do I comment on a man’s appearance but I’m glad Kathleen wasn’t home to see him. I already hear too much about Liam Neeson.

I do wish he had worn a suit. I mean, there’s a reason they call detectives “suits,” isn’t there? My whole television world, my false comfort in phony stereotypes, was shattered, to say the least. Then there is something about a man in uniform.

Verily, about which matter did said authority inquire?

Detective Ricky Del Fiorentino laid out a pile of photos and asked me if I’d seen any of the furnishings displayed in them at my neighbor’s house. Err... that would have been a “yes.”

There was a woman in the photos who claimed to be our neighbors’ former landlord. She alleged they had skipped out not only without paying the rent, but with some souvenirs. As the woman was square-faced and frumpy-looking, I thought her a more convincing witness than my neighbors, who claimed to be from Malibu, and said recently, when Mel Gibson had his trouble, “Serves him right. Everybody in Malibu knew he was a phony.” They dress very LA as well, which stands out in the redwoods.

I didn’t want to make a positive identification without Kathleen consenting as there was no way to insure anonymity. I also wanted her moral input. I hate handing anyone over to the authorities as I have a healthy distaste for our system of needless incarceration, I mean justice. But if this other woman was telling the truth, I should probably come clean... best to wait for Kathleen.

Having only recently been severely depressed and still feeling fragile, I feel the need at present to consult Kathleen about nearly everything. She’s a fount of knowledge, truly. I only hope my dependence isn’t a turn-off. (Women want men to confide in them while acting as if they don’t need to.)

Kathleen came home and was certain that the right thing to do was to drop the dime, but I didn’t feel good about it. On the other hand, if our neighbors go upstate for grand larceny, N will quit cutting my Swiss chard without permission. Kathleen and I haven’t even tasted it yet.

It's not that S and N are good friends, by any means, but they are pleasant acquaintances, and once in a while we'd have a laugh. On the other hand, they were likely in possession of up to $10,000 of stolen goods. Worse, N had hornswaggled Kathleen in trying to sell things for her on E-Bay, promising to split the profits. She was trying to make Kathleen her unwitting fence!

I grew up in the 60s and hate to turn anyone over to the oppressors, I mean authorities. But Kathleen and I both thought it was the right thing to do. No doubt our grifter friends will shimmy their way out of it. All I know is that no arrest has been made yet today—about eighteen hours after the fact. Then the officer was trying to get a warrant on a late Friday afternoon, and prosecutors have lives, too.

Although we are friendly with S and N we are not invested in them. I told Kathleen from the outset that they were scammers, sociopaths. They were living under the radar, paying cash for everything except things you can’t get with cash, as when they importuned us to use our debit card to order cable for them.

Incidentally, they watch television 16 hrs. a day. It is unapologetically the most important thing in their lives. Why should they go to jail when they’re already in it? In jail they will certainly read more. It could be good for them. So it’s a win-win. The lady will get her antiques back. Our neighbors will begin a reading program. And my vegetable garden will not be abused.

Is there a poem in my oeuvres that can possibly relate to this tale? I found one that was later combined with others into my poem, “Drug Trial.”


To stand for something,
to protest abortion or the destruction of wetlands,
to support the preservation of historic buildings
or the return of condors to the wild
fulfills our passion for goodness
more than tolerance,
an mere exercise in manners,
not even a virtue, more like ignoring
someone’s body odor in an elevator.

Who can say with a straight face,
“I understand and accept what you are doing
even though I find it detestable?”

Moral passion is not an oxymoron.

I’d still rate myself as rodent neutral, but there’s also a prickling in my gut that tells me I’m not far from the abyss.

Thine in Truth and Art,

C. E. Chaffin

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