Thursday, February 4, 2010

The reticent hero

Yesterday, I was reading a blog from Gigi at Afterthoughts, giving tips about how to reduce the chance of being robbed. And suddenly I remembered the time, in the city, that I apprehended a violent criminal...

When I first saw the tall, young man from my living room window, he was stalking very slowly, stealthily, in a crouched position, head darting from side to side. This might have made sense if he was in bushes at night but it was broad daylight and he was doing this in the middle of my neighbor's driveway across the street.

I thought at first he must be someone playing hide-and-seek with her kids. But they were at school and her husband was at work. And suddenly he straightened up, rushed up the porch, grabbed one of their bicycles, and started running back down the driveway with it.

Being such an upstanding citizen and supporter of the law -- if you didn't count a little pot-smoking back then -- I rushed out my front door and stood on the porch and shouted, "Hey, you! Stop!"

He didn't stop, of course. But he was making a terrible get-away. He was trying to run and get on the bike at the same time and failing at both, stumbling, swerving, almost falling. Making very little progress. I was tempted to laugh.

"Hey, you! Stop!" A higher-pitched cry from across the street! Sarah, my neighbor, was on her porch yelling too! The thief had barely reached the end of her driveway. He stumbled again, then threw down the bike and started running down the street. Then it turned serious...

"Hey, you! Stop!" she cried again and ran down her driveway and began chasing him down the street.

"Hey! Stop!" I yelled, this time at Sarah. What on Earth could she be thinking?! She had the bike back. Heaven forbid that she caught up with the guy, he could kill her! I jumped off my porch and began running down the street chasing Sarah to stop her from doing something stupid.

I was a lot younger then, and in pretty good shape, so I caught up with her. I was trying to tell her how incredibly stupid this was. We may have been younger but we were both white-collar 30-somethings and the kid who was turning the corner ahead of us was a 6-foot, 19-something street punk. "," I wheezed, "...stupid."

She didn't seem out of breath at all and said, "Am I glad to see you! He turned right up there!" She kept jogging along. I considered tackling her, but it would have been hard to explain. Instead, I passed her, ran up ahead, turned right at the corner and...

Thank God! He was nowhere to be seen! He had given us the slip! Halleluiah!

There was only an elderly couple in a parked car. Grateful to have avoided being shot or knifed, I was stopping when the man rolled down his window, pointed to a gravel path between two houses and shouted, "He went down there!"

What was left of my rational mind told me to stop right there and announce loudly, "So what?! I don't care! I'm not a cop! This is the dumbest thing in the world!" But with the elderly couple and Sarah both looking at me, I decided I'd rather get knifed than look like a chicken.

So I started running down the path between the houses. Actually, I was trying to look like I was running but also trying to run as slowly as possible to give Jack the Ripper Bike Thief plenty of time to vault some fences and get away into the alleyways behind the house. I reached the back yard and looked over fences into other backyards.

Thank God! He was nowhere to be seen! He had given us the slip! Halleluiah!

As I turned to go back up the path to report the sad news that he had somehow eluded me, I found myself face-to-face with him. He was crouched down like he was hiding behind a bush but he was right there in the backyard in plain sight. He stared at me with dark animal eyes and I looked back at him with me best deer-in-the headlights expression.

At this point, since no-one was there to see me being a wimp, I stepped back, nodded my head at the small fence behind him and signaled with my hands for him to go. I wanted no part of him. I would have given him my wallet even though he hadn't asked for it but my wallet was still back at my house. Where I wished I was.

But he was an idiot. Instead of taking the offered escape route, he turned and started running back down the path I had just come up. At the end of that path, I realized, were an elderly couple and my neighbor's wife. So I uttered the words I always utter when I think the end of the world has arrived. The words that someday will probably be my last words. The words that should be engraved on my tombstone.

"Oh shit," I said and tackled him.

There was, surprisingly and gratefully, no fight. Maybe I'm bigger than I usually think I am. But I just sat on him and held his hands behind his back. From this perspective, he began to look more like a frightened little kid. In a few minutes, Sarah came up the path with two policemen.

After all this, she told them that she did not wish to press charges. This made the cops happy because unsuccessful attempt at bicycle theft is a dinky charge and not worth the paperwork. But they decided to take him down to the station before letting him go, just to make a point with him.

Sarah and the elderly couple were heaping praise on me like I was a hero. One of the cops took the time to let me know in a quiet voice that I was an idiot. "You could get killed trying to be a hero, you know."

"Yeah. I know," I agreed. I was just relieved that it had turned out to be just some poor stupid little kid.


A few days later, I was in the front yard when a patrol car drove by and the cop recognized me and pulled over.

"You remember that kid that tried to steal the bicycle?" He said. "Funny thing. We took him down to the station and just as we were about to let him go, his parole officer walked in and recognized him. Turns out he was on parole for two counts of armed robbery and an assault and battery and we threw his ass back in jail."

I nodded gravely, walked back in my house, shut the blinds so I could not see what was going on at my neighbors house, and began a prolonged period of hyperventilating.


  1. hey, nobody did any such heroics when somebody stole my bike of my (enclosed) front porch. Where were you?!

  2. Brilliant story and telling thereof!

    Who knows... You could be the next Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino if you start alientaing your family and growling at the neighbourhood kids.

  3. I think women frequently forget that it would be the man who would have to be on the attack while we are encouraging him on. We think you guys have some secret weapon being males. But then again minding you own business is not the way to keep a neighborhood safe. Enjoyed this story immensely!

  4. Good story and sometimes the right things happen. Glad it turned out okay for you. The two cracked out kids that "I think" robbed my house are in jail right now! Thank heavens!! Not sure why they are in there but they have been there since Christmas!! Whoo hoo! They can keep them for all I care!
    Gotta go the guard puppy is barking at something!

  5. This is a good one. First, because of the hesitancy you had displayed. Second, because of the way the story ended. This is a great tale.

  6. Wow. Great story! Who said "discretion is the greater part of valor?" It worked out well in this case.

  7. This is a wonderful story Mark, great fun reading it. I've had two bikes stolen over the years, fortunately both in the middle of the night while I was fast asleep and unable to get in the way of any danger.

    I'm hoping to maintain that record for the future.

  8. Mark, this is a GREAT story, very well-told! I used to be a vigilante type and loved the thrill of the chase and the gratification of the arrest, but then my youngest told me to get over myself and to stop being the world's policeman.