So I began brooding on more practical crimes. Like burglary. It seemed so simple, conceptually: you break into houses and steal things. So far so good. Well no, actually, not when you start looking at particular houses. Who lives in that house? Do they have a dog? I dunno. How am I supposed to know? What do you do, hide in a tree all night and take notes? In theory, maybe, but I was fifty years old and even after months of cold, short rations and rowing more than a mile a day to and from our mooring, I still weighed 200 pounds and I’d look stupid getting cherrypicked down from my surveillance tree by the firemen and cops with the local tv crew taking pictures.
Say you got into a house, what would you do then? In the old days, Oh, those bastards had it easy; people kept actual cash around. They could steal actual money. The only people who keep cash now are Chinese and I was not going to rob Chinese people. So what could you take from these houses? A bunch of “valuables”? What are “valuables” anyway? Jewelry? Suppose you manage to break into a house, get a lot of jewelry, get away with it. You still have to sell it somewhere. Even a middleclass nerd like me knows pawnbrokers are paid informers. You have to know a…I believe the word is “fence.” I could have asked around with the various creeps and sleazes on the boats, but they gossiped like old ladies about each other; not even I could imagine them keeping quiet with info like that.
It seemed to prove the same thing every attempt to find work had proved over the past year: I was unemployable. Even as a burglar. You have to network, like the brochures say—make those long-term connections with reliable, ahem, “fences” and other mainstays of the criminal economy. Without connections, you were doomed.
The only thefts anybody on the boats talked about were pitiful, like Johnny boasting about how he got chocolate-covered coffee beans from the bulk bins and managed to pass them off as chocolate-covered raisins, which were cheaper. Or how he’d lifted a lot of firewood from a construction site by the dock where one of the smug Canucks was putting up a huge new house. It seemed shameful for a guy who’d done at least two murders to be bragging about stealing wood scraps.
And I knew I couldn’t even get away with smalltime stuff like that. There’s an age, around thirteen or fourteen, when kids try shoplifting. I knew lots of them. They never got caught until they hesitated. But I was all hesitation, even then, with the result that though I never had the nerve to steal so much as a grape, I was always getting stopped and questioned by store detectives. Guilty without a crime, that was my permanent status, and I knew the cops would pick me up if I even looked at any scrap lumber. You can’t fake that kind of crazy, the kind you need to steal. You need to feel utterly righteous as you walk off with stuff, and I felt guilty just buying things, had a bad habit of apologizing to the checker at the grocery store.
The real, sensible, practical crime that boaties talked about was growing and selling BC Bud. As one of the boaties said, “We do take pride.” Weed farming was high-profit, low-risk—there was even this legend that it was legal to grow three or less plants for your own consumption. That may have been true, for all I know; I hated the smug, stupid law-abiding Canadians so much by this time I wasn’t even going to ask.
Johnny the murderer talked about setting us up as front-people in a grow op he knew about: “I told my buddy Nate, these guys are perfect, the lady doesn’t even drink, the guy maybe has a glassa wine now and then , they don’t smoke at all….” That was true; neither of us could stand marijuana. Naturally the one drug I hate is the one that the whole country loves to be all tolerant and sweet about, the bastards.
But like all the other crime around those parts, it was just talk. These peoples’ lives fall apart too fast for them to put any of their plans into practice. Chris’s boat sank, Johnny’s ex-wife called and, last I’d heard, he’d dumped his bum-boy and was waiting for her to show. It was bound to be an exciting reunion; her version of flirting was to say, “So, when you get me on the boat, am I going in the water?”
And then he was arrested in Esquimault for picking up a hatchet that he just found on the sidewalk. At least that was his story. And then some other disaster, another buddy who didn’t pay the rent on a room where he was growing some plants. And then we lent him our car, our last possession, out of gratitude, honor among prospective thieves, and he drove it without oil till it burned out, and by the time he told me where he’d parked it they’d towed it and there was no money to get it back.
So we were as hopeless at finding a crime as at finding lawful employment. It made you want to sue the movies. Who wouldn’t want Travolta’s hitman job in Pulp Fiction? Cruising around high on the best heroin, shooting skate rats. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. We knew somebody who’d been an enforcer, and he didn’t have a dime. None of them did. You end up vaguely aware that there must be a higher form of crime, something with computers and real estate, but that the people you think of as criminals are in no position to access it. You’d have to start young, get in with all those legal networks, teachers’ unions or nurses’, something with a pension plan and accounts. The horrible snobbery of the world, that’s what we left with. Everybody a miserable snob, every door closed, every membership list already full with a waiting list.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Dolan would like to thank the English Department of the University of Victoria, British Columbia, “…for getting rid of me because I dared to teach first-year comp students to disagree with the sanctimonious Monbiot articles they were assigned to paraphrase, thus allowing me to experience the sensual extravaganza of extreme poverty.”
Buy John Dolan’s novel “Pleasant Hell” (Capricorn Press).
Got something to say to us? Then send us a letter.
Want us to stick around? Donate to The eXiled.
Twitter twerps can follow us at twitter.com/exiledonline