To Catch a Thief

I have been exhausted since 6:30pm. This time, the jet-lag returning from Japan to the U.S. has been kicking my ass up and down. But I’ll talk more about my current state later. In the meantime I need to tell you a story from a few days ago.

**
So, back in April someone stole my old Macbook.

I don’t mean I left it on a coffee shop table and someone ran off with it. No, the truth is actually much more embarrassing. I had decided to sell my old laptop on Craigslist because I didn’t want to lug it back to the U.S. After several typically flaky inquiries, I wound up corresponding with a guy who lives in Yokohama, and who claimed that because of work and childcare concerns he couldn’t come up to Tokyo to meet me. And I didn’t have the time for a trip to Yokohama just to sell a laptop, because I was neck deep in research at that point. (Actually, I was planning to just hoof it down there, but T talked me into perceiving it as a waste of my time, and mailing the laptop instead.)

So, fine… I’d mail the laptop to the guy, and, well, we all know where this is going. I asked the guy how I could be assured he was good for the money, and he sent me a photograph of his gaijin card. This seemed like enough insurance for me, so I went through with the whole stupid, ill-advised plan.

And…. of course he didn’t pay. First, the story was that he couldn’t figure out how to do a furikomi (bank transfer). Then it was that the laptop had a crack in it that I hadn’t mentioned, and he didn’t want it after all. (I thought my craiglist photographs were quite clear and extensive.) After three months of back-and-forth and me fretting about the situation, and bothering T about how tense it was making me, I got stern with the guy and wrote that I was reporting him to the police if he didn’t pay up– and surely they’d deport his thieving 24-year old foreign butt from Japan.

Right after sending this stern, semi-threatening SMS’ I did my research and found that the police wouldn’t get involved in matters involving
a) 2 foreigners and
b) an online sales site like craigslist.
I’d have to get a lawyer if I wanted my money, as the whole thing is legally more like a contract between two parties than  theft (in Japan, and perhaps in the U.S. as well).

The guy responded to my first volley of threats by transferring about $100 into my account– not even half of the agreed upon amount. He promised to pay the remainder in July. Of course, he didn’t. Even I saw the writing on the wall, though it didn’t stop me from getting my hopes up.

This week, T and I planned a trip to Yokohama to visit Chinatown, as T hadn’t been there in close to 10 years. Wednesday morning, T surprised me by asking if I still had the shipping receipts from mailing that laptop. I dug them out, he google searched the guy’s address, and informed me we’d be going to get my laptop before exploring Chinatown.

Wha…what?

“We can’t just go to some guy’s house,” I told him. “We don’t know who this guy is. He might be dangerous.”

T was not to be deterred. He told me we’d consult the Yokohama police first, and then if  they weren’t willing to get involved, we’d deal with it ourselves.

They weren’t willing to get involved.

So next thing I knew we were in a taxi, and T was asking the driver “what kind of neighborhood is x?”

The driver demurred… “well, it’s got a lot of places to drink.. and, um, if you’ll forgive me for saying this (pause) soaplands…” I giggled.

Soaplands are generally in the, er, sex business. They run the gambit from places to drink with “sexy ladies”, to happy-ending massage parlors, to brothels. As we pulled into this neighborhood, which rivaled the poor neighborhoods on the South side of Chicago, or West Philly for boarded up windows and burned out buildings, I noted that the soaplands here trended towards the brothel-y. We searched for the guy’s building for a while, asking directions of a drunk on the street, cutting through a filthy Korean restaurant, and finally finding ourselves down an ally that smelled of urine and expired dairy. I paused, and told T that if the guy really lived on this street with his wife and small child, that he could have the laptop. I pulled the “clearly he needs it more than I” card.

T sternly retorted that stealing is wrong, no matter what your circumstances. I was poised to object, to talk about grey areas and loaves of bread and whatnot, but T was already calling the guy. Because, as he hissed, it’s rude to bang on someone’s door without calling to let him know who’s visiting first.

I could hear my pulse in my ears.

We didn’t know if the guy spoke any Japanese, as he is Philippino, so T started off with the most ridiculous attempt to speak English and sound intimidating at the same time. “HEY,” he said into the phone, with his goofy-heavy Japanese accent. “THIS [name]?”….”LAPTOP”…. “POLICE” Then, frustrated he asked if the guy spoke Japanese, in Japanese. Thief must have said yes, as he switched to aggressive, threatening Japanese, telling the guy he was outside the building and would be collecting my laptop thankyouverymuch. After a few grunts, he hung up, and turned a cheery smile on me.

“He’s at work an hour away but he’ll be here in an hour. Want to go get ice cream?”

I blinked. “Ehhhhh”?

So we sat around the corner and ate soft-serve “belgian chocolate soft cream” and tater tots(?!) in a surprisingly bright and clean Mini Stop, researching dim-sum options in Chinatown as the time passed. But as tedious as it was to wait, T was standing up and saying “Ok, time!” before I was ready. He told me it was fine to wait in the convenience store.

I gathered my courage and followed him anyway… for about a block before the panic attack started. My breathing quickened and chest tightened. I stalled, whileT charged ahead, and as he rounded the corner back onto Thief’s street, I saw him raise his hand in salute, his face breaking into a friendly grin despite himself.

I froze. Didn’t turn the corner with him. He disappeared and I didn’t even dare peak around the corner lest I be spotted. Ducking into the closest doorway I frantically texted T: “ACK, I panicked.” Then:

“I can come if you need me…”

It took another minute of silently huddling in the doorway before I realized it was a soapland, and only a few feet away stood an older man in a worn-out suit looking at me inquisitively.

I stepped to the corner. And fidgeted with my cell phone. And waited.. and waited….

Minutes passed. The older man continued to regard me suspiciously, and I continued to pace in small circles. Suddenly two police on bikes tore around the corner.

Great.

Some thief, probably into illicit activity and…and.. in a gang had stabbed poor T. I was sure of it. I texted him:

“POLICE??? Are you okay?”

Nothing. I dared to peek around the corner for the first time. Nobody was on the street. Not the police, not T, not the thief. Just a broken trash bag kicked up the street from a dumpster, and stinking in the hot sun.

A minute more and I spotted T and a guy who I presumed to be the Thief in the fleeting second I dared peek. I darted back into the doorway, causing the older man to raise his eyebrows. Oh good lord, I asked myself. Why am I this afraid of confrontation? Why am I hiding in a door, afraid to have even followed T? Why am I so timid?

Finally T appeared, cheerfully lugging a heavy shopping bag. “There you go!” he said, handing me the laptop. “And you won’t be paying him back the $100 either. I told him that would cover our train tickets, and the enormous meiwaku (trouble) he’d caused you.

He lit a cigarette and grinned at me in that completely guileless way that he does.

I blinked.

Paused.

“Whatttt?”

T smiled: “He’s not much taller than me. It was easier to hug him than to hug you!”

“You hugged my thief?”

“Well, after we had a beer together it seemed right. He’s a nice guy.”

“Whaaaat?”

“His daughter is so cute. And his wife’s Japanese isn’t bad too.”

“You met his family?”

“Sure! We had a nice chat about work, and I asked him why he lived in such a crappy building. He and his wife make more than I do with their salaries combined.”

“You hung out with my thief?”

“Yeah, he’s nice! I might invite him to my next party!”

What the….

Only T, with his unfailingly sunny spirit and goofy fondness for just about everyone, could go to threaten someone, succeed in his mission, and still wind up friends with the guy. With the laptop back, I’m still kind of confused as to what went on in that apartment. Good lord.

Gonna cut this off how, as jet-lag is making it hard to compose sentences.

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