CHRIS SCHILLIG: Memories of a book thief won't die three decades later

Alliance Review Published:

Would you confront a thief if you knew he had your smartphone?

An increasing number of people are, according to the New York Times. A woman in California recently tracked down her stolen device using the Find My iPhone app on her computer. It took her to a house in West Covina where she knocked on the door and demanded her property. The thief handed it over.

For the record, police say that playing amateur Inspector iGadget or Android Rambo is a stupid idea. You never know who or what could be waiting on the other side of a door, something you need to weigh against the value of a phone with data that is probably backed up in the cloud or on a laptop computer, anyway.

So I repeat: Would you confront a thief if you knew he had your smartphone?

I know my answer. N-O. At this point, your newspaper should get all wavy and blurry because we are going into a flashback, just like they do in all those old movies.

***

The year is 1982, and a friend and I are convinced that a senior boy -- hell, he's a man, with a lush, shag carpet of chest hair sprouting from beneath his shirt and a beard thicker than anything I can grow in my 40s -- has stolen something from my friend. The something is a copy of "Lord Foul's Bane," a paperback fantasy by Stephen R. Donaldson that isn't exactly worth the risk of having my tookus handed to me by a neanderthal.

For whatever reason, I decide to saunter over to his table at the library and confront him. I don't know what I expect will happen. Maybe that he will break down under my steely gaze and grueling interrogation techniques and return the item, along with a blubbering promise to never, ever do anything like that again.

What really happens is far less dramatic. I stammer out something about how the book he's reading looks an awful lot like the one that has just gone missing from my friend's locker and that I wonder if it could maybe, excuse me for asking, be the same one. I should mention that he has the book open when I approach him and that he is on page one, much like somebody would be if they had just, you know, stolen the book out of a locker.

He raises his head about one-tenth of an inch, squints with his already beady eyes, and says: "No."

And that's all. No "sorry, but it's mine," no receipt of purchase pulled from the depths of his denim jacket (hey, it was 1982), no "have a nice day." He doesn't even stand up and overtly threaten me, demonstrating his hulking superiority over my 115-pound-dripping-wet physique. He just raises his head and pins me with his gaze, as if to say, "Go on, make my day" or "You have to ask yourself: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?" or "E.T. phone home." OK, maybe not that last one, but definitely the first two.

I slither back to the other side of the library on my belly and tell my friend it's all a mistake. And I'm not kidding --Bambi confronting Godzilla is always a mistake.

***

The newsprint is coming back into focus now as we leave Teen Schillig in the 1982 library, in a world without smartphones that can be stolen and then tracked down by young college women who can somehow command their return better than he ever could. I hope you've enjoyed the trip.

What we learn in school is often far different than what our parents and teachers hope. What I learned that day is to keep track of my stuff and to report to the police whenever anything is stolen. And if that doesn't work, steal it back.

See, with the benefit of 33 years' hindsight, what I should have done was point to the window behind the troglodyte and scream, "Look, a pterodactyl!" Then, when he turned to bludgeon it to death with his bare hands, I should have grabbed "Lord Foul's Bane" and run like the wind, Forrest.

I would recommend the same for anybody whose smartphone is stolen. Either that, or offer to trade the thief for a copy of "Lord Foul's Bane." I know where you can get one, cheap.

Chris Schillig is an Alliance area educator and journalisr. Contact him at chris.schillig@yahoo.com or cschillig on Twitter.

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