Security Breach

At the bottom of the stairs leading up to our apartment, there is a notice board. I had not been paying much attention to it, because ever since we arrived it had contained only a yellowing paper announcing a vacancy on the governing board of the complex. It looked like that notice had been there since the election of the first President Bush, and would be there until the election into that office of a woman of Navajo descent.

On this morning, however, I stopped in front of it for some random reason, probably to buckle my sandals, and the datum poked through the haze that is my mind in bus-commuter mode that the color of the paper had changed. It was now white. I focused, read.

Three youths, it said, had broken in to a ground-floor unit while its owner/occupier was away. One of the three was still free; the other two, “thanks to the vigilance of the community”, had been captured.

When I told Quilly of this later, her response was “That explains it”. She had overheard a conversation of downstairs neighbors, who were going to be locking their doors now and what the hell is happening to the world anyway?

Well, I don’t know any of the people or circumstances involved in this episode. As Sherlock Holmes repeatedly demonstrated to adoring physicians and incompetent detectives, the facts of a case can be radically different from the first impressions of a casual observer. But, as regular readers of this column know, Wai’anae is a part of O’ahu where rents have skyrocketed recently, tossing many of the less moneyed, whether working or not, onto the beach. That fact was the first thing that popped into my head when I read this burglary report. Followed closely by a verse that Ambrose Bierce, in his Devil’s Dictionary, wrote to accompany his definition of the verb “to beg”. A 21st-century reader might need to know that mendicant is a fancy Victorian word meaning “beggar; one who must beg”.

    Who is that, father?

         A mendicant, child,
    Haggard, morose, and unaffable — wild!
    See how he glares through the bars of his cell!
    With Citizen Mendicant all is not well.
    Why did they put him there, father?
    Obeying his belly he struck at the laws.
    His belly?
         Oh, well, he was starving, my boy —
    A state in which, doubtless, there’s little of joy.
    No bite had he eaten for days, and his cry
    Was “Bread!” ever “Bread!”
              What’s the matter with pie?
    With little to wear, he had nothing to sell;
    To beg was unlawful — improper as well.
    Why didn’t he work?
              He would even have done that,
    But men said: “Get out!” and the State remarked: “Scat!”
    I mention these incidents merely to show
    That the vengeance he took was uncommonly low.
    Revenge, at the best, is the act of a Siou,
    But for trifles —
              Pray what did bad Mendicant do?
    Stole two loaves of bread to replenish his lack
    And tuck out the belly that clung to his back.
    Is that all, father dear?
              There’s little to tell:
    They sent him to jail, and they’ll send him to — well,
    The company’s better than here we can boast,
    And there’s —
         Bread for the needy, dear father?
              Um — toast.

The notice continued. In words that have become familiar to Americans in the days since 9/11. Words that say nothing about underlying causes, offer no reasons, suggest no redress. Words that speak only to the need of people with stuff to hang on to that stuff.

Be alert.
Watch for suspicious activity.
Report anything you see or hear.

Complete with clipart of people listening at keyholes and whispering damning information into cell phones.

We the People have made of ourselves targets with our stuff. And instead of getting off the bullseye, we have tried to build a bunker around it. A bunker surrounded by secret police, in and out of uniform; rats with cell phones, the remnants of souls whose black fur coats are labeled “Security”.

What the hell is happening to the world anyway? And why does it all seem so familiar …?

I spent the rest of the day in black and white, walking in a 1930s newsreel.

Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!!

– O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2007 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.


  1. I LOVE that poem! And OC… I think all the people with “stuff” should leave some “stuff” on their door steps to make it a little easier for the thieves to take without having to break in! A loaf of bread on this step… a bag or rice on that step… some peanutbutter here… a box of cereal there… might help!

  2. Very true, nessa. But, as Pink Floyd once said, “money, it’s a hit”. Some people are so insistent on getting it, that they market inappropriate behaviors on the web, and masquerade as someone else to do it.

    Unfortunately, melli, bread won’t buy ice. Which has to be factored into the equation …

    Have you visited Waking Ambrose, opit? I think you’d enjoy it.

  3. Ah,yes. STUFF. Quilly has just packed up her life, so she knows how much stuff she had. Maybe you’re in that situation too.

    We are in the midst (nearly done) of remodeling our kitchen. I cannot imagine what I am doing by having three sets of dishes. (Everyday set of dishes, better set of dishes, and then the china.)
    So many mugs, so many glasses. Crystal. How many spatulas does one old lady need?

    And why am I re-doing a kitchen that was serviceable?

    I AM THE PROBLEM. I consume. And I’m sick of it. Stop the stuff world, I want to get off.

  4. Having been raised without much “stuff”, I grew up never knowing how the privileged kids lived. But regardless, we would never have stolen anything. We just weren’t raised that way. I got a job as soon as I was able, age 11. Grandma would have tanned my hide if I had ever stole.

    By the way, I also loved the poem.

  5. OC, I think you’ve outdone yourself. This post is terrific – as is the poem. It reminded me of another like it, about a little girl. Now I have to go find it – or it’ll drive me crazy. Good job.

  6. TLP, stuff accumulates. The longer one stays in one place, the more stuff you get. My mother, who’s been in the same house for 45 years, can relate.

    The Quill and I are largely in the same boat when it comes to things. Neither of us have much right now. Perhaps it’ll stay that way. Or not – I’m likely to have to have associates as guests …

    Will look for you at Doug’s place, opit.

    Ditto here, nea. There is definitely a cultural dimension to stealing. Naturally, there are some people out there, including many who make big bucks, who are only too happy to use cultural differences to label “us” vs. “them”. Which, of course, only makes “them” all the more likely to steal from “us”. “Hey, if you’re going to label us as beasts, we may as well be beasts.”

    Thanks, Jackie. Let us know about that poem. And you do know that the poem’s not mine, right?

    Welcome back, Cindra. Funny you should mention Rome. Rome fell, didn’t it?

    Minka, a lot of my fellow Americans these last few years have been finding swastikas everywhere they look. Except in their mirrors …

  7. OC, yes, I know it’s not yours! I think you COULD have written it, though. I did find the other poem. In my “Best Loved Poems of the American People”. It is titled GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? and the author is unknown.

  8. My thoughts at this moment…..consumer, consumption, Wall Street, greed, new bedroom, guilt, giving feels good, the story (and I believe it was a poem also) of “The Little Match Girl”, two charities for which I haven’t yet determined an amount to give (get moving, Jude), WE are the richest of the rich to people in the Third World, and always, in the back of my mind is, God is not going to ask how much money or stuff we collected, but, how much we GAVE to the needy. ……. Judy

  9. O.C. . . . I, too, loved the poem.

    FYI – The Little Match Seller – story by Hans Christian Andersen – 1835

    – The Little Match Girl – poem by W.T. McGonagall.

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