The day after last year’s tragic presidential election, I walked into Viva Europa on Montford Avenue and was immediately accosted by another customer who waved a map in my face.
“See!” he yelled, pointing at the mass of Republican states covering the nation. “People want Bush! That’s the scary thing!”
And some hippies sitting at one of the tables piped up that they were solidifying plans to move to Holland as soon as possible, mainly because of the election results.
I love Montford. In contrast, the town where I spent my tender years was so conservative that people called the convenience store the Sin Station. Not because it sold beer (it was a dry county) but because it was open on Sunday. In between church potlucks and Promise Keeper rallies, there wasn’t much room for liberal sensibilities, and there wasn’t much tolerance for folks who didn’t keep the Sabbath.
Montford, on the other hand, once the crime capital of Asheville, has now become a hotbed of herbal tea, organic vegetables, bluegrass music — and registered Democrats. I’m even tempted to say that the real sign of today’s Montfordite isn’t one of those splashy flags with a hummingbird on it, it’s a Kerry/Edwards sticker. Indeed, I’m beginning to suspect that a lot of the folks in my neighborhood aren’t going to take their Kerry bumper stickers off until 2008.
Montford’s sea change, however, didn’t happen by accident. It’s a direct result of the big G: gentrification. And current denizens of the liberal haven between Riverside Cemetery and Broadway tend to forget that this neighborhood has only recently become so trendy. Long-term residents of Asheville still scowl when you mention Montford, and sometimes, they’ll go so far as to say that they don’t like to drive through it at night.
Now that’s just ridiculous: I know for a fact that there’s only one criminal left in Montford, and he’s very shy of people. Although he’s as familiar with the interior of my car as I am, I have never seen him. The police have had him cornered at least twice, and he’s escaped both times.
I call him the Montford Dog Burglar.
And whereas a cat burglar relies on cleverness and stealth, picking locks and cracking safes, a dog burglar carries around a crowbar and bashes things with it — like my dashboard, say, or my neighbor’s windows.
The Dog Burglar made his first foray into the cab of my pickup truck on the night of Hurricane Ivan. I woke in the morning to find trees down in the yard, the power out, the water off, and all the random papers that I’d crammed into my glove box over the years strewn across the floor. The same was true in my wife’s car. The Dog Burglar had left our CDs, radios and other valuables; the only thing he stole was the change in the ashtrays.
Over time, though, he became bolder. On Thanksgiving, he stole my radio. I found it 20 feet away in the yard and reinstalled it. Three weeks later he came back, stole it again, and ripped my dashboard apart in the process. There’s now a strip of duct tape covering the gaping hole where my CD player once resided.
But I’m not the only one who’s becoming accustomed to the eerie silence that comes of driving around without a radio. The Dog Burglar has tried unsuccessfully to steal my wife’s radio half a dozen times. You’d think that after the first time, when he ripped the face off with a crowbar and couldn’t get any further, he’d remember; but apparently not. Each time he visits us, he rips the face off again, and I have to fix it. Again.
Finally, I became so frustrated that I started having my wife pull the face off herself and lock it in her glove box. What a fool I was! It takes more than a lock to daunt the Dog Burglar. Several months ago, in the third of a record three break-ins in one week, the Dog Burglar tried to pry the locked glove box open. He didn’t get in, but he did break the handle — and now we can’t open the thing either.
I’ve heard of the Dog Burglar kicking in doors at 6 in the evening and walking out with computers. I’ve heard of him stealing clothes from cars in broad daylight with people watching. I’ve heard that he might be a little slow. I’ve heard that he’s a crack addict.
And though I’ve tried, I’ve never really been able to understand the man. I’ve spent extended periods of time staring out my window at the parking lot late at night, hoping for a glimpse of the Dog Burglar that might somehow help me grasp his true motivation. I’ve even been tempted to sit on my porch with a six-pack of beer and a BB gun and wait for him to show up, as my property manager suggested.
“Why does he do it?” I asked a friend the other day, after yet another violent riffling through the personal belongings I’d left in my truck. “Is it really to steal something of value? Or does he have some other motive? Is he a thief or a revolutionary, taking out his existential rage on the new inhabitants of Montford? (You know: the ones who’ve driven property values to levels beyond the reach of all except Microsoft CEOs; the ones who play guitar on the sidewalk and who walk down the street to get some homemade, additive-free ice cream.) Has the impact of gentrification hurt him so profoundly that he feels he has to lash out in whatever way he can?”
“I think he’s just a crackhead,” my friend said.
I’m not sure if that settles it or not. I have to admit that the only thing I know for sure about the Montford Dog Burglar is that he will strike again. With this in mind, I now leave a dollar bill on the dashboard, in hopes that he’ll take that instead of inflicting further damage on my property. Maybe I should leave him a Kerry/Edwards sticker too — these days, they’re a dime a dozen.
[Freelance writer Sam Wardle lives in Asheville.]