24 March 2021


An odd thing happened, the other day.  This last Saturday, in fact.  I went down to the frame shop to do a delivery, a set of mirrors.  I loaded the van, and then when I started it up, it sounded like a demolition derby underneath.  I climbed out, and got down, and there was four feet of pipe missing, between the manifold and the muffler.  I’m like, Who drove this vehicle last, and why didn’t they say something about the exhaust?  But on closer inspection, I see the pipe wasn’t rusty or corroded; it’s been cut with a hacksaw.  Somebody’s ripped off the catalytic converter. 


The odd thing isn’t that it happened.  It’s a common enough crime of opportunity.  The odd thing is that I didn’t snap to it right away.  My first thought was that a section of pipe had just fallen off.  I was even ready, for about two seconds, to go on with the delivery.  But then I thought, A, what if some other loose part falls off while I’m driving, and B, what about the cab filling with carbon monoxide?  The realization that it was a crime took me more than those two seconds. 


Here’s where I’m coming from.  We, collectively, spend our time imagining mayhem, or at the least mischief.  I even began a story with the hook of fencing stolen catalytic converters (“The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” 2016), and I missed the obvious, in real life.


You see what I’m driving at.  You do a story that starts with burner phones, and it turns out to be about human trafficking.  You begin with counterfeit stamps, or rare butterflies, and it develops into personal betrayals, screwing your best friend’s wife, being the father of his child.  (I did this once, but Ross Macdonald did it dozens of times, and made it fresh every time.) 


The mystery isn’t so much what you come up with.  The burner phone story, for example, was almost twenty years ago.  An editor turned it down because she didn’t think her readers would get it.  The phones were beside the point.  It could have been drugs, or guns.  I used phones because I thought they were hip.  Now, they’re a commonplace.


It’s not the gimmick.  Chandler once said that “Pearls Are a Nuisance” was an inside joke.  He came up with the silliest possible resolution.  But the fish in the aquarium hold water, so to speak.  He convinces us.


The thing is that we miss the clues.  Not you, maybe, but me.  I can do pretend, and at the same time turn a blind eye to my own personal history.  At the least, I treat it as a glancing blow.  I suppose, without getting to the thicker part.  The interior, the unknown.  The catalytic converter got stolen.  It’s a market-driven theft.  What am I missing?


I think this is more than a metaphor.  We’ve had a lot stolen from us, this past year, but I don’t want to hit it too hard.  The thing is that a physical and literal loss is so felt.  We’ve been cheated of so much.  Fuck that.


  1. Good points. When Hitchcock was making Notorious he wanted the bad guy to be smuggling uranium. The studio said the audience won't understand a movie about uranium. Hitch said, fine, we'll make it diamonds. He knew the movie wasn't ABOUT either.

  2. While remodeling apartments, my girlfriend left her car overnight. The next day she went to start it and, of course, ROARRRRRRRRR. She couldn't drive it like that, so she left it there a couple more night. On the third evening, she was painting a back bedroom when she heard, ROARRRRRRRRR! Car thieves hadn't realized catalytic converter thieves had arrived ahead of them. She rushed out in time to get a partial license number before the robber and accomplice rushed off in their get-away car. Deputies said thanks very much, but they needed a full tag number to find the bad guys.


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