“A Great Lesson In Trust, Patience and Humility” (Part 3 of 7)

And I had been to a lot of places that moming! I checked with all of them and with no results. I had extra copies of all keys, so getting into the house and studio was no problem…But, the thought that I might have left them in my studio door for someone to come along and take with the idea of returning when no one was home. . . was haunting me!

Maybe that person has already been back for a second visit? But no, I would not let myse!f leave keys in a door like that – no matter how spacy I may be at the moment…Most likely, I lost them somewhere else. And there is no identification, no address, only ‘Arecibo Observatory’ written across the wooden key chain. Some thief will be pissed when he drives all the way to Arecibo thinking he’s gonna make a big haul and finds that the keys don’t fit.  My keys, if found, will be useless to anyone who finds them…nifty key chain, but worthless keys!

At least, that’s how I tried to convince myself all along…Now I had two problems; – missing keys and a missing camera, plus a camera bag and a nice telephoto zoom lens. I worked in the studio until my predicament became larger and larger in my mind and I could no longer concentrate. I had to go home to look!  My camera must be at the house!  

My house, 4:00 p.m.:

The office is the only place I normally keep my camera in the house; I headed straight up, knowing I would see it as soon as I walked through the door.  But, I didn’t see it and frantically tore the place apart in an attempt to find it. By now, butterflies were creeping into my stomach. I felt very sick. I had been violated. It wasn’t there andI didn’t need to search the rest of the house to know…

That fucking floor-dude lifted my camera right out from under my nose!

How could I be so stupid? Why did I trust him? Why did I leave him alone there in the first place? Why did I have my camera in there in the first place?

All night long I worried about the situation. The scenes replayed over and over in my mind. There was no doubt Felipe had my camera…well, the keychain possibility was there and I was not totally sure, but all major circumstances were pointing at Felipe. The only way to be totally sure was to confront him face-to-face.

Vicky’s brother, José, and his wife and new baby were staying with us. José is studying psychiatric medicine at Tulane. Together with Vicky, He and I discussed the alternatives. Vicky wanted me to call the police, whatever I decided. I wanted to smash this guy’s face in with one of my left-over 4- x 4- pieces of lumber. I also wanted my camera back in a very major way. I knew calling the police would not allow for either of those possibilities. We talked about me confronting Felipe and telling him that I had already been to the police and that they suggested I try to work it out between the two of us. If not, they would step in. But that would not guarantee my camera back. What jfhe got scared and simply ran?

In the States, we want blood, we want revenge – or at least justice to prevail and (hopefully,) favor us when our rights are violated. In Puerto Rico, people certainly want justice to prevail, however, I feel there is more of an air of tolerance and foregiveness. If something bad happens to Americans, they want answers as to what happened and why and who caused it? We want action and we want results!  We want speedy trials and some insight to the truth of the matter. Here, that’s not always the case and you’ll often find people accepting misfortunes or tragedies in ways we Americans cannot.  It most likely stems from the predominance of Catholicism and other strong religious beliefs. The only variance to this theory is in the case of the husband committing adultery…that’s when you’ll see a Puerto Rican wife chasing him with a butcher knife and screaming for blood…need I say what type?  She wants blood first, truth later. But she wants [her] justice to prevail and now. ** [see footnote.]

I knew José would suggest civilized, rational, cerebral, ways of getting my camera back. I was still in the primitive man’s an-eye-for-an-eye, a-tooth-for-a-tooth, I’m-gonna-feed-his-gizzard-to-the-dogs stage; I really didn’t want to hear things like ‘you have to put yourself in his mind-set’ and ‘make him feel good about giving you your camera back’…I wasn’t ready to give in so easily -plus- I was very aware of the fact that here I was discussing this with two Puerto Ricans – they may have me call the guy up and ask him if he wants the original box for the camera to help add to the re-sale value!

But José had some good points. He asked me what I really wanted out of this: The guy in jail? Or my camera back? He suggested that if I wished the camera to be returned, I might think about how I should go about getting it back from his standpoint; I couldn’t be too agressive with accusations; I needed to present myself in a firm, level-headed, non-threatening manner; I should be able to show that I was willing to strike a deal. But I was treading into dangerous turf if the guy had a dangerous, drug-dependent personality. José’s work with the homeless and drug abusers had shown that stolen merchandise can end up anywhere. The person hard up for drugs doesn’t care how or where either and usually is not operating on a very rational mind. Jose hinted at offering money as a last resort if I really wanted the camera back. If the guy is hard up for cash, he’ll do anything.

I called Mary and suggested that Felipe had stolen my camera. She told me he called her and was actually coming over to do some work for her tomorrow. Perfect! I could confront him then!

Yet, still I wasn’t totally sure he even had stolen it in the first place…Mary was concerned about him being in her apartment so she would only let him do work on the downstairs apartment – and – at my advice, only while she there watching him.

You can imagine how well I slept.  At 12:30 am, I got out of bed and asked Vicky to go with me to the studio to look again.  Maybe a second person would catch something I had missed. Plus, I was worried about the missing keys theory. Vicky was obviously worried over the camera too – getting out of bed to go somewhere in the middle-of-the-night is definitely not like her!

Tuesday, November 22, 1994
my studio, 1:00 am:

We looked everywhere! Nothing came up.

my house, 7:00 am:

Vicky and I were leaving the house together because Monday evening she had not returned before 6 p.m. to a parking garage where her car was and the garage closes at six o’clock sharp. She was without a car and had to get a ride home.  I began to wonder if loosing keys and forgetting and misplacing things had something to do with lefthandedness. But then, I come from a good genetical background for absentmindedness. I think Vicky’s got a little dose as well…

I was up very early this morning to search the house for my camera.  A little voice in the back of my mind was saying that it was all in vain, for I knew the camera had been in the studio all along. I had put it there for the purpose of using it during the painting workshop I attended the week before. I decided that taking photographs would only take away from my time painting during the workshop, so I left it in the studio. I was constructing the table at the time and had placed the camera in the safety of an out-of-the-way drawer, as I was still sanding and varnishing the tabletop. I had planned to leave the camera in the studio for the long-term; I would be constantly using it for photographing works in progress and also for finding subject matter in-and-around Old San Juan.

My studio, Old San Juan, 7:30 am:
As I unlocked the door to the studio, I had a very positive feeling about finding my camera. Despite the fact that Vicky and I had both looked thoroughly the night before, I imagined it was in a place that was so obvious that we really had paid no attention to it. On top of the refrigerator; inside of the refrigerator [that’s my bad genes]; hanging on the backside of a door; under the sink; sitting on the balcony railing in the back patio area; in the garbage can [more bad genes]…

My positive feeling quickly fizzled as I frantically searched. This whole ordeal was putting me into a terrible mood. I was so happy about being in the new studio – now I was wondering how long it would take to clear my head of all of this so that I could paint.

That motherfucker! He actually stole my goddammed camera! I should call him up right this minute and tell him that I caught it all on hidden video and that he has twenty minutes to get it back or I’ll call the police and take out a full-paged newspaper ad warning that Felipe Andujar is a crook and Prestige Floors is nothing but a front for a burglary and drug ring. I’ll also call his wife who is probably super-religious and has no idea that her husband is stealing and doing drugs all day long. The next floor that asshole will polish will be his ownn jail cell!

Distraught and impatient, I decided to go to the little kiosk in Plaza Las Armas , buy a cup of coffee, and go over the past days’ events once again to see if there were any more options as to where my camera might be.

Plaza Las Armas, Old San Juan, 8:00 a.m.:
A steady, dreary drizzle fell. Plaza Las Armas is home to flying rats and frequented by stupid tourists and locals who gawk at these filthy, diseased creatures while their children feed and try to catch them. I stood under the cover of the plaza’s telephone booth shelter and watched a few remaining pigeons bathing themselves in the rain. A San Juan beat policeman stood nearby as he watched secretaries from the Instituto de Cultura scurry by in their painted-on spandex mini-skirts. I waited for the rain to let up while I sipped my coffee and browsed through The San Juan Star. . .

I was so mentally bummed about my camera that I could not concentrate on anything over several sentences. I stuck to the news-in-brief, pictures and their captions, and the letters to the editor where I like to read all the letters from complaining, recently-arrived Statesiders who gripe about the traffic, the crime, abundance of litter, lack of recycling programs, and the constant inefficiencies of the telephone, water, and electric companies. I couldn’t even make it through the comics, so I went on to my
daily horoscope,  page 32,  San Juan Star, 8:15 a.m.:

Libra (Sept 23-0ct 23) You may face unusual developements today. Use your head as events transpire. Overreacting could easily tip the scales from success to failure. “

I couldn’t believe how appropriate my horoscope was. I swear to you this is true and word-for-word! Suddenly, the morning wasn’t so dreary and there was a hint of hope that somehow I just might get my camera back!

By now, the rain had stopped and I called Vicky at her office to see if she could look in the trunk of her car for my camera; I wanted to be damned sure that I had checked every possible place I might have left it before I started accusing people of stealing. Vicky confirmed what I was afraid of: There was no camera in her car – not in the backseat; neither under the seat, nor in the trunk.

That sonofabitch stole my camera. I’m gonna kill him and not report it [the murder] to the police!

backin the studio:
I couldn’t concentrate on anything! This whole ordeal was eating away at my being. Felipe would arrive early this morning to do the work for Mary, but as I had told her, I would not confront him until he finished all of the work for her. She too, had given him a deposit and I didn’t want him hauling-ass on both of us. My plan with Mary was for her to notify me as soon as he finished. She would see to it that he would come see me.

“He’s here,” Mary whispered hissed through the studio doors.

I went to the door. “You’re not keeping an eye on him like I told you?” I asked.

“He’s parking his truck…”

“…I’m pretending I haven’t heard or know about anything,” she continued, “Robert, do you really think he did it?”

“Yes, I’m pretty sure it was him.” 

I was lying. No, I wasn’t sure.

“Well, why would he come back here?”

“Because he’s stupid, ” I snarled.

 Mary had a worried look on her face.

“Do you think he’s a risk working for me?”

“I’m not sure, but I think there’s no risk as long as you keep an eye on him…and I think he’s harmless as a physical threat.”
I fretted and fumed all day long. Nothing much got done. . .
I was caught off guard as Felipe and Mary walked by the studio late in the afternoon. Felipe stuck his head in the door:

“Hi Rob, how ya doing today?”

Boy, he’s got a new name for me every time I get used to the old one.

“Hello,” I answered, “I have a few problems I need to talk to you about.”

“Oh yeah? What are they?” He looked worried.

“Oh…we’ll talk about it when you finish up with Mary…”

Mary, standing behind him, looked worried, almost embarassed. I could see her eyebrows rise from behind her glasses. He looked even more worried.

It was like Ward Cleaver telling The Beaver to stay in his room and they would discuss it after dinner. Beaver usually had a pretty good idea what trouble he had gotten himself into. The waiting was just part of the prosecution’s strategy – a strategy employed by Ward & June Cleaver and other parents of misbehaving children.

Felipe had his tail between his legs when he came into the studio after completing his work for Mary.

“Rob, you was gonna tell me about a problem you had…” he asked me timidly.

“Umm, yes…” I spoke in a very serious tone, “there are some fresh varnish spots on the floor that I need you to tell me how to get up without damaging the polish…”

“Of course…” he was somewhat relieved and glad to hear about such an honest, simple problem  “…I can get these up for you right away, no problem. ”

“And I have another small problem: You see, I am missing approximately one thousand dollars’ worth of camera equipment.”




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