Looting the corpse.

I don’t have to explain to my genius readers — and certainly not to Ashley, raging defender of New Orleans — that no one really gives a crap about urban America anymore. As long as we have Broadway, as long as we have major league baseball in a downtown stadium with a nice sports bar nearby, that’ll do for most of us. Most of the U.S. lives in suburbia now anyway. Certainly the registered voters do. And you know what that means.

Certainly I do. But my suburb is cheek-to-jowl with one of the most notoriously dysfunctional cities in the United States, and let me tell you, reading my morning newspaper is rarely boring.

If you’re a boxing fan, you probably know about the Kronk gym. It’s where trainer Emanuel Steward shaped Tommy “the Hitman” Hearns, where dozens of lesser-known pugilists have trained and fought. If you saw Out of Sight, there’s a great scene with George Clooney, Ving Rhames and Don Cheadle, shot there. (Cheadle remarks on the famous thermostat setting preferred by Steward: Boiling. Keeps everything loose.) Like virtually everything else in Detroit, it’s struggling. Correction: Was struggling. Now it’s on the canvas, most likely KO’d.

What did it? A losing string of boxers? Competition from a better operation nearby? If only. No, someone stole the plumbing:

The thieves broke into the boiler room Sunday night and stole all the copper pipes, cutting off water to the gym, which forced it to close for the foreseeable future. …The rising price of copper has sparked increasing thefts of pipes, wire, even the coils in air conditioning units in Detroit and around the country. The price has more than doubled in the past year, and has been hovering around $3.50 a pound this month on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

And that, perhaps, explains another curious item, in yesterday’s paper. It was in the news digest, which is, in my experience, the place to spot news before it’s news. Everything starts small; big stories are born as tiny paragraphs:

A 24-year-old man, who police said most likely was trying to steal electrical cable, was found electrocuted in a field in southwest Detroit on Monday. …(A police spokesman) said area hospitals also have reported an increase in treating people for electrical wire burns.

The cable thefts, the story notes, are the reason for power outages in the area. Listen to the morning news, and every so often you’ll hear of a Detroit school closed “due to a power outage,” the announcer says. The power seems awfully iffy in some neighborhoods of Detroit. Now we see why.

It’s not exactly the butterfly-typhoon connection. Actually it’s a lot closer. Thieves steal infrastructure, and institutions that depend on the infrastructure collapse. The price of copper is up, and therefore children will miss school, young men will have one less opportunity to work out their aggression in a controlled, socially approved setting, thieves will die in fields trying to get a piece of the action.

And what is threatening the fabric of America? This week? I dunno. Probably gay marriage.

Posted at 9:14 am in Current events |

28 responses to “Looting the corpse.”

  1. brian stouder said on September 20, 2006 at 9:26 am

    A 24-year-old man, who police said most likely was trying to steal electrical cable, was found electrocuted in a field in southwest Detroit on Monday. …(A police spokesman) said area hospitals also have reported an increase in treating people for electrical wire burns.

    seriously – I wonder if the dead man was going to make more than the $14 that the body collector earned for his earthly remains

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  2. Connie said on September 20, 2006 at 10:31 am

    This is going on in my area as well, not just copper, but all recyclable/salvageable metals. A local school recently had its steel platform handicapped/wheelchair swing stolen. I am buying a raggedy 7 acre old industrial site downtown for a new ($30 million!) downtown library. I was in one of the buildings the other day with my environmental guys, an old car dealership that has been boarded up for years. Since the last time I was in there someone has cut a hole in the roof and removed the entire furnace. On the other hand, my environmental guys are telling me that the other building, a huge old foundry, has enough steel beams in it to pay for not only the demolition, but also the asbestos removal, the ground contamination cleanup, and the foundry sand removal.

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  3. Connie said on September 20, 2006 at 10:33 am

    And one of my branch libraries, with a wooded setting, keeps losing to thievery the outside ground mounted light fixtures that light the signs and flagpole. Four times now. We have discussed booby trapping them, but have ordered a security camera instead.

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  4. Danny said on September 20, 2006 at 10:38 am

    Here, in San Diego, we had a guy who was stealing bronze grave markers and flower urns. As you might imagine, this really pissed people off. He was caught.


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  5. mary said on September 20, 2006 at 10:50 am

    My neighbor had his iron fence and gate stolen. Neighbors thought the guys were workmen replacing the fencing.

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  6. brian stouder said on September 20, 2006 at 11:10 am

    a few weeks ago, Chloe (our 2 year old) and I were meandering around the neighborhood and looking at the flowers and stuff. It was the evening before recycling/garbage pick-up day, and I confess it caught my attention that one particular neighbor had 3 full bags of aluminum cans out by the street!

    At the time, aluminum cans were getting 70 cents/pound, so that was easily twenty bucks or so, just sitting there.

    Betcha those bags didn’t remain there through the night

    electric motor prices have been spiking, owing to the copper windings internal to them – so one suspects that pumps and fans might also be disappearing

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  7. nancy said on September 20, 2006 at 11:20 am

    I think it was our second week in Ann Arbor when I took the dog out for a walk and noticed the full recycling bin I’d put out the night before was substantially less-full, having been emptied of all of the beer bottles and pop cans. And then it dawned on me:

    Duh. Ten-cent deposit.

    As a way to encourage litter pickup, you could hardly choose a better tool. However, when people start stealing plumbing that’s still in use, we have a problem.

    And Connie, at Foster Park in Fort Wayne, the gardeners said people drive in at night and dig up the flowers. A more chickenshit crime is hard to imagine. Stealing wheelchairs, maybe.

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  8. mary said on September 20, 2006 at 11:24 am

    In the park next to my house, I caught a very nicely dressed man cutting all the snapdragons for a bouquet. He said he was having a dinner party that night and needed flowers for the tables. I can’t imagine doing that. There’s only one small flower patch in the park and he completely denuded it of all flowers. He seemed completely comfortable doing it and was smiling as he explained to me what he was doing.

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  9. colleen said on September 20, 2006 at 11:31 am

    When we redid our porch this summer, we stripped it of a bunch of aluminum, plus we had old storm windows used to enclose it, an old storm door. All was put out for the trash, none of it made it to pickup time. One guy actually waited for my husband to finish pulling the last bits of aluminum down so he could take it.

    There’s stuff I would give thru freecycle, but I know the trash pickers will come by and get it, so I let them….

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  10. John said on September 20, 2006 at 12:33 pm

    Stealing wheelchairs, maybe.

    The funniest bit in “Striptease”.

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  11. Mindy said on September 20, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    Another chickenshit crime: keeping library books and reporting them as lost. A former friend had no trouble doing this with the rationalization that the library had two copies, thus the public still had access to one. She had first surfed for a used copy and found one for seven hundred bucks, making the permanent loan justifiable to her Now the punchline — the book was reprinted two years later. She lost a lot of friends over this, including me.

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  12. Connie said on September 20, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    Good for you, Mindy. What people like that don’t realize is they are in essence stealing from their neighbors, their fellow taxpayers. Recently James Frey’s publisher announced a refund program for his “Million Little Pieces” book. All you have to do is tear out and send in page 163. Gee thanks, publisher. We get enough random destruction as it is without you rewarding people for it.

    My suburban Flint brother-in-law has for many years made several thousand dollars a year recycling aluminum. He cruises high end neighborhoods on those special large trash pickup days and takes any aluminum window and door frames, gas grill bases, and whatever. He often comes home with perfectly good bicycles, lawn mowers, snowblowers, and adds them to his garage pile.

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  13. nancy said on September 20, 2006 at 4:33 pm

    One of those moments that crystallized what is happening to our little lake-house neighborhood, where the wealthy are tearing down the old cottages to build big year-round houses, happened a few years ago:

    The lawyer across the road couldn’t get his outboard motor to start, and apparently decided he was going to trade up. Or rather, “buy new,” because he took the old one out to the road and left it beside the trash. A little boy, son of blue-collar parents living one row back from the water, was dumbstruck, saying, “You’re thowing this…AWAY?” The lawyer nodded, the boy ran home, got a wheelbarrow, scooped it up and took it home.

    I thought this was interesting on a number of levels, the most obvious one being the class/income difference apparent when one can throw away an entire motor. However, having fought my battles with outboards before, I could at least empathize with the lawyer. I’d have respected him more if he’d taken the motor into the driveway and beat on it with a sledgehammer or ax before putting it in the trash.

    Last I heard, the boy and his dad made a few repairs, got the motor running again and sold it. Good for them.

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  14. Danny said on September 20, 2006 at 5:19 pm

    Some of this conversation of wastefulness is reminding me of a peeve of mine having to do with packaging of products. I think it would be great to have some legislation that limits wasteful packaging (wasteful in that it uses natural resources to produce and it ends up clogging landfills).

    I mean, do we really need a 12-pack of beer that is it’s own disposable cooler? Do we really need all of the oversized plastic containers for small consumer electronics? Do we really need to have a different, oddly-shaped bottle for each type of beverage?

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  15. nancy said on September 20, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    I mean, do we really need a 12-pack of beer that is it’s own disposable cooler?

    I have never seen this product. Send details.

    Do we really need all of the oversized plastic containers for small consumer electronics?

    Probably. The smaller the item, the easier it is to steal. It’s either blg plastic containers or iPods sold like diamond rings. Plastic is cheaper than health benefits for the staff. Alas.

    Do we really need to have a different, oddly-shaped bottle for each type of beverage?

    No, but I think it would be amusing if Chanel No. 5 were sold in half-gallon plastic jugs, like milk. I once briefly dated the son of an industrial perfumer. He worked for Procter & Gamble, and I believe his greatest professional accomplishment was determining what Depends should smell like (BEFORE you use ’em, of course). He went to perfumers’ conventions and came home with very plain, label-free bottles of the world’s most expensive fragrances, which were passed out “to the trade.” I got my first and only bottle of YSL’s Opium that way.

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  16. mary said on September 20, 2006 at 5:52 pm

    I wrote a fan letter to Chandler Burr, the new perfume critic of the New York Times. It was more like an application to be his vacation replacement. High end perfume counters on both coasts know my face. I love smelling perfumes. I buy some when I feel the need for retail therapy, but mostly I like sampling the smells, like a wine taster. My latest faves are Hermes Un Jardin sur le Nil and Bulgari The’ Rouge. Next time I have a spare 80 bucks, I’ll buy one of them.

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  17. Danny said on September 20, 2006 at 6:27 pm

    I’ll try to find details on the beer cooler. I’ve just heard radio spots advertising it. I can’t even remember what brand of beer it was.

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  18. nancy said on September 20, 2006 at 6:43 pm

    Mary, what’s your opinion of commercial fragrances these days? Being married to a smell-sensitive guy, I now buy unscented everything and wear perfume only rarely (although I’m starting to think I need to get back on that particular pony). But another part of it is, I just don’t find many perfumes I really like anymore. Around the time Giorgio came onto the scene, perfume suddenly became less of a way to say, “Come closer, sailor” and more of an announcement that “I paid a hundred bucks for this bottle” to an entire room. A very BIG room. Which is to say, they’re simply overpowering.

    CKOne? Gag. Most designer fragrances just smell way, way too flowery, heavy and oppressive. Don’t get me started on the stuff they sell to men these days. When my nephew went through his adolescent cologne stage I could hardly stand within five feet of him. My eyes would water.

    On the other hand, low-end fragrance — the kind you find in bottles of soap sold at Target — isn’t bad at all. My sister turned me on to the liquid hand soaps at Williams & Sonoma, which are widely knocked off everywhere, and I love them. I have cucumber in one room, eucalyptus-mint at the kitchen sink. I love washing my hands now.

    NN.C may not pay like the New York Times, but you’ve announced yourself as The Nose, so clue us in.

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  19. mary said on September 20, 2006 at 7:10 pm

    Commercial high end perfumes go through phases, and right now there are a lot of nice ones out there. We’ve passed the Giorgio era, thankfully. I always think of elevators in posh office buildings when I smell that stuff. They used to reek of it in the 80s.
    There are lots of citrussy and green smelling things, like un jardin sur le nil, and Dolce and Gabbana Light Blue. The’ Rouge smells to me like good pipe tobacco and vanilla, with a little bit of expensive suede in it. Jo Malone is a really interesting company that makes perfumes and recommends combing them. It’s only sold in a few stores, but I bet you could find one there. I recommend Jo Malone Grapefruit, also French Lime, Lime Basil and Mandarin, and Lavendar Amber. All very clean, classy smelling and not overpowering. They have three new scents I haven’t smelled yet, but will next time I get to Neiman Marcus, or needless markup as we call it. Those three are Red Roses, something with nectarines and honey, and one with pomegranates.
    If you have a Sephora near you go smell things. They carry tons of perfumes other people don’t have, and lots of little strips of white paper for testing. They are one of the few places to have perfume called Sake, made by Sugar. Great stuff. Chandler Burr described it as how people must smell in heaven.
    Aren’t you glad you got me started?

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  20. Christopher Clausen said on September 20, 2006 at 8:42 pm

    You folks have to watch more ESPN. The beer cooler is a Coor’s product.

    To quote the pdf file (citation below)
    “The Coors Light Plastic Cooler Box
    The innovative 18 pack Plastic Bottle
    Cooler Box is the industry’s first ice-ready
    bottle package that can keep beer cold.
    The Plastic Cooler Box features 16oz.
    plastic bottles that can be taken almost anywhere!”


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  21. Kim said on September 20, 2006 at 10:45 pm

    This is my kind of topic bouncing — copper goes through its popular-to-lift phases in urban areas but I was never as surprised as when I had the pleasure of chasing down a guy who was stealing smoke detectors from apartment buildings’ common areas and hiding them in the baby carriage he pushed along the sidewalk. Fortunately, the police were about a minute behind me.

    My husband and kids are huge scavengers. The dump here is their favorite place to visit, and has provided them with huge economic opportunity. A self-propelled lawn mower that started on the first pull, the “NO GAS” tag on it notwithstanding. That prompted Child #1 to start what’s become a very lucrative lawn-cutting business. A go-kart frame plus a coupla cans of red spray paint plus the 1950s Briggs and Stratton motor they nicked from a New Hampshire dump while we were on vacation (they were dropping off our trash from our week On Golden Pond; we didn’t do a dump tour vacation) resulted in a $250 sale this week. Bicycles they refurbish and then drop off at the local resale shop. A table saw that weighs a ton but works without a hitch. It drives me nuts to see them come home with more crap, but they always turn it around into cash or an important gesture.

    And perfume. Yum. I love a light, layered scent and have ever since my peers were soaking in Sweet Honesty and Love’s Baby Soft. Issey Miyake is what I favor, but I still have a flacon of some mysterious scent that belonged to my grandmother, who’s been dead for nearly 20 years. Thanks, Mary, for the tips. I’ll head to the Sephora counter right after I deal with that whole gay marriage thing. And have a few Coors Light (in plastic bottles, natch).

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  22. Andrea said on September 21, 2006 at 8:37 am

    Last fall here in Baltimore, thieves were stealing aluminum light poles from around the city. 30-ft, 250-lb light poles, sometimes at night, sometimes in broad daylight, even going so far as to dress up as road crews and put out traffic cones to take the poles down. As far as I know, no one was ever caught.

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  23. Danny said on September 21, 2006 at 10:08 am

    You folks have to watch more ESPN. The beer cooler is a Coor’s product.

    Christopher, I’ve been hearing about this on sports radio during the daily commute, but I can’t find a picture of it. I imagine the packaging is not environmentally friendly.

    Andrea, that is pretty brazen. By the way, youz guyz got the snakehead problem taken care of yet?

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  24. mouse's moom said on September 21, 2006 at 12:37 pm

    I think it was our second week in Ann Arbor when I took the dog out for a walk and noticed the full recycling bin I’d put out the night before was substantially less-full, having been emptied of all of the beer bottles and pop cans.

    I know who did it. Well, I don’t know her personally. I walk around that neighborhood early in the morning, before dark at this time of year. Fairly often on garbage day, I encounter a woman walking along inspecting the recycle bins and picking out returnables or whatever.

    where the wealthy are tearing down the old cottages to build big year-round houses, happened a few years ago

    I’m far from wealthy, but I am guilty of doing this, with other members of my husband’s family on Houghton Lake in northern lower Michigan. They had owned the existing structure since 1964 or so and we had a lot of regrets about tearing it down. Unfortunately, it was literally falling apart. Flooded regularly and furnace repair people would just laugh whenever we called them. It was sad but I can’t complain much about the new place. Wireless internet and no frogs hopping around in the shower.

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  25. ellent said on September 21, 2006 at 4:04 pm

    I’ve seen the Coors cooler. It’s not that outrageous. Basically a square 12-pack box w/enough room to dump some ice in.

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  26. ellent said on September 21, 2006 at 4:06 pm

    And a link: http://www.creativemag.com/npr705.html if you still can’t picture it.

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  27. basset said on September 21, 2006 at 8:31 pm

    Coors light is not beer… it’s like making love in a canoe…

    actually, a lot of the mass-market commercial beer we get here, Bud being the best example, could not be sold as beer in Germany.

    over there, if it has anything except barley malt, yeast, hops and water in it, it ain’t beer by law… Bud is stretched with corn and rice, I guess if anyone bothered taking it to the home of real beer they’d have to call it “grain beverage” or something.

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  28. ashley said on September 22, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    Actually, the rheinheitsgebot, the German beer purity law, makes no mention of yeast, since they didn’t know what it was at the time the law was written.

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