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Sophisticated Side

20 June 2000

By David Rubie

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"The most profound alienation of all in Hegel's thought is the alienation or estrangement between my consciousness and its objects, in which I am aware of the otherness of the object and seek in a variety of ways to overcome its alienation by mastering it, by bringing it back into myself in some way." (from "The Realm of Existentialism")

Existentialism - a philosophy which maintains that we are nothing but our consciousness (our experiences I guess is an easier way to think about it), was about the last thing on my mind when I found my car broken into at the train station the other day.

I spotted it about ten paces away, I could see the driver's side window wound down and ran the last couple of metres to face the damage. A bout of swearing and kicking followed that I won't go into in detail here (for fear of offending our more delicate readers); suffice to say that the Navy had come to town and were teaching the locals a few new words.

Not only had the stupid perpetrator stolen the CD player, he had taken the time and trouble to smash or deface most surfaces on the dashboard. Why he bothered I have no idea, except that I imagined him as a pointless, pimply, malicious and stupid thug with no respect and no hope of ever gaining it. Further totalling an already sun-destroyed dashboard is simply absurd. Smashing a wing mirror (thanks for that - made of unobtainium, that piece), smashing a rear view mirror (more easily obtained) is just vandalism. I can (barely) understand being forced to steal to eat, but why bother making more mess than you absolutely have to? I can understand damaging a speaker surround trying to lever it out, but why destroy the cone with your screwdriver when you discover it won't? My stereo, my speakers - that I worked hard to buy and hard to install - were now missing or ruined.

The worse part for me at this point was my beloved Momo Corse steering wheel, now pock-marked thirty or forty times with a screwdriver, perforating the leather, perhaps in response to being hard to remove. Unlike the radio console which had disappeared altogether. The steering column shroud was a plastic jigsaw puzzle on the driver's floor, obvious jimmying attempts on the ignition having been abandoned in favour of smashing off all three column stalks so I had no headlights, wipers or indicators.

At this point in my assessment, I looked up and saw a blue parka and a badge. I was fuming, livid, hands clenched on the wheel and teeth gritted. "Where the hell was this security guy when that moron was doing this?" I thought, but this quickly evaporated when I realised that whoever he was, he was calling the police. He wasn't a security guard either; he was a fireman. He made a few calls to some mates to work out which police station covered the area, then called the local police and they were on the scene within 25 minutes. The fireman waited with me, chatting, agreeing that the world was obviously getting worse. He related a story of attending a car accident in which somebody attempted to steal speakers from a car while the fire brigade were attempting to cut a wounded victim out of the same vehicle.

The police were efficient when they arrived. No I didn't know the serial number of my stereo, yes you can take the busted pieces of steering column shroud for fingerprints, thanks for coming so promptly. They noted my 60 second dollar value estimate of the damage and shuffled off into the evening. After they had departed I shook the fireman's hand and thanked him. His help was so unexpected.

The poor old bugger of a car started on the second try and I nursed it home, hazard lights on, fighting the gear lever through the broken plastic, reassured by its anti-social exhaust bark (none of us are innocent) but constantly reminded of my anger with every gearshift and every pock-mark felt through my hands. Damn, it's hard to drive without any mirrors - I felt blind and vulnerable in the dark. Once home and safe in the garage, I started noting down the essential bits and pieces I needed to get mobile again - new steering column switch assembly and mirrors being the most important bits.

And while picking through the damage, I started realising just how superficial it was.

Is there ever really a point you can reach where you justifiably feel violently angry? But I sat there, hating someone I had never met for what amounted to around $600 worth of bolt-on baubles. I wanted to rewind the clock, catch him in the act and punch his surprised face in bloody retribution. He violated my property! My car! My possession, resurrected from abandonment in a front yard, formed from hard to find parts and sweaty, grubby, greasy and sometimes painful hard work. He had compromised my journey of discovery and repair. He had forever tainted my sense of achievement and I wanted revenge. My sleep was fitful that night.

The next day, of course, is always a better one. I have rationalised that the thief is unlikely ever to be caught; I will never meet him face to face. Even if I did, what exactly is there to do? It would be hard to justify physical violence in response to an act that happened to a car. It wasn't like someone had beaten me up in an alley (as much as it felt like they had). Would I ask him why he'd done it? What is an idiot like that going to say that is in any way enlightening? Anybody stupid enough to take the time to criss-cross a dashboard with a screwdriver will not be capable of explaining why he had done so.

I was torn looking at that steering wheel though. My initial reaction was that the pock-marks would forever remind me of the hate I felt when I first saw the damage. But instead I have decided that I'd rather think about how helpful the firey was. I'll leave the steering wheel in its current state to remind me that the world isn't completely populated with pointless, worthless individuals that have no respect for others' property, but in fact contains great people with compassion and empathy as well. It will also remind me to never leave anything valuable in easy sight of the windows.

So that was that. I rang my favourite wrecker and ordered as many of the parts as were available. I resigned myself to another weekend of reconstruction and fantasised about seeing the perpetrator in court. In my fantasy judicial process, I can see the thief in the dock. The judge, feeling my pain, awards the act of punishment to me. I suggest, for retribution, that I am to be allowed to remove his stereo from his car. I have my claw hammer ready to unleash a dose of Hegel.

Here buddy, cop this experience....

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