Sunday, April 29, 2012

Another Buenos Aires Burglary: Bad News Travels Faster on Facebook

"hola jeremy soy maxi encargago en tu edificio llama a la persona que alquila tu departamento por que robaron en tu departamento hoy a las 17 hs"

Uh oh, here we go again again!

Another robbery in Buenos Aires, and more breaking bad news on Facebook. If you didn't hear it first, chances are you heard it first on Facebook, or Twitter, both of which do a better job of getting stories out there fast than the network news programs or any major-city daily newspaper these days. They're where the majority of the news that's fit to print -- and some that isn't -- seems to go right before it spreads to the masses. If I'm ever diagnosed with some serious medical condition, it's possible that I will read all about my prognosis in my Facebook News Feed before my doctor has had a chance to deliver the news to me in person.

As unwanted Facebook notices go, the message above that I received on Saturday afternoon (in Bangkok, where I am now) from the portero of the Buenos Aires apartment building where I own a unit is right up there with mass invitations to events in cities on continents were I don't live, full-length movies in Flixster (folks, I can't open them in Thailand), and Hidden Chronicles requests. Higher even.

Newsflash!: My apartment was robbed again. It would be like déjà vu except unlike the break-in on February 18, 2007, I didn't come home from lunch to find three men standing in my apartment waiting to pounce on me. (I won't go into the specifics of that particular incident in this post, but you can read about it here, or in greater graphic detail in my travel memoir, coming soon.)

God knows I should be accustomed to receiving bad news on Facebook. It's the place where I found out that Farrah Fawcett, Patrick Swayze, Elizabeth Taylor, Amy Winehouse and three of the four Golden Girls had died. (My then-boyfriend told me about Michael Jackson's death while we were chatting on MSN Messenger, and Whitney Houston's passing was broken to me not so gently in the subject line of an email.) But grim celebrity news is nothing compared to when the story is all about you.

On the bright side, better now than in 2002. Back then, when I'd run off to London and/or Europe on vacation twice a year, I was far more isolated from the folks back home: Emails could take days to be received and responded to, and my mobile-service carrier never seemed to have a plan that allowed me to make international calls at a reasonable rate. In the '90s, before everyone had personal email accounts and laptops, mini-notebooks, iPads and iPhones on which to check them, it was worse. I used to call my editor at People magazine collect from non-cordless hotel phones in order to make sure there were no outstanding questions on any of my stories. Who even calls collect anymore?

Now we have Facebook, Skype and all of those other apps that people are always telling me about but I haven't gotten around to trying. I responded to Maxi's Facebook message, asking him to contact Bri, the woman who manages my apartment. (Naturally, he never responded.) Later in the evening, after one round of emails, I spoke to her live via a computer-to-cell phone Skype conversation that literally cost me pennies. It was the first time I'd heard Bri's voice since I hired her to look after my place and handle check-ins and check-outs the day before I left BA for Melbourne.

She said that several apartments in the building had been broken into on Friday, but the police were not allowing her to enter my unit because she did not have written authorization giving her power of attorney over my apartment affairs. (An oversight that I've considered once or twice in the last 14 months, but I never guessed that it would come back to haunt me in this way.) She would try to get around this by going to the rental company and getting a copy of the contract listing her as the managing agent. But you don't care about any of that, right?

Right. As for the robbery, she told me that it's a long weekend in Buenos Aires, and because many people are out of town, that's when burglars generally strike. Luckily, the last renters left two days ago, so my apartment was unoccupied during the break-in, unlike the first time.

So how did Maxi find out that it had been burglarized then? The open door was the dead giveaway, but because Bri wasn't allowed inside by the cop, she still hadn't been able to survey the damage. I was surprisingly calm, which was either the influence of Buddha, or the fact that there wasn't much in my BA apartment to steal. Unless the robbers arrived with a moving crew to haul away the furniture, the most they got away with was probably the television set (a cheap, old-fashioned model -- not flat-screen -- that I didn't exactly splurge on, having anticipated this exact scenario after losing a far more expensive brand in the great robbery of 2007), a coffee maker and a printer/scanner.

But as with last time, it wasn't what they took or didn't take. It was that sense of being violated by intruders. The only difference was that this time, I didn't have to fight off three of them, one of whom was wielding a screwdriver and threatening me with it, on the bathroom floor.

And what timing! My birthday is in one week, and just yesterday as I was thinking back on my great celebrations in BA, I was on the verge of becoming slightly homesick. Now I just feel kind of nauseous, and grateful that I'm here, not there. There's nothing to cure that homesick feeling like a reminder of one of the main reasons why you skipped town in the first place.

But if you care one way or the other (and I can't imagine that anyone but my close friends in BA do), keep an eye on my Facebook "timeline." If I ever decide to go back, you'll no doubt read about it there first.
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