A man in West Harlem has been stealing plants and trees from the front steps of peoples’ brownstones and then in a brazen move, is selling them on the street just a few blocks away. Like the Grinch, he waits until late at night and then plucks the plants right off the porch while the homeowner sleeps, possibly in the window just above the stoop. He usually takes potted plants, though occasionally, he’ll take a tree. In one instance, he stole a beautiful four-foot Bouganvillea that had pink flowers.
One man, who had a plant stolen from his stoop, decided a thief was not going to stop him from beautifying his home so he put out another plant — which was promptly stolen. Refusing to be deterred, he put out yet another plant, only to have that one taken too, effectively feeding the thief’s appetite.
One couple actually saw the thief in his makeshift shop on the street, and they recognized some of their own plants. Having no proof, they decided not to approach him. But another couple on the block who’d had a small tree stolen and had heard about the thief’s street-side store went over to it, recognized their tree and accused the man of stealing it. The man proclaimed his innocence, saying someone had sold it to him. Still, he gave them their tree back, reluctantly.
One Harlem resident, who lives several streets north of the block under seige, says someone has been stealing his plants, too, though he’s not sure it’s the same thief. He went so far as to put a padlock on his planter and attached it to an overhang on his house, like one might put a padlock and chain on a garbage pail or a bicycle. But the man said the thief not only stole the plant, but he yanked it right through the overhang, lock and all, creating a leak in the overhang’s roof.
Apparently, this same thief used to steal plants several years ago, only then, he would actually rip flowers out of the ground from people’s front gardens and from a local park. He terrorized one block so many times, residents met and complained to a group of older women, who had lived on the block for decades and knew the identity of the thief. The old women approached the young man and told him he’d better stop if he valued his well being. He promptly did.
“Sounds like he’s back to his old ways,” said Alan, one of the plant thief’s former victims. “I’m sure if he is given such a communique again, he will go back into remission.”
I, too, have a brownstone in Harlem, and about six months ago, our block was plagued by a thief who would take whatever wasn’t nailed or chained down. Since it was Christmas time, he had his pick of mini Christmas trees in pots, glass baubles and bells, string lights and tinsel. Our thief really was the Grinch. I usually hang two wreaths on my front door, each decorated with a little copper French horn, two glittery red and gold ornaments, and two sleigh bells that would jingle every time someone came into the building. In fact that’s how I knew they were gone. The jingling stopped. I replaced the wreaths with two cheap pre-decorated copies that I bought at a dollar store, because the front door looked so naked that time of year without any adornment. Within a day, both were gone — an indication the thief was not just mean, he had poor taste.
One day, the thief managed to break into the caged-in area under my front stoop and stole a snow shovel, a weed wacker, a red wheelbarrow and various other tools I’d long forgotten about but know are gone because the storage area is a lot cleaner than it was. The man had apparently reached his hand around the side of the wrought iron gate and opened up the lock. I promptly put up thick wire mesh so that no one could stick there hand around again. The cost to install the mesh, spray paint it black, and then apply a small amount of cement near the door’s opening to plug the gap: $600 — about twice what it should have cost. And I had to call the contractor three times to get him to come back and finish the job. I got away a lot cheaper with the thief.
I wonder whether I’ll be able to protect my child against all the mean, scary things that can happen to him. I thought today that having just one child quite literally is “putting all your eggs in one basket.” If something were to ever happen to him, I would be utterly devastated. We heard Rupert Holmes interviewed on the radio the other day — he said people know him as “the guy who wrote the pina colada song” — and he talked about losing his only daughter and how he was almost suicidal. She wasn’t stolen from him by some crazy pedophile or kidnapped by a nut. She died of an undiagnosed brain tumor. But he was flattened. Incapacitated. For now, I’m still preoccupied with trying to sustain the pregnancy, but I imagine once the child leaves my body, I’ll then begin to fear all the goblins and gouls that will have access to her.