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Greg Dennis: Dial ‘stolen phone’ for aggravation

I knew as soon as I walked back into the office that there was a problem.
I had two of the big three — my wallet and keys. But I couldn’t locate my iPhone.
After several frantic searches of the car, I called the café where I’d been sitting outside while I worked on email and quaffed a coffee. They checked the tables where I’d been sitting and didn’t see the phone.
Though I knew my chances of locating the phone were slim, I raced back into town to check for myself.
All of the billing for my business was on it, along with hundreds of photos and all kinds of other data.
I returned to the office empty-handed — there to contemplate the substantial cost of replacing both the phone and the information on it, which I had not backed up in more than a year.
I knew that iPhones were targets for theft when left in a public place. So I had little hope of seeing it again. I just knew this one wasn’t coming back.
When an object like this is lost, we go through both practical and psychological torment.
For example, in an article in current issue of the Buddhist magazine Shambhala Sun, meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein muses about “five styles of habitual reaction” to theft.
She recounts a discussion with some of her adult, city-based students. It ensued when one of them revealed the distressing experience of walking out of her apartment building, to find that all the tires on her car had been stolen.
“I got so upset,” the woman said, “that I walked the three blocks to Macy’s and bought the silk pajamas I’d been coveting.” Only then did she report the incident to the police.
One student chimed in to say that if it had happened to her, she would have complained about the building security and been in a bad mood all day. Another said she would have been so exhausted by having to deal with the incident that she would have called the office “and told them I needed the rest of the day off.”
For another student, losing the tires would have prompted obsessive worrying that the next loss would be of the car itself. Someone else said he would blame himself, thanks to his “built-in peer review committee always ready to criticize.”
From Boorstein’s perspective, these reactions to theft are classic illustrations of what the Buddhist texts call the “five hindrances”:
•  Desire
•  Aversion
•  Sloth and torpor
•  Restlessness, or worrying
•  Doubt and self-criticism
Whatever you call them, I went through all five of them.
I immediately wanted to get a new phone (desire). I tried to pretend the whole thing hadn’t happened (aversion). I wanted to take a nap (sloth and torpor). I worried that the neighborhood was besieged by thieves (worrying). And I poured blame upon myself for being so stupid as to leave a precious item on a public table and drive off without it (self-criticism).
Then a couple things happened.
I recalled that the phone had the “Find My iPhone” app. I checked the app through my iPad and sure enough, it brought up the location of the phone.
It was at the Kmart in Rutland. Clearly it had been stolen.
The app allows you to lock the phone with a four-digit code, which I did immediately.
A few minutes later, I got a call on my office line. The caller ID read “private.” The voice was a young woman’s.
“I just bought this iPhone from a friend of mine for $100 but it doesn’t work,” she said. “And it has your name and phone number on the back.”
Locking it had worked. And I was reminded that she could reach me because long ago, I had taped my name and land-line phone number to the iPhone case. Maybe there was hope after all.
After a couple minutes of conversation, though, it was clear that she was angling for me to buy the phone back from her.
She wasn’t a Good Samaritan. She was a thief. And when I hinted at that, the line went dead.
Worried that locking the phone wouldn’t be enough if it fell into the hands of sophisticated people who didn’t take their stolen goods to Kmart, I used the app to remotely erase all its data.
Then I said a silent, teeth-grinding goodbye to all that unrecoverable information.
Realizing I was due for a phone upgrade, I visited the Verizon store. They sold me a better phone for $130 (chaining me to another two-year contract, but Verizon has the best local coverage). And they lowered my monthly bill.
I ended up with a new phone, and in the long run I saved at least a couple hundred bucks. In a weird way, whoever lifted the phone had done me a favor.
So long as you don’t count the life-shortening aggravation of dealing with the theft.
Today I noticed that a recent police log in this newspaper reported more than 30 vehicle break-ins in the residential neighborhoods of one Addison County town — in just two days.
In retrospect, I was able to get back at least some of my old phone’s data, and I quickly got back to business with my new phone.
What I couldn’t recover, though, was the sense that our pretty little downtowns are completely safe.
Editor’s note: Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at www.gregdennis.wordpress.com. Email: gregdennisvt@yahoo.com. Twitter: @greengregdennis.

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