Crime doesn't pay

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Last night I met Daniel Drezner for dinner at an Ethiopian place near my house. As he had fifteen minutes or so after dinner before he had to go to the airport, he walked over to inspect my new digs.

As we neared the gas station kitty-corner to my house, a very large man started following us along the street. He was walking way too close to us, but not so close that two compulsively well-mannered blue-staters were going to ask him to step back. He tailed us through two intersections, just a few feet behind us. Because Dan doesn't actually know where my house is, we turned off U Street later than I normally would, and the guy very obviously changed direction to stay behind us.

Unfortunately for him, I live only two doors off U Street, which is, for those who do not have the benefits of living in Washington DC, a very busy street. My house is set far enough back that the doorway is not visible from the street, so I just stopped and dropped my bag on the ground at the bottom of the stairs to hunt for my keys. Dan stopped. The guy stopped. Then he seemed to realize that there was no way to linger behind us without obviously communicating the fact that he intended to follow us into my apartment building and either mug us, or rob my house; nor, with the busy street in full view, was there any very good way to force us up to the door. Whereupon he very visibly stomped his foot in frustration and walked away shaking his head. I waited until he was around the corner before I "found" my keys.

I've lived in cities all my life, but aside from having bicycles stolen (four, at last count), I've only been the victim of three attempts at serious crime. And each time, I've been amazed at how inept the criminals were.

The first time was in Philadelphia by two young kids who ran away when I pretended to know karate. No, seriously.

The second time was a fifteen year old kid who spent half an hour wandering back and forth in front of the camera that my super (for reasons I have never fathomed) was using to video tape our garbage, while intermittently reaching through my jimmied window to grab things off my dresser. In case the videotape wasn't enough, he didn't wear any gloves, even though it was mid-November. He left fingerprints everywhere, and was caught a month later.

The third time was this guy, who couldn't have broadcast his intentions more clearly without hiring a skywriter and a marching band.

Are all criminals this stupid?

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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