Funny you should ask ... Tim Gamble

Have you lost any possessions that you really cared about? What were they?

As we began our life together, Sandy and I, like everyone else our age, began to acquire things. We started off with less than nothing, heavily in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, owing for school loans, car loans, and credit cards. Every purchase was just to get by. As we struggled through those early years, we finally started listening to what the world was trying to tell us. If you want to be happy, live beneath your means, stay out of debt, and save your money.

We were living in Colorado the first time we were robbed. The burglars didn’t take much, we didn’t have anything of real value to take but they scared the living daylights out of Sandy. She and her grandfather were upstairs while the burglars were going through the downstairs. She heard the commotion and went to investigate and was confronted by one of the bandits on the stairs. He turned and scrambled back down, grabbed what he could, and he and another man ran out the back door and into a waiting car. Sandy, all of 100 pounds, propelled by her rage gave chase. One of the men turned and threw my stereo receiver at her and luckily missed.

She called the police. They came out and made a report. I hurried home and joined Sandy and the officers during their investigation. Sandy, still visibly shaken, filled me in on what had happened. The officers didn’t seem overly concerned. They had a good description of the things that were taken and that most stolen items, if they were to be recovered at all, would show up during a theft ring bust or some such nonsense. We’d be notified if anything from our home showed up on a recovery sheet. I was shocked. I pointed out that the receiver that been thrown at Sandy probably has fingerprints all over it. He looked at me and sighed, “I wish we had that kind of time. Give this report to your insurance company. They’ll help you out.”

After we went back inside, I asked Sandy, “What did you think you were going to do if you caught up to that guy?” She said, “I don’t know. I hadn’t thought that far. Those were my things, and they had no right to take them! Why aren’t you mad?” I told her I was only worried about her and that she was lucky she wasn’t hurt, and that next time to please just let it go, all the while thinking, the Alamo could have used a few more Sandys. The thing that they really stole that night was her peace of mind. I did learn a couple of things though — don’t get too attached to your stuff and make sure your insurance is paid up. Until now, I still hadn’t lost any possessions I really cared about. That was going to change.

It was 1983. Sandy and I had been married for 10 years. Our finances were mostly under control, our debts were substantially less, and our portfolio was growing. The watch my mother gave me as a high school graduation present had stopped working and I needed to buy a new one. I was sitting in the office with a friend of mine, Billy, who imported furniture and various sundries from Mexico. I noticed his gold watch, a Rolex. I said, “That’s a nice watch. Mine just quit and I need to buy a new one.” He said, “Take this one.” I replied, “You know I can’t take that.” He said, “It’s not real. It’s a fake. It only cost a hundred bucks. Everybody’s wearing fakes these days. Go ahead, take it.” It was just like Billy to try and ply me with his little trinkets so I would buy more merchandise from him, but that’s not a road you can take in my line of work and easily come back from.

That evening when I got home, I told Sandy about Billy’s fake watch. She said, “If you really liked that style, we could go look at Rolexes.” I thought I might look for a used one first. We made our way to a pawn shop on South Broadway in Denver. I asked one of the brokers if he wouldn’t mind showing me some of his nicer watches. He had quite a few. I asked him, because he had so many, if they were hard to sell, hoping to gain a better bargaining position. He said not at all. We sell them as fast as we get them. In this economy, fine jewelry is the first thing people pawn. Other people like you come in looking for deals and take advantage. I asked, “What’s the cheapest Rolex you have?” What he showed me was a beautiful gold watch. It was just like Billy’s knockoff, but this watch was much nicer and heavier than his. I asked him if there was anything wrong with it? He said, “No. I’ve had it for a while. A watch like this should go for a least $4,000, but I haven’t been able to move it yet because everyone objects to the days of the week being spelled in Italian, I do have less expensive one’s I can show you, but this one is the best deal I have right now.” I was intrigued. I said, “I’m interested, but I’d have to get the watch appraised first.” Now that’s me sounding like I knew what I was doing but no. I just learned from Billy that there were a lot of fake Rolexes out there, some better than his, and I wasn’t at all sure what I was looking at. The broker said he understood. He told me that Cherry Creek Jewelers was the closest Rolex dealer where I could have it appraised. As I turned around to leave, still wearing the watch, he grabbed my arm and said, “I’ll have to go with you.”

The three of us drove to the jewelry store. We entered the showroom and sat at the counter in front of the Rolex display. A salesclerk came over and asked if he could be of any service. I explained why we were there as the broker showed him the watch. He said he’d give us a quick appraisal after his technician checked the condition of the movement. He took the watch downstairs to the service area. After a half hour or so, he came back with the technician. He explained that the watch was over 20 years old and hadn’t been properly maintained. The movement was damaged and rubbing against the inside of the back. The bracelet also was showing signs of wear. The movement was four generations old, and he’d have send it to New York for repairs. Even then, they might have to send it to Switzerland before it could be fixed. We thanked them for their expertise. As we were leaving, the salesclerk looked at me and shook his head and mouthed the word, no.

After a brief discussion back at the pawn shop of “Well, let me think about it” and “Can I show you some other watches?” I decided I needed to stay out of the pawn shops. Sandy and I drove back to the jewelry store and reengaged the salesclerk. He said he was glad to see us come back and what in the heck were we thinking? I told him I wanted to buy a Rolex, I just wanted to find a good deal on one. Sandy interceded with, “I work for El Jebel. There’s thousands of Shriners, one of them is bound to be a jeweler. Let me check with my boss.” The salesman replied, “I’m a Shriner, will I do?” He and Sandy continued the conversation for a while. Sandy worked for the Chief at the main office of El Jebel in Denver as his accounting person. She oversaw the tracking, counting, and depositing of all the money from their donation jars. Once she took over that position, donations doubled. You can probably guess that, before Sandy, not all the cash was making it to the bank. The Shriner’s loved Sandy. After a phone call to Sandy’s boss, the salesperson said, just pick out what you want, and we’ll give it to you for cost. I walked away with a brand-new yellow gold Rolex with diamond begets on the face and a matching gold bracelet, Snazzy! It took a little getting used to. It weighed so much more than my old watch, but I really liked it, so did Sandy.

I was sitting on my exercise bike, watching TV, and noticed Sandy looking at my watch. I wasn’t sure if she regretted spending that much money or if she was just admiring it. I asked her if we should buy her one too? She smiled and answered a definitive, “Yes.” After just blowing a big hole in our bank account, I asked her if she was sure. “We can either do that or buy you a new car.” She was sure. We headed back to Cherry Creek Jewelers and bought Sandy a new watch, a stunning gold Rolex, again with all the trimmings. She smiled and said, “This is nice and it’s going to last a lot longer than a car.” Maybe so. This watch came with a hefty payment plan though, almost as much as a new car.

I got used to wearing my watch and didn’t think much about it anymore. It just became part of my wardrobe. My friends, though, used to chide me about being so pretentious. I finally made up a story that Sandy and I bought matching Rolexes instead of wedding rings. I would ask “You’re married, right?’ Did you buy your wife a wedding ring? How much did you pay? Wow, really, that much and it doesn’t even tell time! And you call me extravagant?” That remark seemed to hush them the best.

We were living in Houston in a three-bedroom apartment in a gated community on the west side of town about 20 miles from Katy. It was Valentine’s Day 1989. We spent the evening shopping at the Galleria. As we pulled the car into the parking space next to our apartment, I noticed the area was unusually dark. I should have been more circumspect. In front of our apartment, I was greeted by a young man who put a rifle in my face. It didn’t register at first what was happening, and I just brushed the gun away and kept walking. He immediately regained his position and demanded I give him my watch. Everything transpired very quickly after that. I took off my watch and handed it to him. I looked over at Sandy, who was still at the car gathering some of the shopping bags from the trunk. She saw what was happening, dropped everything, and rushed at the gunman, screaming at him to stop. She was greeted by a second teenager who blocked her charge and hit her in the side of her head with his rifle butt. She was reeling and fell to her knees. I yelled at her, “Just give him the watch. It’s insured.” As the other gunman took it off her wrist the first gunman told me to get on the ground. I looked at him and said, “You got what you came for. I’m not getting on the ground. What I am going to do is pick up my wife and go that way,” pointing toward the next row of buildings. “I suggest you and your friend go that way,” gesturing in the opposite direction. I went over and helped Sandy up and told her to run. She couldn’t. She hurt her foot when she fell. She did the best she could to get to the next building. I anxiously knocked on the first door, we came to. The woman who answered was a little unnerved but spoke to us. I told her we were just robbed and asked if she could please call the police.

The police arrived in a few short minutes along with the security guard who was posted at the main entrance of the apartment complex. They escorted us back to our apartment. As the police were taking their report, I told them these were not professional thieves, just a couple of dumb kids. Give me a few high school yearbooks and I bet I can pick them right out. The police assured me they would handle it and I had more important things to worry about, mainly Sandy. The security guard took it very personally and apologized profusely. We’d lived at the apartments for the past 4 years and we knew each other well. Sandy told him that the lights had been on and off all month. The security guard quickly dispatched a maintenance man to rectify the lighting, but the damage was already done. Sandy said she didn’t feel safe in the apartment anymore and wanted to go to a hotel. I couldn’t blame her, the apartment felt creepy.

We met with the insurance adjuster at our hotel room. He was much more thorough than the police investigators were. We went over the story several times. I got the distinct impression he didn’t believe we were telling the truth, and I told him so. He explained that the thoroughness was just procedure. I think he thought the story sounded fishy and that we weren’t robbery victims at all, but a couple of con men trying to fleece the insurance company. He said he had what he needed. I asked him if the insurance company would replace the watches. He said, “No, you’ll get a check for the amount you insured them for, and then you can replace them on your own.” I told him I paid wholesale for the watches and asked if the insurance company had any connections to replace stolen items at a discount. He made a call. The replacement value through the insurance company was $27,000. We had them insured for $15,600, the amount we paid for them. The insurance company offered to replace them for the difference, but they weren’t interested in insuring them again. I opted for the check.

We moved back to Colorado. Sandy felt a little safer. We haven’t celebrated Valentine’s Day since. I thought about buying Sandy another Rolex, but I don’t think she would have worn it. As for me, I have no interest in buying another watch, period. It’s funny how many clocks you see when you don’t wear a watch, they’re everywhere. When I tell the harrowing story of our experience in Houston, I usually end it with, “I don’t have any lasting effects other than I don’t seem to know what time it is anymore. But looking on the bright side, I did lose a little weight.”

To answer the question, have you lost any possessions that you really cared about? Not really. Maybe.

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