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The Hanged Man / Abandoned Bicycle

Friday, Dec. 29, 2006 3:22 AM

I'm not sure what to make of the ghoulish delight with which the media and government officials seem to be regarding the pending execution of Saddam Hussein.

Is he a tyrant, a reprehensible dictator under whose rule people were tortured, imprisoned, and killed? Unquestionably.

Is the verdict against him fair, just, and deserved? Almost certainly.

But let's make it clear: we're presiding over the execution of a man who, for all his alleged crimes, ran in abject fear when our troops hit the dirt. Saddam hid in a basement, not in a palatial bunker surrounded by elite death commandos and a stockpile of WMDs.

How can we possibly imagine that his end will be anything noble or particularly notable?

On a completely different note, I came home from the grocery store last night to find a mountain bike lying on the curb next to the recycling bins. The bike was, to all appearances, in perfect condition. There aren't many children in the neighborhood, at least not of an age to ride a bike that size, so I was admittedly puzzled. I called the police to report it, and was told an officer would come by to pick it up.

Then, while I'm unloading groceries and walking back and forth between the curb and my front door, a young man walks up and starts to lift the bike up.

"Why did you leave your bike in my driveway?"

"It's not my bike," he says. "I found it."

I'll point out that it was already twilight. He was coming up the hill, and yet somehow 'saw' the bike lying behind two garbage cans and a pair of recycling bins, and immediately knew it didn't belong to anyone � like the property owner who was asking him judicious questions.

"If it's not your bike, then you leave it right there. It's in my driveway," I said.

"It's on the sidewalk, that's public property," he shoots back � ignoring the fact that he's talking to the property owner, and for all he knew, the bike belonged to someone in my family who was helping me ferry groceries.

The distinction between my driveway and public property is repeated several times. I inform him that if the bike is not his, then he is to leave it be ��and that the police have been informed.

He slams the bike to the ground and walks off. About this time, a neighbor is also returning home, and I walk across the street to recount the incident. Neither of us recognize the young man as being from the neighborhood. While we're talking, the young man passes back the way he came.

I move the bike into the garage. An officer arrives to retrieve it several hours later, and he also finds the young man's actions a tad unusual. Unfortunately, I didn't whip out my digital camera and photograph the lad, and I can't say I gave a terribly useful description.

I'm not inclined to regard the young man as an innocent bystander, though I have no concrete proof of criminal activity on his part � other than his amazing x-ray vision and confidence that the bike does not belong to the person he is speaking to, or one of his family members.

It's possible, of course, that the young man had passed by earlier in the evening and noticed the bike lying there � but what circumstances would have prevented him from taking it at that time?

Still, if you found a bike lying on the curb and the property owner is standing right there, do you think you might ask if the bike was, in fact, a throw-away for the taking? Or if it, perhaps, belonged to the kid across the street? Instead, he readily responded that the item was on public property and, thus, free for the taking.

If any of you, dear readers, see something here that I'm missing, feel free to comment.

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