My sister and I are sitting in my soon to be vacated Williamsburg apartment, discussing the rules of street crime lingo, trying to figure out how to describe to people what happened to me: “Do they have to take something for it to be a mugging?”
We decided yes.
It’s really quite funny. I was walking in and out of my tiny room, with its loft bed, putting the finishing touches on my packing, such as it was. I didn’t have much stuff there to begin with. I was trying to coax the finicky cable to give me more channels to pass the time with. The best thing I could find was Desperate Housewives. So really it all hinged upon how well Marcia Cross could keep my attention, and after a few minutes she failed. I decided to run my one errand of the day: go to the grocery store.
I wanted to buy a bottle of champagne to give to my roommates in honor of my leaving. I felt bad that I’d moved in seemingly for a year and then changed my plans completely, forcing them to go to craigslist and roommate roulette. But I really only felt like $14 bad – a bottle of cheap champagne.
And I wanted to buy a few things that I could eat in my new place over the weekend, without a microwave. I was thinking roast beef and bread.
So I do my little ritual. I wait for my ipod to warm up. I turn the lights and AC off. I lock the door on my way out. Out of habit I listen to how loud the building door is when it closes – does it need to be fixed?
I was living in a good part of Williamsburg. The Burg is hipster central right now. It’s gentrifying, so although you can walk to nearby housing projects (which I did one day, for fun), it’s really very white, very Bon Iver, very black frame glasses. Very hats. I hate those stupid hats.
And particularly I was right by a very nice park, a family place, around which there are all kinds of fancy condo places going up.
So I cross the street and start walking down Roebling. The name does not exactly strike terror into one’s heart. Roebling Street. I was still in full view of the park. It was broad daylight, between 11 and noon. As I crossed the street, I noticed a group of young black men going the other way, towards the park.
And here’s where it started. My thought was so familiar it didn’t take specific words. It’s a thought I always have when I see kids roaming around unsupervised in the summer – of any color. It’s a very curmudgeonly thought, and it’s something like, it will be nice when school starts again and they’re off the street in the daytime. Because it will be less crowded, less noisy. This thought always has a partner, which is me wondering if teachers are really just babysitters. So that flashed by. And because they were black, and some didn’t have shirts on, I think, there was another thought – though it’s hard to trust in retrospect – which was, “I’m glad I’m walking the other way.”
Perhaps they heard me think that.
Often I put my ipod in my pocket, but sometimes the cord tangles on my belt or whatever, gives you that annoying jerk when you try to move your head. I was holding it in my hand. Walking down Roebling. The first thing that happened is someone ran into me, grabbing for my ipod.
He sped right past me. I held onto the ipod.
My first thought was, Hey! This is someone I know who is being funny! He is running into me and acting like a robber so that I will laugh and we will laugh! Who is this funny person I know? Let’s think…
The guy, who came to a halt a few yards in front of me, seemed to make some “awww” noise, presumably at not getting the ipod. I think the joke is definitely on him. I feel that he must have thought it was an iphone. Nope. Ipod touch, loaded with showtunes and Annie Lennox. I would have given it to him if he wanted it.
Anyway, I’m wondering who this fun fine black fellow is when I notice that all of the guys are there, and they are surrounding me. And one of them has a big metal pipe.
Everything after that happened very, very quickly. I realized I was being attacked. I was still surprised. 11:00? By the park? Really?
I decide to run back to the park, where the people are. But since they are behind me I have to go into the street to do this. And, for what it’s worth, I started shouting this as loud as I could:
WHAT THE FUCK? WHAT THE FUCK?
I heard at least one person reply:
“Take it like a man. Take it like a man.”
You see, I think my brain just decided that these guys were not here to take my money – even though the ipod thing happened, which really I didn’t process until later – although again the joke is on them because they could have had a lot of it. But something told me, and I believe this, in part because of the metal pipe, that all they wanted to do was fuck me up. That’s why I ran.
I didn’t make it far. I tripped, you see.
And I thought – mostly afterwards – that from now on, when I see an action movie, I will be decidedly more impressed when the hero runs away from something. Anything. General Solo running away from the exploding Endor shield bunker. I get that now. That’s major. Good for you, General. Kudos. Harder than it looks.
So I tripped. I do not honestly remember their reactions to my tripping, though I think and bet there was laughter.
I got up. There was a kid not far from me. He was one of the smaller ones. And he threw something at my head. I did not have time to react. I do not even know for sure what it was. I think it was a bottle, because I think I heard glass shattering later. But I could have made that up. Anyway, it hit me in the head.
And then the weirdest thing happened. They ran off.
Maybe not that weird, because after all it’s BROAD DAYLIGHT and there are people around, so they were pressing their luck. But that was it. “Take it like a man,” dissolved into absolutely nothing. A bottle to the head.
I got up. I started walking toward the park. I felt like the guy in Dane Cook’s bit who gets hit by a car and pops up and acts like he’s fine. He’s bleeding from the ears and he’s like, Hey! How are you? Just taking my walk!
Well, I was bleeding from the ear though I didn’t know it yet. So I walk back the park. There are people in the park. And, I’m just remembering this, I am pretty sure I like half-jogged partly across the street. As if I knew that, yeah, I’d just been jumped and should probably vacate the premises, but didn’t want to be unseemly about it.
I get to the corner right outside my building and a guy asks me about what just happened. “I saw the whole thing,” he said. “They were going to beat you with that pipe. Did you say something to them?”
“No,” I said.
“What was that about?” he asked. I’m approximating his words. “Are you alright? Did they take anything from you?”
“I’m alright,” I said. I was actually bleeding in three places but I did not know that yet. “They didn’t take anything.” That was true.
We no longer had anything to say to each other. He stood there. “Thanks for caring,” I said. I meant it.
I walked into the park. I got on the phone to my mother. This is a reflex of mine. My mother will tell me what to do. I told her not to freak out, but that I’d been – I think I said “kinda beat up.” The kinda became key. I told my roommate, “This will sound funny, but I kinda got jumped. Where’s the Neosporin?”
So I walked around the park, which is a really fucking safe park, and calmed my mother down while she calmed me down. She was most worried about my head, obviously. I went back into my apartment, still on the phone. I tried to change the subject, telling her about the show I’d seen last night. That’s when I noticed I was bleeding. My arm was scraped up. So I said, let me go into the bathroom. Stay on the phone.
When I took the phone away from my ear I noticed it had blood caked on it. Shit. Don’t tell mom.
I told her I was fine and hung up. She immediately phoned the relevant Glenns, who then phoned me – my sister just got in a cab and came over. She knew instinctively that it would be better for me not to be alone. It was.
So there we are, watching Waiting to Exhale, trying to figure out what to call it. The dictionaries I looked in say that mugging involves robbing. And I just don’t feel like that’s what it was, ipod notwithstanding. I liked “got jumped,” but my sister said it didn’t sound right since I wasn’t in a gang.
We also discussed racial profiling, and how her fiance was mugged, at knifepoint, in DC, because he saw a group of black guys coming down the street and thought, well, I could cross the street, but that would be racist of me.
When I told this to my new landlady, who took me out to dinner at “the local dive,” she shook her head and said, “You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
I told her I wasn’t going to be too concerned with political correctness for a while. What I didn’t tell her, but what my sister and I discussed, is how funny it is, really, that this happened to me right now. Here I am knee-deep in research about race relations, working on what it means to be white, and white guilt, and white fear. And here I am with this blog where I routinely call out for mercy and clemency and forgiveness for wrongdoers. And here I am now with a lump on my head and a sore hip and some nasty scrapes.
I’ve often wondered if pro bono lawyers and NGO workers secretly want to put “I work for poor people!” bumper stickers on their cars so they don’t get jacked when they go to the ghetto. I mean, right? I should have worn a button that said, “I’m working on a play about race relations! It will be devastating! It will make rich people think about your plight for forty-five to sixty minutes!”
It would have gone well with the Metropolitan Museum reusable grocery bag I was carrying at the time those kids decided to fuck me up.
But it doesn’t matter, really. And I am humbled to report that the most sincere emotion I’ve had since this, and I’ve had it all day, is this: “Thank God it wasn’t worse.”
Because why wasn’t it worse? They had me down. They had metal pipe. They had glass bottle or rock. They had everything they needed. They had legs to kick me when I was down, just once, in the face, and run off. They could have so casually dealt me such blows that my whole future would have altered. Grad school gone. Long days in rehab. Substance abuse to cope. Hard road back to normal. I know. I’ve seen it.
It could have been so much worse. I’m blessed that it wasn’t. I’m truly blessed. As I think all of us are, here, who are reading this. I think if you make it out of the lottery that could have sent you to be born in Malawi, you’ve won. You’ve already won.
There’s nothing that can happen to me that I can feel is unjust, when I look at the billions of people who have never and will never have a chance to have the twenty-six years I’ve had. I’ve already won. The rest is just pure gravy.
I said, joking, to my sister, that I wasn’t going to seek the death penalty on this one. And while I do not take assault and battery lightly, and while I fully believe that we should do anything we can to make sure such things do not happen, and that those responsible are punished, I also feel just magnificently blessed. Here I have a great story, and the power or dice that dole these things out gave me just enough suffering – just the amount that he or she or it knew I could take. I was spared the rest, for now. It’s a beautiful thing.
I was in a car accident last October and could have died and I didn’t. 100 people a day die in this country in car accidents.
I’ve won the lottery. You have, too. We’re all winning the lottery every single day, even with the nasty shit that happens. And if you think I’m an asshole for saying so, I’m sorry, and I’m sure you’ve been dealt some roughness. But I think if you really considered it, you’d see that it still pales in comparison to the wonderful goodness you’ve been given.
I just know it does for me.
The first thing I wanted to do when I was in my apartment, off the phone, was listen to “Hearts and Bones” by Paul Simon. I’d watched Carrie Fisher the day before, talking about that song. She made a joke about it, but even so she reminded me how beautiful it is. I listened to it that day, I listened to it today when I got home, and I’m listening to it now.
The arc of a love affair
Waiting to be restored
You take two bodies and you twirl them into one
Their hearts and their bones
And they won’t come undone
I thought, maybe I’ll write Paul Simon a letter, and tell him that when I was feeling crazy, and shocked, and fragile, all I wanted to do was hear his music, because then I would be soothed, then I would feel alright, then I would know that they couldn’t beat me, no matter what they did. I’ve already won.
And the pride I feel in that is tempered only by my desire that more people could be given such a victory, and by my will to make it so.