—–I thought I was in this kind of academic mode, and had before me the task of sharpening my rhetorical skills, so as to engage you, faraway reader, in ever more penetrating investigations. Consequently of late I have been, diligently, tracking the abstruse, reigning in strange thoughts, and delivering them at a regular pace. But now– my accomplished and planned series of tutorials has suffered an interruption, a sort of sideways blow, and literally the assault of a stupid event. Mere events as such, in a life like mine, are generally aberrations, but this one is like the absolute bottom of events, and I am forced to indulge it, and find the kernel of meaning it may have, if I cook it at the right heat. And maybe . . . add salt!.
—–Two nights ago walking back home from The Krown, where I had lingered almost until 2 am, I got interrupted, accosted!, just as I was gliding in one of these preparations, these smooth meditations, just as I had reached the zenith, you might say, on the ferris wheel of another sky scraping ride into abstract thought, by a purposeless enemy, I mean a nervous youth in a hood and very loose fitting dark clothes, who snapped into being right behind me on the sidewalk and said in a growling voice, “give me everything you got.”
—–I have this instinct for getting in with the dialogue right away, no matter who starts it, even to the point of disregarding reality, like I was always writing a short story, or a one act play. The more abstract and undefined the subject, the better; the more caricatured the players, the easier. Though few stories proper ever happen to me, I casually note, and probably just because I foreclose them at my end, always becoming the narrator, and sort of getting all too chummy with whomever accosts me, friend or foe.
—–So I said, “what? everything–I don’t have even . . . anything.” And I did not flinch, or panic, but just kept walking at my normal ruminative pace, the one I’ve been walking down this sidewalk, back to my house not half a block away, day and night an in all weather for twenty years with–that pace. “Give me everything you got,” he growled again. He had his right hand thrust deep into his huge pants pocket, but the skinny kid was, I judged, kind of out of his element. He was floundering. I think I acted like if he wanted to walk along with me we could discuss his request, but he might as well go find another person to bother, for I did not have anything.
—–But it was like those scenes you see on TV, where the incompetent mugger just gets irritated, and is not at all rebuffed or stumped by his victims elevated repartee. “Hey you!” he said, making a tremendous, a sorrowful, effort to become tough, “I’m telling you, I’ll shoot you right here, if you d0n’t give me everything you got.” Shoot me? I still was confounded by this concept of “everything I got”, but I had to let that go. I mean it occurred to me to argue the point still, with the nervous kid–yeah, he was lanky all right, about to break like a stick, and I hadn’t been convinced that he was going to shoot me just by him saying it. But you could say this loosely put together attacker was at least trying to shore up his end of the dialogue, while we actually moved in tandem. Apparently, he reflected that threatening to shoot me needed demonstration, that he could . . . shoot me–so he thrust his hand deeper into his pocket and started fishing, like for a gun. I would have laughed, but something caught in my throat, like fear. “I swear it,” he said, and now we were under some trees and the arena was narrowing. “I swear it, I will shoot you right here.”
—–And right there I think it was that I took account of my heart beating faster, and my wobbly knees, plus it looked like a mile around the bend in the street, like in those modernist paintings where perspective, so painstakingly achieved once, is skewered. Reality had dropped me a sucker punch somewhere.
—–“Well,” I uttered faintly, and tried to look at him, but his eyes were dancing. “I don’t have much,” revising my original assertion, forewarning him, lording it over him, that he was going to be sorry he wasted his time on me. If he knew what I was about . . . how uninterested in worldly possessions–well!, that line of thought was as doomed as any other. And, anyway, just then, as I was trying to decide whether my having scoffed at the very idea this shadowy guy could have a gun, but was instead engaged in visualizing my self slumped on the sidewalk bleeding alone in the shadows, fast as the imagination moves!, just then the whole deal was prolonged by the appearance of a second guy, sweeping in for back-up. And he was the real deal, mugger-wise.
—–He was like fresh in from some other, successful takedown of another late night stroller, and took a supervisory role, at first. Then apparently seeing his assistant was so far dallying, made to sidle right up to me and turn me around so he could go through my pockets. Skillfully! He pilfered a single dollar bill from my left front pants pocket, slipped my little red wirebound notebook from my jacket, and just as he was about to rotate me again to get access to my hip pockets, I said “hold on, is this what you would like?”, and simultaneously produced my wallet. Presto! I put it right in his meaty hand (this guy was not just a coat hanger with baggy clothes and a hood like the other). Frankly, it was like giving a dog a bone, the way he snapped it up, not to indiscriminately compare dogs and thieves who prowl hungry at night and nip at the heels of slowly walking, contemplative gentlemen on their way back from the tavern, where . . . since readers of my serious tutorials may be still following this winding tale, looking for substance, I had just come from a raucous talkaton with Gary, M.J., Dave, and Harry the Baritone on the subject of the little known Black ice-hockey team of 1895 in Nova Scotia, and their origins from runaway slaves.
—–“Believe it,” I was saying to Gary, a Canadian hockey player himself and now the impresario of Nik and The Nice Guys party bands. “Yeah, it was a group of runway slaves, the blacks who invented ice hockey in 1845”, and he could not believe it. “Yeah, yeah,” Gary said, who finds everything I say automatically. . . funny.
—–Meanwhile, I mean in the larger story, happening later!, the professional mugger, while the skinny kid was shaking in his boots, actually handed my little red notebook back, put it right in my hand. Like I had just purchased it with my wallet, I swear. And I said, “thank you.” I swear this is the plain unvarnished dialogue, and I don’t have to fix it the way I usually do in this kind of comedy skit between me and those representative reality types, who always come in pairs. The red notebook, yeah yeah, was worth more, too, than the twenty one dollars they were going to find in that wallet–considering it had my yet to be tendered, not yet minted, irreplaceable jottings.
—–“Desperate young men,” I thought, feeling lucky in that moment–as they took off, skating on down the now more shadowy, the impinged (you might say) city street where I have safely lived, toward the everpresent traffic light. And that is just the beginning because now I am going to have to deal with the police, and the bank, and then the Motor Vehicle Department.
The Colored Monarchs of Hockey 1895 (from: BLACK ICE)
—–“This wife of yours,” the smart-aleck cop said, “is she real, or like Columbo’s wife, who he just refers to as a way getting information and disarming his suspects.”
—–“You tell me,” I said.
—–Suddenly disorganized, flashes of the further dialogues, including that bit, and another one in which I verify the last three ATM purchases I have made, to a girl who had the voice of one of those late night Hot Line chat girls on TV, try to lure my cheap writer’s soul into highlighting the novelistic here, to compel me to start exaggerating the already surreal.
—–Okay, I have moved up to the second floor at Barnes & Noble, and disappeared into an overstuffed chair, to write Part Two of this testimony, which has now replaced all other writing assignments–as it takes on epic proportions, promises to yield parabolic truths. The chattering carefree voices of the party I just left at The Krown–ah! they are still assembled at a table at the very moment I am surprised by these hapless muggers, not half a block away! Now I must not falter in my descriptions, as the minor robbery of my person reverberates in the major realms that affect all those around me! Calm down, I was advising myself, as I stood next to a very young, smartly outfitted policeman, as he took out his little black wirebound steno pad, and asked me now the important questions, having established the fact that I did not live alone, but my wife was inside, sleeping. And after I had told him, ridiculously, that I had just finished cancelling my bank card, issued out of Hong Kong, I said I believed, and the girl on the phone–
—–“Good,” he said, “your assailants, sir,” he said. “Just speak slowly. Could you describe your assailants?”
—–“I wouldn’t describe them as assailants,” I said, “they were more like–kids.” He could see, I am sure, that I was stiff, not totally scared stiff, but rattled, so I was being unnecessarily formal.
—–“Pardon me,” I actually said, “I am an author.” That was really dumb, but these cops are trained to ignore the personal problems of the victims they are interviewing, of course. There were four police cars on the street already, and others coming in. “They only got twenty-two dollars,” I blurted out.
—–“Could you describe them, sir,” he kept on, “were they for instance black, or white. Young, or old, tall or short?”
—–“They were scared, particularly the first guy who was very very skinny in baggy jeans, sagging really; he’s the one who claimed he had a gun, and frankly I didn’t believe he actually had a gun, if you want to know the truth,” I said. “Yeah, he was dressed in very dark clothes, it was all very dark, I guess he got me right as I came around the bend in the shadows there,” I added.
—–“Black, I take it,” said my interlocutor. “The suspect was black.”
—–“Black as a Canadian hockey player,” I said.
—–“Sorry,” I quickly added. “Yes, my assailants were both black men, fairly young, wearing hoods– though it happened fast, of course, and I don’t think I could recognize them, say if you showed me a team roster.” Whoops, I thought. But it just went by, because as I have said a thousand times, reality is way sloppier than a book.
—–“Tell me everything that happened,” he said, and I swear that only reminded me of when, not ten minutes ago, I was told, “give me everything you got.”
—–I wanted to say to this earnest young officer of the law, “I think this happened because I lost my concentration.” Yeah! How would that sound? Instead I just meekly narrated the bare facts, stripping the story of all its allure, and did not include my formulations as to how or why it could have happened and why, eventually, I would make it not just an accident because, philosophically . . . Thoughts like these take no time, and can even accompany a dry recitation, so I just went through the narrative. The high point was when I get my little red notebook back and thanked the stupid mugger for being so thoughtful. We were as I said standing in the driveway in front of my house, where I had come out to greet him, when I saw the police car draw up even while on the phone, having called 911 immediately as I stepped in the door and having, of course, engaged the friendly 911 lady, whose voice I was naturally prone to compare, later, with the voice of the 24-hour 800 HSBC bank number you have to call when you need by hook or crook to cancel your ATM card, or discuss any other matter with these girls in India or Hong Kong or wherever they are. My telephone is in the front hall, as readers of my longer autobiographical novels know, and you can see the street and cops cars or not driving by or pulling up. I was still nervous, of course, and had even gone to the refrigerator to get a beer, and cracked it open, before making this call, and now I was outside talking to the cop.
—–After he had wreaked the bare facts out of me, and pitied me sufficiently, he says, “I have to fill out this paperwork, you wait inside, we might want you to identity a suspect.” Lord, I thought, are they going to produce a suspect? There were four police cars outside, I guess this incident kind of pricked the beehive, so to speak. “Does your wife know what happened,” the cop adds.
—–“My wife is sleeping, stupid,” I said. He laughed–I swear these cops are something else. I was thinking, I have to wrap this up, it is exploding, threatening to become something like a story I will end up telling everyone. I mean, what is it, but the slightest skirmish, an incident betraying a larger problem somewhere, sure, but I keep thinking, the night is returning, I may never even mention this–but for the unfortunate impact it has had, on the course of my other investigations. I will patch this up, or not. Can’t have real rippling echoes, anyway, for it is too random . . .
—–But the thing is, people have a weakness, an appetite for these kinds of events, they eat them up like they were the fodder of real life, like they watch TV shows with that same ironic distance, convinced somehow that this may be the type of low quality, basic event that an implacable reality keeps relentlessly serving up. And at this level, if life can be taken in, and accompanied with, say, popcorn, it seems it may never end.