It would be too easy for me to assume that some supernatural force, I shall personify as “The Universe,” continues to conspire against my attempts to create (re-create?) a writing habit and routine. For the past several months, I keep experiencing these huge blocks; in fact, let’s call them Great Walls, analogous to China’s. Hurdling the walls shouldn’t be so difficult: each one simply involves a subject I want to discuss, ramble and rant over, but the sit-and-write cubicle of my brain keeps hiding.
Yesterday, however, I was determined to find it. Motivated, mostly focused, and ready to let my fingers do play a coherent form of trampoline on my keyboard, I settled-in at a table at the Sheirdan Square Starbucks (the one on 7th Avenue South near where W. 4th and Christopher Streets cross). Starbucks: I know. But my laptop battery blows, and Starbucks offers me the opportunity for WiFi (free for me), and more importantly, plenty of electrical outlets. I needed to write a few emails, but then I planned to tackle this one post I considered the great drawbridge gate which needed to be lowered so I could cross the moat and get at the more specific subjects concerning individual films, television, theater, and all those other things I think about and apparently, on some level, want to write about.
Climbing the walls I create for myself seems not to be enough for the chess-player some call God, others Fate, or as I apparently decided to personify it in all my conversations yesterday: The Universe. In reality, I’m rational enough to realize that there is no boogie-power out to get me, and I can certainly compare myself and my not-ideal current situation to others and recognize that in the proverbial grand scheme, I don’t have things so bad. Plus, I definitely see how a whole situation could have been avoided had I not essentially ignored one or two things, so of course, I blame myself. Still, with that said, yesterday, The Universe chose to fuck me up.
Now, apparently, if when these metaphysical powers-that-be decide the time is ripe to threaten and rob Aaron, they don’t intend for it to be simple or ordinary. No dark alleys. Nothing as simple as, “He came out of the shadows.” Only events that generally lead to a first response from others that resembles, “You’re kidding,” or, “You’re not serious,” or, “That’s not possible,” or … well, you get the idea.
So there I am: laptop on table. Sitting. Typing. Next to my laptop are my new (used) iPhone and my old (very used) iPod. The iPhone was new to me; after three years of using a now slow and constantly malfunctioning Blackberry Pearl, and no longer tethered to the Microsoft Exchange system of the ex-job, I was finally able to follow my Mac-addicted sensibilities and transition to the iPhone. Lucky for me, my best friend in San Francisco was kind enough hand-me-down his: an iPhone 3G sitting unused ever since he upgraded to the 3GS.
You know all those signs on the subway from the MTA or the NYPD giving advice on things not to do so you don’t get robbed or fall on the tracks? And you know how much of the time you look at the stupidly staged photos or the common sense idea and chuckle a bit at the simplicity of it, obviously thinking, “Well … duh!” That’s how the utter obviousness of this next thought felt to me after, even though I had perpetrated the idiotic mistake.
People: There’s not really any good reason to sit there with a $200 phone on the table where others can ogle it, especially when you’re sitting there alone. Keep it in your pocket. Would that have changed yesterday’s situation … most likely.
I wasn’t paying close attention to the two guys sitting at the table next to me. I’m not sure how long they were there, but it was longer than five minutes. Might have even been 30. I did start to notice them when the chair of the one sitting on the opposite side of the table started bumping into the far corner of my table. I wondered if he noticed, and why they were angling their table away from the wall a bit. I thought they were just being really rude because this is New York, and that’s how people behave. In retrospect, they were just setting me up.
In the middle of composing an email to a colleague, I suddenly see the guy sitting near me make a move. His hand reached towards my table and grabbed the iPhone. Inside, I heard myself simultaneously saying, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” and “Uh, excuse me, but something really strange is happening right now.”
My hand shot down to try to stop him, but he was pulling away. I grabbed at the phone and began to stand when his right fist came at my face … or my left jaw, if you want to get all technical.
Now, let’s get something straight: I’m a 38-year-old, slightly chubby Jew (recent triathlon, not withstanding) who grew up in San Francisco. I’m not Woody Allen-nebbishy, but I sure as hell ain’t no fighter neither. (And don’t get me wrong: lots of great Jewish boxers can be found throughout history, but … come on … it’s not the stereotype. Am I right?) I had never taken a punch to the face before, and at the moment, I again found my multiple internal voices talking over each other.
“Did I just get punched in the face?” said the shellshocked one, still trying to make sense of everything. But surprisingly, the other voice said, “Hmmm, that hurts a lot less than I would think.”
I continued to grab at his hands and the phone, but the guy pulled away, ran out the door and across 7th Avenue. Proving that on this day my luck was the chewing gum on the bottom of a shoe compared to his, let’s recap: I got punched in the face as my iPhone was stolen; he did not get hit by a car as he darted out into 7th Avenue … after stealing my iPhone. The scales of Justice.
The guy who was sitting on the other side of the table stood up with this mock-shocked look on his face, and turned to me asking, “What just happened?” Stunned Aaron took over my speaking-capabilities and said, “He just punched me and stole my phone.”
The mock-shock continued: “He did what? Shit! I’m gonna go kick that guy’s ass.” At which point, an older woman who had stood up at the table behind him motioned “calm down” while shaking her head. I actually can’t get that image out of my head. Something about it seems surreal and out-of-place … a weird bubble moment, set-apart from the rest of the scene. But basically, I guess he had her fooled, and everyone was confused.
Me too, in fact. He had part of me fooled too because I was still thinking, “Uh, did that just happen?” As usual with these incidents, the memory exists almost completely in slow-motion, but the event itself from initial grab to running across 7th Avenue? 10 seconds? Less? No more than 15, for sure.
The manager of the Starbucks came over and asked me what happened before he offered me the use of their phone. My mind raced in two directions. I was still confused and unsure as to what I should do next.
First, I had a flash of a premonition. An old premonition. One I had had 30 minutes earlier when, for some reason, I found myself glancing down at the phone and thinking, “Is someone going to try to swipe this off the table in front of me?” Who knew, right? I guess, I did.
That premonition was influenced, I suppose, by a similar experience I witnessed at this same Starbucks about a month prior. Once again, there I sat, working at my laptop, probably at the very same table, when suddenly I heard someone shout, “Hey,” and saw a man run out the door. He stopped outside, looked around, threw up his hands and returned, approaching a young woman sitting on the ledge of the window by the entrance. The conversation that followed revealed that this guy had left his laptop on the ledge and asked the woman to keep and eye on it while he went to buy a coffee. Apparently, her eye was not a strong enough tether to stop some other guy from simply grabbing and dashing through the front door all of two feet away.
As an Apple devotee, I have Mobile Me, which allowed me to “Find My iPhone” from my laptop as well as send it a lock command and then even wipe all the data. Unfortunately, once I wiped all the data, I could no longer actually track it via the “Find my iPhone” GPS function, but it seemed more important to make sure that nobody could access anything I had on there, even if the GPS function might have been able to help the police find the phone and the guy.
So, I wiped it. And I called AT&T and had the phone disabled. I sat back down at the table and finally started to breathe and actually calm down. Do I call the police? Is there a point? I should file a police report, right? But what good will it do? The phone is gone; I don’t really remember what the guy looked like: early-to-mid-20s, African-American, probably a little over 6 feet tall; but that’s it. And … I need a new phone!
Suddenly, the likely accomplice returned, looked at me and said, “I couldn’t find him.” Several people stood around me, asking me what had happened, and I basically ignored this guy, or at the very least, I don’t remember what I might have said to him. The manager of the Starbucks walked over and told the guy to get out: “You’re not allowed in this store anymore.” The guy started yelling that he didn’t do anything. He was just sitting there. He didn’t even know the other guy.
The manager kept telling the guy to leave, and he did, only to return about 30 seconds later, yelling at the manager: “I oughta kick your ass. I didn’t do nothing. I oughta kick your ass for disrespecting me like that. I was just sitting there.” And then he was gone, again.
I stopped paying attention. These other people continued talking to me. One woman offered, “This just means something really good is around the corner for you.” Ah, positivity and optimism. I met them once, but now, they rarely call and never write.
The voices inside returned, this time saying, “Asshole! If you had called the police first, they would have been here when this guy came back, and they likely would have questioned him, and who knows … maybe even found/caught the guy?”
But no matter. I had to get out of there. I started walking up 7th Avenue, heading towards the AT&T store I knew was on 6th Ave around 16th or 17th Street. I became angrier: at myself; at the universe; at a bunch of people who currently occupy the anger cortex of my brain. I couldn’t drink the coffee anymore, and chucked it forcefully into a garbage can. I really wanted to punch something, but I figured with the way things had suddenly turned, I’d probably just break my hand. I saw the building’s cement wall quaking in fear as a I walked by with my hand in a tense fist. The mailbox, too, was lucky on this day. Oh yes. The damage I would have caused … to myself.
Yeah, I went to the AT&T store, and using the plethora of money my unemployed-ass absolutely does not have, I bought myself a new iPhone. At that moment, it was literally the only thing I could do. I was on autopilot, utterly aware of everything but not caring and determined to do the one and only thing in that moment that could make me feel even slightly better: replace the item that was lost and let the multitude of consequences take a dump on me later. (Meanwhile, the attachment to any cellular phone is its own modern dysfunction. I have experienced being without on more than one occasion and find utterly fascinating.)
Why didn’t I call the police sooner? I don’t know. I was embarrassed? I felt stupid? I didn’t think it would do anything? But now, it was an hour later, and I realized that it really was, in its own way, my civic duty to at least report this. So I called 311 figuring – especially an hour later – this was certainly no emergency. 311 promptly transferred me to 911. Apparently, I was wrong. The 911 operator told me which precinct to go to. I went; I filled out the report; I returned home, another day of disciplined and precisely planned productivity prevented.
Who knows: Maybe the kick-in-the-ass I received when I lost my job on Oct. 2 still required a punch-in-the-face to actually get me in the gear. It would have been nice had they both been figurative, but beggars … choosers … same tired old clichés. Hopefully, I can mark this event as a closing of the circle; a final step-in-shit moment of the Aughts. Upon reflection, my wavelength of this decade began in late 1999 and has contained a small share of wonderful peaks but way too many below-the-surface game- and life-changing tsunamis.
The circle should be complete. I’d like to start a new one now. There are 23 days left before we enter the Te(e)ns. I’d be happy to get on a more linear, if only less circular, path now, and start 2010 early. That would be nice. You’re not always so bad, Life, the Universe and Everything (apologies to Douglas Adams), even if you do subject me to total shit like Pirate Radio, but I’d be happy to move on to some sweeter smelling pastures now, please. This one is played out.
Oh look … I brought it back to film, sorta. Maybe I’m on a roll.