I don’t remember what the stairs looked like going down, or what the street was called, nor did I take down the building number. What would have been the point? I wasn’t going to tell anyone.
Today my wallet was lifted in Grand Central. I was crossing the lobby at rush hour, felt slightly jostled, and suddenly my purse was lighter. I stopped still in the throng and peered into the empty bag, my brain refusing to accept it at first. But there it was, or rather, wasn’t — my wallet, gone.
Assaults are inevitable in life, and frequent in New York. When they happen I’m forced to weigh the relative merits of exploding the rage versus letting it go. That first second I realized my wallet was gone, I also realized there was nothing I could do about it; the thief had vanished in the crowd. No use yelling my head off, only to be ignored by some passers-by, smirked at by others, and prompting still more to shoot hostile glares.
I cauterized my reflex wrath and succumbed to a state of detached fascination — How bizarre, my wallet is gone, but I’m still here — all portable proof of me erased. This must be what death is like.
Then came an avalanche of déjà vu I had no time to trace. Everything accumulated over the tenure of that wallet – the credit, library, long distance calling and business cards, the receipts, ticket stubs, names and phone numbers scratched on bits of paper – all that would have to be replaced
Snapping shut my empty purse I told myself, no harm done, just forty dollars lost in a fifty dollar wallet. I hustled through the converging and dispersing six o’clock traffic, still half-unbelieving. Approaching the Lexington Avenue exit, I veered towards the blue Police podium, where I confronted two cops. A small Mediterranean behind the desk, and an Irish Stork standing, one foot planted on the wooden stairs behind the facade. Stork’s aloof smile was fixed on his face in a way that told me it was permanent, and meaningless.
“I just got robbed.” My tone may have been demanding. The Central Park Jogger trial is all over the news.
“Train?” Stork asked.
“Lobby. Just now.”
Stork extended a giant hand. “C’n I see that?”
The other didn’t look up from his papers, as if I and my little problem weren’t worth his time, which, in the grand scheme of things — crack, race riots, investment banker rape — I admit I’m not.
I offered up the small black square, a Chanel knock-off I got in Chinatown last week. I carry a heavy briefcase for work — Wall Street, PR, hate it — and try to compensate with the smallest possible purse. Stork flipped it open and regarded the innards – just a lipstick or two rolling around with my key chain. He pulled this last object out, brow furrowed above fixed smile, because my key ring features a miniature Swiss Army knife. With thick fingers he pried open the tiny trappings — nail file, scissors, sharp blade. It’s so old, the red casing is coming apart.
He said nothing, only folded the thing shut and dropped it in my bag.
“This wasn’t robbery, it was charity.”
He snapped the purse open and shut a few times, flashing the red lining, undivided by compartments to secure valuables.
“Ya didn’t have it zipped in. Yaw wallet was just sittin’ there, waitin’ to be taken.”
He handed it back, still with that aloof smile. He dealt with idiots all day.
I took back my purse, feeling brainless. I’m sure they would have offered subway fare if I stuck around, but I bolted, seeking to regain my place on that slipstream of unconcern I rode before reporting the crime. Again I felt déjà vu; again I couldn’t trace it.
Not until I’d walked nearly fifty blocks up the east side and was climbing my stoop, keys splayed, did I place that déjà vu. The way I felt in Grand Central – stripped, almost amnesiac — was exactly how I felt that morning ten years earlier in another large city, during another June, after another, much larger crime.
I always get a weird feeling around the anniversary. In the wake of that first offense, also disbelief. Once safe on the sidewalk, alive and breathing, I tried to reassure myself that nothing changed, rebuff the knowledge that something irrevocable had happened. The world had altered radically, but I was still in it.
Naturally I was shaken. But shock quickly gave way to annoyance. Because before me I saw the gargantuan task of rebuilding from ground zero something intangible but monumental, suddenly made obsolete. Something I took for granted, something I didn’t even know I possessed, yet something I now understood to be of supreme significance was gone.
But at the time, I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the scope of the loss. I only knew that there had been theft. ~~~