Monday was a weird day. If you follow my blog closely (you don’t) you may have noticed that my sleep habits are erratic and fairly dysfunctional. Since my work schedule is erratic and fairly dysfunctional, it’s not usually a big deal, but Monday was one of those days where it really came back to bite me. I had to be at work at 8, but, for no reason, I didn’t fall asleep till after 6, because I’d stayed up till after 6 for no reason the night before.
Lack of sleep tends to really bring out whatever chemical imbalances I might or might not have, and I resembled Julianne Moore baking her husband’s birthday cake for about half the day. On my break as I ate my $5 footlong and listened to pre-sobriety Cat Power (I’m a wallower), my headphones stopped working in one ear, so I bought a new pair. That’s a little Alanis-esque foreshadowing fyi.
I managed to downgrade my condition from Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia to Charlotte Gainsbourg in Melancholia, and I made it through the rest of the day. I went home and refreshed my various online haunts until I passed out.
I woke up around 9:30. The calamity of a late afternoon nap going a little long, thereby ruining one’s chances of getting to sleep at a reasonable hour is a situation as old as prostitution. Rather than let it get me down though, I usually just “own it,” and “own it” I did around 10:30 when I went to get coffee, as I am wont to do when it is much too late to get coffee.
The good folks at Starbucks gave me an iced coffee on the house (my extremely phoned-in performance of surprised humility when this happens mirrors that of when I walked into my surprise party for my 16th birthday, which I planned myself), and I wandered the neighborhood a bit smoking cigarettes and listening to Fiona Apple on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. Please note that if one were going to draw a caricature of me, wandering around Park Slope at night and drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes and listening to Fiona Apple on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast would probably be the most realistic thing to have me doing.
As I was walking by Prospect Park, Fiona was talking about a self-defense class she took, which made me think about the three times I’ve been mugged, which made me feel rather antsy as I was walking the streets, now after 11. I felt someone behind me. I saw their shadow. My heart-rate quickened as I heard their footsteps practically on top of me. I got to a stoplight and stepped aside to see if they would pass. It turned out to be a woman who resembled a young Shelley Duvall.
A less honest version of me would use this as foreshadowing for what was about to happen, but the truth is that I am perpetually imagining terrible things happening to me. Cars slamming into me, passersby attacking me, driversby drive-bying me, as the great poet Feist says, I Feel It All.
I got to 9th St, which was as far as I was going to go, so I turned right, and then right again onto 8th Ave, because it’s usually less crowded and I didn’t feel like passing too many people. I lol’d as Fiona was talking about a particularly strange manifestation of her OCD.
I don’t even know what happened next. Perhaps I was knocked out, or maybe my adrenaline mercifully kicked in to a point that my recorder hit “pause” for about 30 seconds, but suddenly I was down on the ground and my face was burning. My first thought was of the Ellen Degeneres bit about people walking into glass doors, and I resolved to just get up, chuckle to anybody who had been around, and scurry home. I hadn’t even gotten through step one of my resolution though, when a woman yelled, “Are you OK?!?!”
I got up and ran over to her and her husband and their dogs. They’d seen it all, and they could not believe what they had just seen. They asked if I wanted to go to the hospital, and I quickly said no. They asked if I had a phone. I felt around, and yes, I did. And a wallet. Just no iPod. They said I should call 911, and I likely just mumbled something as I was feeling around my face and my hands were coming back bloody. The woman said, “You know what? We’ll call for you.”
The man was on the phone with the operator, and he said, “He was just walking and two guys came up and they both punched him and he fell and then they were kicking him on the ground.” I wanted to say, “Excuse me?? That just happened to me?!?” but instead I just dug in my pocket and pulled out a cigarette and lit it up. When the guy got off the phone, he looked at me and said, “yeah, that’s probably what I’d be doing if I were you.” I laughed and said, “right??”
The cops showed up lickety split. The one driving had his window down, and when he saw my face he said, “Shit.” They got the description from the couple. Both Black, one with a dew rag, another with baggy pants. My heart sank as I realized that this could result in a lot of innocent guys getting hassled.
They wanted the husband and me to get in the back of the car and drive around the park to see if we see the guys. I asked if I could smoke in the car, and the guy said, “I don’t care what you do, just try not to bleed on anything.” There was part of me that wondered if this was a character actor whose only character is “gruff cop”.
As we drove around the park, I paid attention to nothing that was actually happening. The air coming in the window stung my face, and I realized that perhaps I’d been fucked up much worse than I originally thought. I felt around my head and found a pretty big bump on my right side that was bleeding a little. I might have been knocked out, and I could have a concussion. I immediately thought of Natasha Richardson, and I imagined an overzealous friend being there yelling, “Don’t fall asleep!” and I listened, though with all the adrenaline and caffeine going through my veins, falling asleep was pretty much the last thing I had to worry about.
“4 Minute Warning” by Radiohead popped into my head. “This is just a nightmare. Soon I’m gonna wake up.” This was something that happened, and it was never going to un-happen. I’ve now been mugged four times. Just once is unusual these days. Twice makes people say things like, “Shit that’s some bad luck man!” Thrice just makes people uncomfortable, and they tend to quickly change the subject. I don’t know what the fuck four times will be like.
The first time was a real game-changer. I’d been in the city a little over a year, and I was working at Starbucks. I worked in Soho, but I lived in Harlem, and when I had to open I’d have to be there at 5 am. On the A-train one early morning, a guy got up from his seat and sat next to me. He started asking me if I liked boys and he pulled out his dick and tried to grab mine. He kept saying things like, “Why are you so rude? I want you inside me.” Eventually the subject changed to my iPod, and how he wanted it. I said no, so he flashed a gun at me. Immediately after it happened, I remember thinking that this kind of thing probably happens to people all the time, but when I’d tell the story, the reactions would only range from shock, disbelief and occasionally tears. It took a while to get over. For a few months I had some definite PTSD symptoms, and I was not very fun to be around. It was a long time before I was able to spin it into an event that changed me for the better.
The second time was a little less than a year later. It was a stupid encounter with a stupid guy who was pretending to have a knife. I felt stupid handing my shit over, but I knew I’d feel even stupider getting stabbed. The third time was a little over two years ago. I was drunk and walking home from the train, perhaps singing along to Kelis’ “4th of July”, when two guys came up and punched me in the face and took my shit. These were both traumatic and major events in my life, obviously, but they didn’t really fuck me up like the first time, and I don’t think anything ever will.
We finished up the joyride around Prospect Park, which consisted of us slowing down to look at every man of color, and the husband saying, “Nope, not him,” and the husband occasionally trying to make smalltalk with me (ex: “So, how long have you lived in Park Slope?”). When we got back to the scene of the crime, I filled out some paperwork and told the cops that I wanted to go to the ER since I’d hit my head pretty hard. An ambulance came in like 30 seconds. The EMTs checked me out a bit, told me I looked good but I’d probably need stitches.
Right before I went on my first ambulance ride, I remembered my last two muggings, when I’ve had to go to the police station and spend an hour looking at pictures of black guys. Even when I see the guy, I never remember what he looks like, and going through their database seems like a sure-fire way to get a false conviction. I pulled the female cop aside and said, “Thanks for all your help, but I’m not gonna be able to come to the station and look at pictures. I don’t even know what these guys look like, OK?” She put her hand on my shoulder and said “OK honey, no problem.” I live for shit like this.
I went to the ER and right into triage. As she was checking me in, the triage nurse talked to one of the EMTs about muggings. They were saying things like, you always have to be alert, and you shouldn’t walk down the street with headphones. People love saying shit like this. It’s a way of subtly explaining why this wouldn’t happen to them. Ignoring the fact that literally everyone in New York with a pair of headphones and something portable to plug them into walks around with headphones on, I can’t believe anyone thinks someone who’s just been assaulted wants to hear about all the things they did wrong. One nice thing about this having happened to me so many times now is that this no longer even remotely hurts my feelings, but it still blows my mind all the same.
They moved me to a bed, and I began what would turn out to be a very long night in the ER. The ER is always much less exciting than Sherry Stringfield would have us believe, but it’s always interesting nonetheless. They put me across from an old bat who kept yelling, “Goddamn it! The service here stinks! Unprofessional!” In the bed next to her was a panicky man in handcuffs with cops all around him. I always imagine trips to the hospital to consist of me getting life lessons from the wise old Haitian woman in the next bed, but the only life lesson I ever get is how crazy I’m not.
I went to the bathroom and got my first look at myself. It was much worse than I’d imagined. My nose was in shambles, I had big bruises on both cheeks, and there was dried blood everywhere. I found myself strangely looking forward to spending the next few days sequestered in my bedroom.
After a couple hours spent doing nothing but patting my “oozing” nose with some old and disgusting gauze, the doctor came to see me. He felt around, pressed various places and asked if it hurt, wiggled my nose, etc. He checked my mouth for chipped teeth. “There’s a chip on this one, but it looks old….” “Oh yeah, that’s from last time” “Last time?!” It was a conversation that kept happening.
He wanted x-rays on my nose and said I needed stitches. The nurse asked if I might like her to clean me up a bit. I said yes please, because I couldn’t believe what I’d seen in the mirror. “Well, it looks very authentic, let’s just say that!” she said. She talked to me like a normal person, not a crime victim or even a reckless crime inviter. I will not be saying “it was just what the doctor ordered,” but let’s just say it was nice.
I lay there for more hours, and I thought about how mad I wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it sucks that this keeps happening to me and that it was particularly bad this time, but it doesn’t make me angry. The closest I came to crying that night was when I thought of Mary Johnson, a woman whose son was murdered in gang violence, who forgave and became a mother-figure to her son’s killer. That’s what I aspire to be. Vengeance does nothing for me. I know that the guys who did this to me know what they did, and I know that on some level they are not happy with this being their life, and that’s enough for me. I don’t need years taken from their lives, and I don’t need a couple dozen black kids stopped and frisked just to make me feel better. Violence worked for those 30 seconds, but after that all I saw was kindness. As a Joanna Newsom song that kept popping into my head says, “Kindness prevails!”
After cleaning me up the nurse came back with painkillers and a tetanus shot. Talk about bittersweet. “Your arm might be a little sore in the morning,” she said, “but everything will probably be sore in the morning anyway. Plus now you’ll always remember when your last tetanus shot was!” I couldn’t argue with any of that. I went in for my nose x-ray. The tech joked around as he put my face in various positions. Finally, “So what happened to your face?” “I was mugged.” He put his hand on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
Hours later, after I’d discovered that at a high enough dosage a man can get stoned on Motrin, a devastatingly attractive doctor came by to stitch me up. I realized that my arm was resting on his abs as he was sticking things into my face, and I may have consciously decided not to move it. His assistant told him, “Wow, nice job,” when he was done.
I was technically done, but I still had to wait. I should’ve been angry about that, but I didn’t really care. Why should I be in any rush to go home and stare at myself in the mirror? The nurse came by and told me that someone would be by with my paperwork “very shortly,” then looked at my nose and said, “Wow, they did a really good job actually!”
The nurse rotation switched. I realized that the TV show I was vacantly watching was in fact the Today Show and it was fully the next day already. A new nurse came by to chat, and I told her what happened. “We had another assault in here yesterday, but they weren’t nearly as composed as you are!” Is it weird that I took that as a huge compliment?
Finally, the first doctor came by and told me to meet him at the front and he’ll give me my paperwork. As I got up he said, “Did anyone tell you your nose is broken?” Why no, no one told me that. He told me I’d have to make an appointment to get the stitches out and I might want to see a plastic surgeon, even though it doesn’t look bad. I decided to forego any jokes about the Jackson family, and thanked him and left.
It was almost 9 am, and there were so many people out. I tried my best to keep my head down as I walked the 6 blocks home. Still, I couldn’t help noticing that people couldn’t help noticing me. If only I’d thought to bring sunglasses when I left the house 10.5 hours before.
And now here we are. The fallout from these things is always fascinating. Some people freak the fuck out. Others get so sad. Others beg me to move out of one of the nicest and safest neighborhoods in the whole city. Others try to get me to carry mace and shit. And others say nothing at all. We all react to these things in our own way.
I’m not sure what my own reaction is yet, but I know that I am much happier today than I was on Monday, before any of this happened. Aside from literally not wanting to show my face around town, I have very little to complain about. If getting the shit beat out of me pulled me out of my funk, then it can’t be all bad, right?