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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The stuff of nightmares - Part II

[Note:  If you didn't read yesterday's post carefully, today's post will make absolutely no sense.]

Where were we?  Ah yes...

Suddenly a blinding red alarm explodes in my head and I realize what must have happened.  My hand goes into my left front pants pocket and my heart nearly implodes with shock as my fingers find nothing there but a small ball of lint.  I've been pick-pocketed and the ring is gone.

You read in bad fiction about time slowing down during times of crisis and things happening as if in slow motion.  In my dream, which already has a slightly surreal / slow-mo feel to the goings on, things really slow to a crawl at this point.

The first rational thought I have after realizing the ring is gone comes from that well-honed New Yorker sense of subway timing that tells me that any moment there would be a two-toned bell chime (bing-bong!) and the doors would slide shut.  Once that happens the train would begin to move and I would be forced to watch helplessly as the train takes us slowly away from these three young men standing on the platform... and from the ring they had stolen.

The second thought that arrives on the heels of the first is that Zahava still has no idea what's happened.  She looks somewhere between puzzled and annoyed at being unceremoniously jostled into the car by these strangers... but she doesn't have a clue what has resulted from what seemed to simply have been rude behavior.

As I am already imagining the train pulling away from the scene of the crime, I realize that, other than the vague 'three 20-something black men in puffy coats', I would be completely unable to describe these men to the police.  Call me a bigot if you want, but like many white folks from the 'burbs, I have a certain level of ethno-specific prosopagnosia (face-blindness) born partly of not having had much contact with people of color as a kid... and partly of a tendency to reflexively avoid eye contact with young inner-city blacks on the street (or in the subway).  Again, this probably correctly makes me a bigot.  But we're not talking about sitting across a conference table here.  I'm in the NYC Subway system, and for better or worse, political correctness has to take a back seat to self-preservation.

Because the subway doors are about to close, I know I don't have time to explain the situation to Zahava.  But I can't very well jump off the train leaving her to ride away into the night wondering why I had suddenly abandoned her, can I?  So I grab the back of her coat and jerk her (and her overstuffed suitcase) back through the doors onto the subway platform.

Once we are safely off the train, I grab the nearest of the three young men by the front of his puffy down parka and slam his back against the outside of the subway car a couple of feet from the conductor's open window.  As his head bangs loudly against the subway car and rebounds in my direction I begin yelling into his startled face, "Give it back or you're a dead man", over and over as if I actually have the means to carry out the threat.   

But even as I'm doing this, I realize that I have no idea which one of them actually took the ring or is currently in possession of it.  It's a sort of human shell game, and I've simply grabbed the nearest shell in hopes that it conceals the prize.

Clearly I haven't really thought this situation through, because the moment I have this guy pinned against the train, I mentally brace myself for one of two things to happen:  Either he is going to pull a knife or gun and kill me... or one of his two cohorts will do so.  At very least I'm in for a beating since I am out-numbered three to one.

But through no design of my own, a few things begin to subtly shift the situation in my favor.

First, now that I have one of the men pinned a few feet from the bemused face of the guy driving the subway, the train is effectively stuck in the station.  I'm not sure why, but having the conductor - arguably the only semi-authority figure in the vicinity - and his radio close at hand feels mildly reassuring (even though in typical New Yorker fashion, the conductor isn't actually getting involved.  Instead he seems to be taking a wait and see attitude, and like the gathering crowd, is enjoying the show.

Second, rather than assaulting me and freeing their friend, the other two guys have turned on their heels and are bounding up the nearby steps three at a time towards the upper level and the freedom of Columbus Circle.  And for whatever reason, the guy I have pinned against the train (to this day Zahava insists that his feet were dangling off the floor as I pushed him further and further up against the curved side of the train) hasn't made any moves to produce a weapon or fight back.

And then time resumes its normal pace... and I'm left with no ring, a subway full of angry commuters who aren't concerned with my problems, and a young black man in temporary custody who may or may not actually have what I am desperately trying to get back.

The crowd around us swells... and with it the noise in my ears.  The commuters begin to complain about the delay and I become increasingly sure that I've picked the wrong shell ... which means that my ring is already up in the 'fresh' air of Columbus Circle and heading towards points unknown. 

As the time passes and the situation refuses to resolve itself, I begin to sweat in the sauna-like atmosphere of the subway, certain that at any moment a cop is going to show up and ask me why I'm assaulting this upstanding young man.  And when a search of said upstanding young man fails to turn up a stolen ring, I'm going to be the one dragged off to the hoosegow... sentenced to relive the loss of the ring, my dignity and maybe even my fiance, over and over... all because of circumstances completely beyond my control!!!

And that's it... that's where I always wake up. 

In real life, the incident never got to the part written in italics above.  What really happened is that the guy I was holding against the train actually still had the ring (wrapped in tissue paper) in his hand, and when he saw that I was quite literally out of my mind with rage, he tossed it in my face, tried (unsuccessfully) to kick me, and as I released my hold on him to catch the ring, he ran up the stairs after his companions.  Zahava and I got on the train, and we lived (so far, tfu tfu tfu) happily ever after.

Replaying the whole episode in my head later that night, I realized that one or more of these guys must have seen me showing off the ring to my coworker on the street at lunch time, and then waited outside my office for me to leave work.  They had seen me put it away, so they knew exactly which pocket to pick.  And if the subway platform had been more crowded I probably wouldn't have noticed the whole pushing ploy as anything out of the ordinary. 

With horror I understood that the only reason I had noticed something was wrong was that we happened to be getting on a train at probably the only moment during rush hour that the platform was relatively empty. 

That's it.  Blind luck.  But for that, and for the fact that I had the good fortune to have randomly grabbed the guy who actually had the ring... the story could/would have ended badly.

And that, my patient readers, is the stuff of nightmares; the terrible realization that we walk through the world with our valuable property... our priceless relationships... our irreplaceable families... exposed to the vagaries of chance and the whims of evil people who see us only as the sum of our vulnerabilities.

Maybe it's because I know how unbelievably fortunate I am that I've been having this recurring nightmare.  Maybe it's because I know how vulnerable each and every precious thing in our lives makes us.  But whatever the reason, this dream about a long-ago event destroys me emotionally for days afterwards, and makes me walk around waiting for some unspeakable tragedy to happen.

I'm hoping that by writing it down and posting it here, it will be like turning on the lights and revealing a monster perched at the foot of the bed to be nothing more than a shirt and hat draped casually over a chair... harmless to nobody and symbol of nothing more than my untidiness.

Posted by David Bogner on October 28, 2009 | Permalink

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David,
Wonderful story. You had me literally on the edge of my seat, mouth ajar, unblinking. But let me be blunt. You showed off a valuable ring on a Manhattan street like some kind of country bumpkin? And then you went after three big black criminals on a subway platform? My friend, you acted like an idiot twice and were rewarded for it. These nightmare's are your sub-conscious trying to tell you not to draw the wrong conclusions. I suspect they will end when you finally get the message, wake up with a start, bang yourself on the forehead and say, "I can't believe I was such an idiot!" (I told you I'd be blunt.)

Now relax, you'll be fine.

Posted by: Ben Chorin | Oct 28, 2009 5:18:58 PM

True... wonderful story that unbelievably (how did that happen???!) I had never been privvy to! Glad it worked out, but I see Ben Chorin's point of the story.

You were also lucky to be as big (tall) a guy to be able to confront the guy physically.

Bottom line- pretty much everything was in your favor, except for showing off the ring!

Posted by: val | Oct 28, 2009 5:46:37 PM

...and then their luck really took a turn for the worst when they then accosted an unassuming Jewish man named Bernie Goetz later that day.

Posted by: Ari | Oct 28, 2009 5:48:26 PM

Life has its moments, sometimes too many of them.

Posted by: Jack | Oct 28, 2009 5:55:20 PM

You read in bad fiction about time slowing down during times of crisis and things happening as if in slow motion.

The psychological term for this is sensory exclusion. While you may read about it in bad fiction it is reality. Thrice I have had my life threatened by armed men... thrice I have experienced just this.

Posted by: mekubal | Oct 28, 2009 6:06:59 PM

Wow, wotta story. Glad it had a happy ending, which only proves that, on occasion, HaShem looks out for fools. (Not that you're a fool, mind you, but Ben Chorin does have a point...)

Posted by: Elisson | Oct 28, 2009 8:35:54 PM

holy &*!*!* Am i the only person here who is wildy impressed that you confronted these guys??? Though, yes, 20 some years later,the same incident would probably not have such a nice outcome (i.e., they would have struck back hard).

I appreciate your aknowledgement of describing the incident true to form by talking about their race etc..but i'm a little disturbed by the first commentator who was not on that subway etc. etc. making a point that "black" must mean more dangerous. As for showing off a ring....most women wear their rings in NYC.....and all the world can see them....so i don't hold ya accountable for that one....

Posted by: LG | Oct 28, 2009 11:01:13 PM

Boy are you lucky to be alive?

Did you ever bench gomel for this one? You really could have been killed.

You are one lucky guy (and not just because Zahava still married you, after witnessing your crazy, semi-suicidal act of aggression)

God must really love you -- 'cause you survived AND got the ring back! (and got the girl!)

Posted by: Rivka with a capital A | Oct 29, 2009 12:09:09 AM

What a gripping read! I couldn't even bring myself to stop reading when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, my 3 year-old smearing finger-bun icing all over her hands, her face and the table. And, trust me, it's very out of character for me to ignore something like that...

I love your writing.(long time lurker, first time commenting) Thank you. :)

Posted by: Simone | Oct 29, 2009 3:38:34 AM

and if Gili were God Forbid to be in the same situation one day, would you advise him to do as you did??

excellent writing, my friend! I hope the dream fades away and you only have sweet dreams from now on.

Posted by: Hadassah | Oct 29, 2009 12:09:41 PM

Wow, what a story. And message. And yes, to Ben Chorin, Trep did grow up a Country Bumpkin. That's how they grow 'em in Westport. :-)

Posted by: Marsha in Englewood | Oct 29, 2009 1:53:55 PM

To everyone who has commented on the potential folly of David's actions, I have a few comments of my own to add to the mix:

1) it is exactly the knowledge that he put himself in harm's way which allows this nightmare to continue to terrorize him

2) we all think we know how we will act in a crisis, but in the actual heat of the moment, we sometimes surprise ourselves

As a petite woman, I am extremely aware of my own vulnerability. Thus, at various stages in my life I have made a point of going to self-defense classes in the hopes that the practice would condition me (and my muscle-memory) to instinctively react to certain stimuli in the safest possible manner.

One of the constant themes of any such class is the old "whatever they want, just give it to them" based on the theory that your watch, fur-coat, ring, necklace, "insert other valuable here," could be replaced where your life and limbs could not be. This always made sense to me! Big time, sense!

....And yet....

When I was mugged, my reaction was not my well-planned, well-rehearsed, "Um... here, take my camera...would you like me to mail you the owner's manual? What's your address?" It was a surge of indignant rage! And I, unwisely, fought back against the attacker.

It was most certainly NOT a cognitive decision on my part to fight back. It was simply what I found myself doing.

And since my mugger did have a rather large knife, I completely understand how very, very, VERY! lucky I was to escape the incident unharmed. Clearly, this particular thief was not violent, he simply wanted the money in my purse.

I, like Trep, have had ample time to reflect on the myriad of other disastrous potential outcomes. And yet, if given the chance to have a "do-over," I am not certain I would react any differently.... Which makes me fervently hope I never have to again experience such a situation....

Posted by: zahava | Oct 29, 2009 2:18:25 PM

Haha! It's good to be 6'4" isn't it? What a great story!

(Unrelated: I thought of you when I read that the Kindle has international wireless now.)

Posted by: Tanya | Oct 29, 2009 11:04:04 PM

Hee. I knew you'd be all discombobulated at the news. How did you even do that?

I just read it today, so I think it's pretty new. And on the coverage map, Israel is dark purple, which means 3G.

Posted by: Tanya | Oct 30, 2009 12:41:49 AM

I read 2 before 1 and guessed the story.

Those sorts of events can trigger a liftime of anxiety attacks. Maybe blogging about it will free you of the nightmare.

Posted by: Batya from Shiloh | Oct 30, 2009 10:06:04 AM

You, my friend would survive in the 'crime jungle' here, courage is all it takes. :-)

Posted by: Rami | Oct 30, 2009 2:16:34 PM

^^^^^^^^^
No, Rami, it takes more than just courage! As they say, "our cemeteries are full of dead heroes"....

Posted by: ProphetJoe | Oct 30, 2009 8:46:02 PM

Wow. Amazing how all the things come together, eh? That you immediately recognized what happened, got off the train (with Zahava!), picked the right guy AND scared him - God totally meant for Zahava to have that ring and for you to end up happily ever after, as it were.

It's also amazing what our brains do to us in crisis situations. I have no idea how I would react if I had been in your (or Zahava's!) situation. I'm glad it all worked out well, and I sincerely hope writing it all down makes this dream go away.

Posted by: Alissa | Nov 4, 2009 5:24:15 PM

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