Drooling on the Pillow

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Not Misty, Not Watercolored 

One of the strangest events of my life occurred almost exactly twenty years ago. It was brought to mind by a police blotter item I read yesterday and I looked up an old journal to check the date.

I was single, very single, and subletting an apartment at Manhattan Plaza, a high rise subsidized for artistic types on West 42nd. I was coming home in the middle of the afternoon from a bad day. I had butchered three auditions in one day -- a record. These days, of course, three auditions in one day would be a great day, no matter how you did.

I was just turning into a shop to get a coffee when two small Hispanic men stepped in front of me. One of them had his hand wrapped with a towel. He partially unwrapped his hand showing me a revolver and the other one motioned me to walk in front of them. They took me to the middle of the block where there were no stores, then pushed me up against a railing and demanded everything I had.

Which was almost nothing. I think I had six or eight dollars. This pissed them off as I knew it would. After all, they were running quite a risk holding up a guy on 43rd Street in the middle of the afternoon. There were people sitting on stoops across the street. Since my back was to the building I could look across the street and see them settling down on their steps like they were watching Mannix. Still, there was traffic. And back then, the area was about as heavily policed a neighborhood as any in the world. To run that risk and come away with $8 was disappointing to them. I didn't even have an ATM card, if such a thing existed then.

The one with my wallet started waving it at me and the one with the gun began drawing it back as if he were about to smack me with it when a van pulled up and the driver leaned over, rolled down his window and called to me.

"You. Get in the van."

The robbers looked at each other and the one with the gun put it down by his leg.

"Get in the van. Now."

I've left out all the stuff about how scared I was and what was going through my mind. Let's just leave it that I was scared and I have no idea what was going through my mind. I know there were multiple scenarios running concurrently in my head about how the next few minutes were going to play out. What actually happened was the last thing I expected.

The one with the wallet gave it back to me. He put my $8 dollars back in the wallet and gave it back to me. The one with the gun brought it up from his leg and pointed it at me again. I looked at him and knew that he really didn't know what he was going to do. I said "thank you" and walked to the van and got in. As we pulled away I saw them watch us and then hunch their shoulders and begin shuffling off.

I said "thank you" several times to the driver. I had assumed he was an off duty cop, but he wasn't. He was an old guy, probably late sixties, who saw what was going on and just decided to do something. He owned an air conditioner repair shop on 46th. He just said "Ya gotta be careful around here" a couple of times, I thanked him a couple more times and he drove me around the corner to the entrance to Manhattan Plaza. I was shaken, but not freaked.

A couple hours later I turned on the news and they led with pictures of my two attempted hold-up men. They were brothers. They were escaped from Rikers. And they were murderers.

Now I was freaked. I went down to the precinct, told them what happened, looked at mug shots and gave a statement. I read the News and the Post line by line for a week and didn't see another word about them. Not a word from the police. Finally I called the cop who took my statement. "Oh, yeah", he said, "we got them."

I realized what an incredibly minor incident this was for Hell's Kitchen. After all, no one got hurt, nobody even lost their $8. But for me, well, its twenty years later and I'm writing about it.
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