At the risk of sounding terribly cliché, I was mugged in New York. It was July, 2005. I was a block away from home when two gentlemen – black, backwards hats – pushed me up against the wall, took the phone out of my hand, and asked if they could make a phone call. I said I was on the phone with my girlfriend, but maybe when I was done they could use it, so long as it was to someone within the United States or Canada, because my phone plan didn’t extend to international calls. Then one of them asked if he could borrow two dollars. Two dollars didn’t seem like that big of a deal, so I said okay, and took my wallet out of my pocket.
I was removing two singles from the money clip when the first gentleman changed his mind and said instead of two he wanted twenty, no wait, all of it. He grabbed at my wallet and I hung on for a moment, my instincts in high gear, and struggled in vain to remember what to do in emergency situations:
-Stop, Drop, and Roll. Not applicable.
-Hide under the desks and wait for the all-clear signal. Also not applicable.
-Find the nearest adult. None in sight.
They didn’t have a blade, nor a gun, or at least not that I saw, but I also didn’t trust my self-defense training. The last karate class I took was in 4th grade, and I was actually asked not to return after I begged the instructors to teach us how to Wax On and Wax Off. Having only made it to orange belt, thirteen years ago, I decided this was not a fight I could win. So I let go of my wallet and the mugger took the money out and gave me back the rest, cards, license, and all. I thought this to be a most gentlemanly exchange until they began walking off with my phone.
“Wait,” I said, “Can I please have my phone?”
“You ain’t calling the cops, buddy,” the second man said, and they continued walking off with it.
“Please!” I shouted, warm streams beginning to pour down my cheeks as the shock of what just happened began to take hold. “I really need that phone! I have to call Condé Nast tomorrow! I’m going to try and get an internship at The New Yorker, and I can’t do that without my phone!” And then, long after they were out of earshot, I added, “If my parents call, please tell them that I was mugged but that I’m alright.” More tears.
I arrive home, and my roommates are in a stoned daze. Pot smoke hangs in the room like many jackets on a single coat rack.
“You guys, I was totally just mugged,” I say.
“Whoa, man,” my male roommate says, “Whoa.”
“Are you alright?” my female roommate asks.
“Yeah,” I say, “but I’m pretty pissed and also scared.”
“Whoa,” my male roommate adds, “I mean…whoa.”
I call 911. Now the anger inside is rising to a tumultuous pitch. I haven’t been this mad since they took “The Cosby Show” off the air.
“911, what’s the emergency?”
“The emergency,” I yell, “is that I was just fucking mugged!”
“Well whatchoo shouting at me for?! I didn’t do it!” the operator replies.
“I know,” I say, “I just…I’m a little upset right now…”
“Well calm down!”
“Okay,” I say, then add, “Sorry for yelling.”
Four cops arrive. They are, all of them, the living embodiment of an NYPD stereotype. These broad characters enter the scene and if I wasn’t so mad and freaked out I would have giggled with glee.
“So you say you were jumped?”
“6th between B and C.”
“Did they hurt you?”
“So you weren’t really jumped, you were mugged, then.”
“Um, okay, I guess I was mugged then. Fine.”
“Uh-huh. So how come it smells like a party in here?”
“My roommates were getting high.”
“Uh-huh. And these muggers, did they take your weed?”
“I didn’t have any. I don’t smoke anymore cause it makes me paranoid.”
“Sure you don’t,” lead cop says snidely.
“Sam,” the second cop says to the leader, “this pot smoke is giving me the munchies.”
“So where you from,” the third cop asks, “Idaho?”
“Same difference. So what brought you here?”
I’m so tired of having to answer that question, of verbally stumbling as I try to define what I’m trying to do, sort-of-an-actor-that-doesn’t-act-because-now-writes-these-kind-of-story-things, that I simply reply, “I guess I just wanted to get mugged.”
“Well,” the third cop says, “Mission accomplished.”
The female cop, Irish Catholic all the way, pipes up: “This is a nice place you got. How much is your rent?”
“2700 for the three of us.”
“2700! Get outta town! That’s so much money! I pay 950 and I got my own place and it’s bigger than this.”
“Where is it?” I ask.
“Brooklyn,” she says, “And, I ain’t never been mugged, neither.”
Don’t they teach these cops sensitivity training, I wonder?
With nowhere else to turn, my male roommate and I go for drinks at a dive bar. A natural storyteller, I’m telling everyone about my nighttime encounter.
“That sucks,” the bartender says.
“Would you like a shot?” a customer asks me.
“Pardon me,” a gentlemen with an orange shotgun in his hand says, “I couldn’t help overhearing your tale of woe. I’m playing this video game right here where you pump this shotgun and shoot deer. I just wanted to offer my next turn, because I thought it might help you feel better if you shoot some deer.”
“Thank you, sir,” I reply, “that’s very kind of you. And I will take you up on your offer. I would like to shoot some deer. I would like that very much indeed.”
Walking home. We pass two black gentlemen. My body clenches. Am I going to turn into a full-blown racist because of this?
Maybe I should just go back home. Back home in the Plains, in the suburbs, where everyone looks like me and nothing ever happens. Who’s going to mug you in Michigan? The cows? No, not the cows. They haven’t learned the value of money yet, foolish cows, standing in the grass, chewing their cud, the cows, without a cow-care in the world. Maybe I should be a cow.
I lie in bed and make up a story. That the muggers saw me pass and the first one said to the other, “isn’t that…isn’t that autobiographical writer Josh Lefkowitz?!”
“He writes about what happens to him,” the second one reports.
“Let’s mug him,” the first one says, “That way, he’ll have something about which to write.”
The Good: I am alive, unhurt.
The Bad: I’m out $150 of hard-earned, wine-pouring money.
The Ugly: I can actually feel my plush Midwestern heart hardening into a cold, dense stone.