I managed to get through close to five years in Manhattan without becoming a crime victim. Last night, statistics caught up with me.
I had parked all of half a block from the house of some friends I was going to visit. As I rounded the corner of the dark side street on which I’d left my car, I passed a couple of guys ambling slowly ahead—one short and heavyset, the other thinner and taller. The short one tapped me on the shoulder and said something, I don’t quite recall now, in order to distract me. His friend seized hold of my jacket from behind and began pulling me towards him, and without knowing quite what I was doing, I spun around and lunged backwards instinctively. The jacket came off and, with the pop of a few buttons, my shirt with it, over my head. I still had one arm partly in the jacket and was beginning to play tug of war with the tall guy when I spotted the knife in his right hand.
I know memory plays tricks when it comes to these things, but I recall it looking awfully long and vicious. “Give me everything you got, right now,” says tall-guy, brandishing the blade for punctuation. And here’s where we learn that I really am a Beckerian. I’m not thinking any of this in full sentences, of course, because I spent all of half a second weighing what to do, but the thought process was the non-verbal equivalent of: My friends’ house is maybe 50 yards down the street. These guys may be willing to wave a knife in my face, but that doesn’t mean they want to chase me down and kill me for a few bucks and a cell phone, especially if it means following me onto a better lit street where other people might see.
So, I sprinted, shirtless, down the block to their house and leaned on the doorbell. I’m afraid I must have freaked out one of my friends, standing there bare-chested and panting and yelling “open the fucking gate right now.” But I guess they were at least somewhat rational actors, because they didn’t follow. They even left my shirt and jacket on the ground near the car for Officer Gonzales and I to find a half hour later. I was both relieved—I like that jacket—and slightly offended, though probably it wouldn’t have fit either of them well.
Anyway, no real harm done, though I wish I’d thought to cement in my memory more detailed physical descriptions, what they were wearing and so forth. I got away pretty much unscathed, minus a couple of shirt buttons. Who knows if the next guy they jump will be as lucky.