Tuesday, December 13, 2011

And Then I Was Attacked

The other night I was up at Hunter working on my paper; I'd been there about five hours and my eyeballs were starting to sting and crust over. It was only about 8:30 but as usual I'd been going full bore since 6 a.m. We'd been to a Cub Scouts hike and breakfast with Santa, swim lesson... then five hours of screen time on the paper... I was toast. It was time to pack it up.

It was pleasantly cold out. Lexington Ave. was very alive with tourists and people who have a life after dinner. I think there was some bizarre "dress up as Santa" thing happening in the city because we'd seen 20-somethings throughout the day in red fuzzy suits; literally hundreds of them, maybe more, swarmed the South Street Seaport which Bud and I could see from the bottom of the FDR as we came out of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel coming into Manhattan from scout camp on Staten Island. And they were still out carousing, ringing jingle bells menacingly. I called my dad to express my relief at finally having found a topic for my paper, and to report on the kids' day. He offered to drive in to the city to pick me up, but I said No Thanks.

It was odd to step onto the first of several escalators down to the F train alone; Moopy and I do this four days a week together around 4 p.m. And I hadn't done schoolwork at Hunter at night in ages, favoring my local McD's instead. But it had been convenient, we'd had the kids there to their swim lesson, so i'd stayed. The first level by the token booth looked even dingier and more red-tiled-hellish than usual. The second escalator was broken, and I lumbered down to the mezzanine with my big bag and my laptop in it's hot pink case. As I stepped onto the last escalator down to the platform, (are there three escalators or four? i think there are four but suddenly don't feel sure) a flood of people, half of them demonic post-adolescent santas with black sunglasses and toy guns, surged up from a train that had just emptied and pulled out.

Shit. Saturday night on the F; there was no knowing how long I'd wait for the next one.

I would not, actually, wait at all. I walked off the escalator and saw I was not alone on the platform. Three young women, maybe they were 18 or 20 years old, were huddled in the corner of a bench, with a map in front of them, trying to dissuade a man who appeared homeless, (he was filthy, wearing broken shoes, he stank of urine and alcohol even from a distance, and pushed a small shopping cart full of plastic bags and news papers,) from trying to take their map and who knows what else; he swiped and lunged and yammered at them as they reared back, their faces frozen in perverse smiles. I don't know why I immediately thought they were foreign but I was right; they turned out to be from Chile. They all had on beautiful boots and new looking tight jeans, pea coats, and stylish bags, as if they'd dressed to match on purpose, and they all had long, brown, shiny hair and the kind of clear skin and clear eyes you can't have if you're raised in the pollution of NYC.

The man's arm shot out as he tried to grab the map from them and he said:

"Gimme the map, I'll tell you how to go! You're going to Queens! I will tell you how to go to Queens! Of course you're going to Queens, what are you doing getting on the F train if you ain't going to Queens! Now give me the map!"

The girls swayed and dodged together, clutching the map, as the man tried over and over to grab it from them. In the fifteen seconds I watched them he must have snatched at it about ten quick times. The girls' eyes bulged and they got up from the bench as one, to move away, and the man jumped in front of them, holding his arms out wide so they couldn't pass; the platform at that station is very narrow and there wasn't enough room even to run past him if they'd tried.

He almost plucked the map completely away and the middle girl grabbed it back and it tore. The man closed in on the girls, bringing his arms together as if he would gather them up; behind them a plywood wall concealing construction intruded out into the platform, making it even narrower; they could have run past it single file but he was so close, he could easily have reached out and grabbed one of them, and he was more than ready to do it.

"Girls!" I shouted in exactly my mother's voice, half reprimanding, half delighted to see them. "Girls, come on! Let's go, girls!" I yelled at them, with no real clear idea of what i was doing, other than trying to break up the scene and get the girls moving. They looked up and refroze as I waved at them as if I was on a cruise ship, and the man turned around and stared at me; I kept going toward them with no plan. "Come on girls," i kept saying, as if i was rounding up dogs, hoping i think to startle the man into inaction, but as I got close, he turned his body away from me, wound up, and spun around with his arm straight out and knocked me in the face, almost; i ducked.

"What the fuck, bitch!" he roared at me.

"Girls, RUN!" i screamed, and they did, and I did, and he ran after us , swinging violently with one hand and pushing his shopping cart ahead of him with the other, he was not more than ten or fifteen feet behind us, screaming obscenities and threats. The girls got ahead of me easily and leaped onto the stairs as the man heaved his shopping cart at us with all his strength and it crashed past me and caught the last girl up in the back of the leg, and she lost her balance for a second, threw herself forward to gain traction and hurtled up the stairs with her friends, the four of us screaming "HELP! HELP! HELP!"

As the shopping cart crashed and spilled over on its side with a shattering echo, the man caught up with me, and grabbed me by the back of the coat and then by the arm, about six feet before the foot of the stairs. I wrenched free of him and swung back with my laptop so i could hit him with it, not convinced at all that this would work, and considering in the lightening in my mind at the same second just dropping the laptop and throwing myself at him and pushing him over the edge of the platform onto the tracks, but i didn't have to; astoundingly, he let go.

If he had truly intended to attack me he would have done it; as it was he stopped short.

I ran like hell up the stairs.

Idiotic people stared down at the girls and at me as I caught up with them, the four of us still screaming HELP until we realized that the man had stopped chasing us. In Spanish and English we instinctively started shouting at women crossing the mezzanine to go down to the platform, "Don't go down there! There's a dangerous man!" People just stopped and looked at us as if we were incomprehensible. Our breath was rasping. One girl started to cry. The three of them began thanking me, and yet, I felt sickly responsible for the whole thing; if I hadn't intervened maybe nothing would have happened.

By the time we got to the first mezzanine just below street level we found out that another woman had seen the whole thing, beat us up the stairs and reported it. A lone, languid cop showed up and asked us with disinterest, "Is somebody being disorderly?"

"Disorderly?" i said in horror to the cop. "He could have fucking killed us!"

The cop stared at me for a moment, then turned, giving me his back, to take information from the girls. I ascended to the street, my hands shaking, my throat sore from screaming, furious.

This fucking city.

I took the R home.

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