Hands on Pavement at the Golden Hour

I recall the time two men ambushed me and stole my laptop back in the summer of 2009. I’ve thought a lot about how to juice it for jokes or fiction but I only end up back at the truth. They say that you have a fight of flight response in such events, but I did neither. Sometimes I’m an odd duck.

I had been trying to write at Ritual Roasters, working on the first draft of my friend’s thesis film, which has been long in development and should hopefully see the light of day in a few months. I made some good progress and, paranoid about carrying the draft on the laptop’s harddrive, emailed it to myself for insurance.

The writing had gone well enough but I felt empty as one does when alone for a long stretch in the afternoon and I walked slowly with my laptop bag strewn loosely across my shoulder just before sunset. Like a dawdling calf under the gaze of a distant lion, it is no wonder I was picked out. Hell, I was wearing a black dress shirt and dark blue cardigan with my plastic glasses; I would have punched someone dressed like a Woody Allen impersonator too.

Walking slowly down 16th Street towards Church, just past Dolores, I found myself suddenly thrown to the sidewalk pavement within a small alleyway. Of course, I did not let the laptop hit the ground – and found a young man in a black hooded sweatshirt standing over me, both our hands on the laptop bag. Another young man in black stood with him. I knew what was happening.

“Give it up,” one said, his voice lilting upwards in a desperate attempt at authority. They were both 18 years old or so. I was still on the ground.

I thought about the laptop and the different files I had saved on the harddrive, and I remembered that I had emailed the day’s work to myself, and I remembered that I had paid about $800 for the Sony laptop a year earlier. I also thought about the contents on the bag; nothing important, just some earphones and a new necktie I had bought because I was to play an extra in a friend’s film the next day. I truly considered all of this in a half second or so, as I was akimbo on the ground with those two young men standing over me. I said, “Alright,” and let go of the shoulder bag. They turned to leave as I stood up. I didn’t run.

As I walked out of the alley one of the young men came back, saying “Go this way” as he shoved me back into the alley. I presumed he wanted my wallet and resisted. I shoved him back and tried to exit the alley, but he pushed me against a parked car. “Where your phone at?” he said.

“Fuck off,” I said softly, like I was ordering a cup of coffee. He punched my mouth and knocked my glasses askew. They were brand new and I adjusted them and was very glad that they weren’t broken. He asked about my phone again, and again, without any thought, I told him to fuck off. Perhaps he was confused because I didn’t react to being punched in the face. Then they left.

I learned that I could take a punch, but that has not become particularly useful information.

I walked away. Should I run? I thought. It didn’t make sense to call the police because the situation was over and it would be a waste of their time and resources while real emergencies occurred elsewhere in the city.

Of course, I was rather rattled. I discovered that my nose was bleeding and found that my hands were scrapped and bleeding as well, from being thrown to the ground. I wiped the blood on the sweater and pulled the sleeves down to hide my bloody hands. I was very self-conscious about passersby seeing the blood on my hands because it looked like I had done something. My lips were also cut on the inside where they had hit my teeth, but not badly.

Then I walked home.

It was two or three miles away from home, but I had walked the route before, and I didn’t want to get my blood on the crowded MUNI train handrails, let alone have all the commuters see me in a fragile, bedraggled state. I thought how awful it would be to see someone else’s dried blood on the MUNI. Besides, I had a lot of steam to blow off.

It was after sunset by the time I got home and none of my housemates were around. I found sticky, dried blood running down my leg and discovered that my jeans were torn at the knee where I had hit the ground. Although I had felt the pain, the blood was a surprise. The threads of cotton from the denim were mixed in the coagulated blood of the  wound and I tried to clean it. I found that I didn’t have any disinfectants like hydrogen peroxide in the house, but I had a bottle of vodka, so I dabbed my slight wounds with vodka-soaked tissues. In the movies I had seen men pour whiskey on the wounds and it made sense to me. The vodka stung in the way that such things do and I had a drink. It was very cheap vodka and tasted bad when straight. It also burned the cut on my lips but I figured that meant it was a good disinfectant.

I sat in the dark bedroom with the blinds drawn shut and thought for a long time about who I should and shouldn’t tell. You may know or may not know that I do not like being pitied. It goes without saying that it was a pitch black night.

Eventually one of my housemates arrived home and I asked her if she had any bandages because I had fallen. She did; she is a very dear girl who was coincidentally studying anesthesiology, and I am lucky for her sweet kindness. In fact, she offered me painkillers, which she had because she’d recently burned her hand, but I didn’t think that was a good idea so I declined. Now she’s at Harvard doing her residency and she will do wonderfully. It makes me proud to think of her.

Eventually when I told people about it I tried to water down the details so that the whole thing didn’t sound too bad. I was, of course, down-trodden for a time but am ultimately more resilient because of the tribulation. Or maybe that’s just optimistic bullshit. I don’t know. I still wear the torn jeans but that cardigan has been retired.

San Francisco is easily the most crime-ridden city I’ve lived in. I still love her though, for other reasons. Is that silly?

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