Sunday, August 26, 2007

Scaredy Cat On the Loose in the West Bank

The Old City Jerusalem is a maze of market stalls, its labriynth corridors winding in a dizzying route made even more bewildering in the pentrating heat. In the dense heart of the Muslim quarter a tourist can become disoriented then consumed. It was in this state, only just passed through the Damascus Gate (and feeling rather intrepid) that I hestitantly accepted the hospitality of a Palestinan gentleman guide who was lounging in the shade afront the 5th station of the Cross. Having failed to find stations 1 - 4 on my self guided tour I was, I guess, easily persuaded by Victor's seemingly benign offer to lead me back to the stations I'd missed. How I ended up nearly penniless in Ramallah is still somewhat of a blur to me.

Stay tuned to see if S.C. can traverse the several remaining checkpoints safely back to the Holy Land.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Steal a Wallet, Buy A Donut

After my wallet was stolen from the Farmer’s Market in Tompkins Square, I found a Visa charge that the thief slipped in before I could cancel the card: $3.85 Dunkin Donuts.

It was one of those teasingly hot days in early spring and I was thinking ahead to the joys of what I considered My New York summer: dollar gelato in Carroll Gardens, trapeze lessons on Chelsea Pier, movies in Bryant Park and naked homeless in Tompkins Square, odd pets, methadone freaks, junk fairs and fresh fish at 4am and Puerto Rican men with boom boxes tied to their bicycles and lusty humid nights where I could try every bar because its warm enough to walk and the strawberry smoke from hidden hookah gardens tints the glossy eyes of thin, beautiful women. In New York, for those three disgustingly hot months, there is love and sex and sweat and food everywhere, except in my apartment where usually there is only sweat.

After four years in the East Village, I felt I had the city down. I’d learned some tricks. Recycling: windows can be washed with dollar store Windex and last week’s Village Voice without the carbon leaving streaks. Old issues of The New Yorker are good for a single girl to stack into a step stool for hanging artwork salvaged from the trash next door, but the New Yorkers have to be closed because the political articles are like quicksand. Nature: Roaches come in many sizes and keep running even after you’ve saturated them and everything in their path with Raid. Socializing: If you accidentally make eye contact with the older man who’s chuckling to himself at the coffee shop, he will want to talk to you.

So when I walked out of my little studio on 3rd and A that morning, I was feeling pretty good about my status as a New Yorker. Only a week before, my favorite dinner reopened as a cellular phone store, so I considered myself practically a native.

As a recent college graduate from NYU, and a former midwestern Kroger’s and Osco shopper, my ritual Sundays at the neighborhood farmer’s market made me feel citified and self-sufficient. “Look, that girl carries her own canvas bag, and knows how to choose a ripe cantaloupe.” And there I was, my eyes shut in a moment of serious melon sniffing, my canvas bag wide open on the table beside me. When I’d finally chosen, and was juggling the fruit, a basket of organic cherry tomatoes and an apple juice, I reached into the bag for my wallet. I wonder if the thief was watching at the moment my face fell along with my confidence? Could he see the vulnerability take its place?

I skulked through the stalls hoping to catch the villian using my wallet. I pictured a badass in dark glasses with a handlebar mustache lurking near the potted ferns – waiting for me, his perfect target, a young woman obliviously ensconced in her New York City dream. The only person with a handlebar mustache I saw was a hipster guy with his girlfriend. He was also wearing a pink leather holster.

On Monday, the charge at Dunkin Donuts showed up on my account. The day before, I felt violated and enraged. The culprit made off with my new wallet (the only souvenir from my first trip abroad, to Italy, where I was not pick-pocketed once) and $60.00, more money than I usually carry, as the Farmer’s Market is cash only. Confronted by this singular, measly levy, I felt only pity for the very poor soul, so hungry that he went to the nearest fast food joint that takes credit cards to get this tiny, sugary pittance. An adult Oliver. This seemed a very sad thing; a wallet was stolen and a hungry person got a donut.

I feel for the thief who uses a stolen credit card to buy $3.85 worth of breakfast at Dunkin Donuts. Why not get the bakers dozen for an even $5.00? Why not try an organic apple right there at the market? I wondered what kind of donut the thief chose, and was there coffee too, perhaps with extra sugar. Did he get decaf? Unlikely.

To reassert myself as a savvy New Yorker, I sauntered over to the Dunkin Donuts to check out the scene. I was familiar with the garbage can on the corner in front of the store and was optimistic that the thief took the money and credit card but tossed the wallet in that trashcan. I'd already checked the ones around the crime scene.

The trashcan was daunting; overflowing and there were flies. The late afternoon sun was blazing. First Avenue was crowded. I stared into the can, but if my wallet were in there, it would be buried deep because the charge was made the day before. I stared so hard at that garbage as I considered my options that a young man stopped behind me to stare as well. I call this the New York domino effect.

"I think my wallet's in there," I explained.
"Why?" he said.
Would my reasoning sound as clever to someone else? I told him the whole story, hoping this curious stranger would help me dig through the trash.
"Huh," he said. "Goodluck." And walked away.

Bracing myself for something that would definitely be gross and probably futile, I donned the winter gloves that I'd brought and started digging.

I am sorry to say, I did not get very far. I barely skimmed the top. I had nowhere to put the trash once I’d taken it out and it was piling up conspicuously around me. Some things were drippy. The knit gloves were destroyed. I couldn’t go any farther with the plan, and felt unjustly defeated by the thief and the trash bin at Sixth Street and First Avenue.

As a last ditch effort, I stormed the Dunkin Donuts counter hoping the thief had, with a little nourishment, found the error of his ways and given the wallet to lost and found. The young woman at the counter said no, but was happy to call the clerk from the previous morning. She asked, was I sure I left it there?

I launched into the story again, the wallet stolen from the farmer's market and the charge from that particular Dunkin Donuts. She was incredulous that the thief would use a stolen credit for a $3.85 breakfast.

"It almost makes you want to pity the person," I sniffed.

"Nah," she said, "Dude probably just came here first to see if it worked before he went to Circuit City."