A couple nights ago, my purse was snatched by a tall, skinny kid with short dreads and fashionable jeans. At the time, I was standing on a deserted street corner at 3 a.m., fighting with a broken umbrella. I’d just had a martini the size of my head, and I was wearing headphones. Clearly, I was begging for it, but yet somehow, I was still utterly shocked that it happened. You always wonder how you’d react in such a situation, and now I know that what I do is run after my thief (without dropping my umbrella) and scream, ‘Come on, man – don’t do this to me! Aw, come on! Come on!’ Seriously. That is actually what came out of my mouth. Come on, indeed.
Meanwhile, my thief ran like the entire Brooklyn P.D. was hot on his heels, which was ridiculous, as I am 5’4″, 125 lb., and weak as a kitten. Even more ridiculously, I caught up with the guy, as he was getting into his friend’s car. I started to make a grab for my purse back, and then realized how stupid that was. Did I think I was going to bring him down, like Alicia Silverstone did in that Aerosmith video? So, I just stood there, lamely, as he got in and they screeched off. ‘Come on,’ I said again, as I failed to take note of the license tag, make or even color of the car.
It was a long night (or early morning). I woke up my roommate, canceled all my cards, made a list of everything that I could remember was in my purse, and (when it finally occurred to me) called the cops, who came over and filled out a report. Then, I lay in bed, obsessing about the notebook that was in my purse. A lot of things in it could really be misconstrued if taken out of context. For example, there was a pretty hateful (but hilarious) rhyming jingle about Asian pineapple and donut vendors that I had written while being harassed beyond all endurance in Hanoi. ‘My purse-snatcher will think I’m a racist,’ I thought, and started to cry.
The loss of my notebook was definitely the worst part. I’d actually given a lot of thought to getting mugged and what I’d do about my notebook in such a situation. I planned to hand over my purse and then ask politely if I might just have the notebook back. I really thought that might work; probably because my ideas about muggings were largely informed by the muggings in Sex in the City and Clueless (Alicia Silverstone again), wherein the heroine, wearing cocktail dress and spike heels, flapped her hands prettily and whined cutely at her mugger, who was firm but apologetic. I thought such a mugger might be responsive to a reasonable request. But I had no plan for a run-by snatching.
If I ever stole a purse, the very first thing I’d do would be to gather all my friends, crack open a bottle of wine, and read aloud from whatever moleskin happened to be in it. We’d have a grand time mocking the victim’s innermost thoughts, diet resolutions, wish lists, and half-baked ideas for novels. I was sure that somewhere in Brooklyn, my thief and his friends were doing the same.
Turns out, I overestimated their interest in me, just as I overestimated their nefariousness as criminals. I spent the whole next day running myself ragged trying to stay one step ahead of them. They had my keys and my address: I was terrified they’d show up. They (probably somehow) had my social security number and all other personal info: I researched identity theft. They had a photo ID and my account number (because they had my checkbook): they really could have gone into any WaMu and cleaned me out, and they had all day to do it, because it wasn’t until the following evening that I thought of it (despite my having used the same method to get cash earlier that day). But they didn’t explore any of these avenues, because they are complete morons.
The night after my purse was snatched, my phone rang around midnight.
‘Hello,’ said a man. ‘Is this Elizabeth…something?’
‘Did you, like, lose your purse? Or was it stolen or something?’
‘I think I have it. I found it in the park.’
‘Great! Would you take it by the police station?’
‘Oh. Um, I was hoping there’d be like a cash reward.’
‘Like, you know, $50, $20.’
‘Yeah. I don’t know about that.’
‘You don’t want your purse back?’
‘Well, I can’t meet you anywhere, because I don’t know who you are.’
‘I mean, if you’ll meet me at the police station, I guess I’ll give you $20 for it.’
‘Then they’ll think I took it! My prints are all over it.’
‘I don’t know what to tell you, then.’
‘It’s not my problem – it’s yours! I mean, I don’t know why you’re not real anxious to have it back. Like, I could just throw the thing away.’
‘I’d like to have it back, but not enough to meet some stranger somewhere. I’m afraid you might hurt me, you know?’
‘Yeah, I can see that. Ok, I’ll meet you outside the police station in 15 or 20 minutes. I’ll be in a black jacket and I’ll have your purse. And maybe you’ll give me some money. Like $50 or $20.’
I called the cops, and they came by and picked up me and my roommate, and we all went over to the station. Shortly, a young guy sauntered up, fiddling on a fancy cell phone. He had my purse in a shopping bag. Everything was still inside, except for my cash and Visa. I can’t believe how freaking stupid purse-snatching is; it’s so small-time. Because who carries much cash around these days? So, a purse-snatcher isn’t really even saying, ‘I’m going to rob you of everything you have.’ What he’s really saying is, ‘I’m going to inconvenience you hugely at no real benefit to myself.’
‘Thank you!’ I said to the guy.
‘That’s it?’ he said. ‘No money or anything?’
‘You’ll have good karma,’ I said. I felt kind of bad about going back on the $20, but the cops had said I really shouldn’t give him any money, and I didn’t want to look foolish in front of them. Plus, I’d been expecting a homeless man; seeing that it was a young kid with a high-tech phone made the whole blackmail thing seem a lot shittier.
‘Karma?’ he said. ‘What’s that?’
‘Uh,’ I said. ‘It’s like, if you do good things, then–‘
‘–Oh, yeah, yeah, I know,’ he interrupted. ‘My girlfriend sends me stuff about that on MySpace.’
The next day, it occurred to me that the guy’s story had been pretty fishy. He said he found my purse in the park, but it had been stolen right by the park, and the thieves sped off, leaving me there with my cell phone in hand (probably calling the cops). Why would they come back to the park to dump my property? Also, why would they neatly replace everything in the purse after they went through it? The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that the guy who tried to sell it back to me was probably involved somehow in stealing it. The detective handling the case thinks so, too; he dusted everything for prints, but the guy had wiped it all. He said it’s not uncommon for thieves to try to sell stuff back to their victims, and that the cops often arrest them when they show up (I guess Brooklyn has the dumbest criminals in the world). He’s pissed at the cops who picked me up that night because they didn’t question the guy or anything.
I’m supposed to go for a ride-along Saturday around 1 a.m. to see if I can spot the guy anywhere. I’ll let you know how that turns out.