Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Asphalt Jungle right here in my backyard, which is called New York City.
As a couple of hawks make their nest in prime real estate, overlooking Washington Square Park, down below, in the park itself, there is another kind of wildlife. And it's not half as civilized as those peaceful birds.
To wit: I met a friend from abroad and we had a lovely conversation in one of the benches. Later, in my house, she realized she had forgotten her cellphone in the park. I called the number and someone answered. For a split second I thought a decent citizen was about to give us the phone back, but the voice on the other end quickly disabused me of the notion.
"You gonna pay for it?"
I could hear it was still in the park because I heard someone playing the trumpet.
"Why should I? It's my phone".
He hung up.
I called back.
"Hey, you have my phone".
"Yeah. How much you willin' to pay for it?"
I, oblivious to the notion of negotiation with an extortionist, insisted that I should not pay for squat since the phone belonged to me.
He hung up and turned it off. My friend wished I had bargained.
It was already dark and we started looking for any of the many homeless denizens of the park that all look like they were run over by a particularly gnarly steamroller. I profiled anybody indigent with a cellphone in his hand, of which there were several.
Then I heard the trumpet player. So we followed the sound. He was serenading a couple who looked blameless. I asked a very tall guy with two phones and camo pants. I got screamed at in that menacing way that some Black people use to scare White people.
So one of his friends tells me to pay him no mind, he is a drunk, but he himself happens to know who has my phone and he feels our pain and he can get it for us, but the guy is going to want money for it. Yep. And I'm from Missouri. I was ready to go to the police, but my friend was willing to pay a forced reward. So she bargained from 40 bucks to 20, to 30. The guy left (I am convinced he had the phone in his pocket the whole time) and then after no more than five minutes, came back with the phone. But my friend only had two twenties and I had not brought my purse, so he went to give the money to "the guy" and came back to tell us we could go get the change ourselves, pointing at some other dude who was walking away. When we balked, the good Samaritan turned on a dime and became extremely aggressive, a studied but convincing performance designed to scare the hell out of us. It didn't scare me, but I was not about to find out whether he was hamming it up or really meant it. I wanted to go to the police camper parked next to the park, because the principle really bothers me. I don't care if your ass is full of crack, I just hate to be taken for a fool. But my friend, a peaceful soul, a believer in the healing power of positive energy, was just happy to get her phone back. I wish he gets such an enormous feast out of his $40 worth of crack or whatever it is he takes to be so dumb and so smart at the same time, that his brain explodes. Karma.

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