Jared and me, at his 2011 birthday shindig.
As I write this, I'm in Rockland County for my old friend Jared's annual birthday cookout, the summer event that I most look forward to all year, and the weekend almost commenced with a disaster.
My friend Daisy was driving down from Rhode Island to pick me up for the trip to Jared's — our shared journey in her car is a yearly highlight — and when she was relatively close to my apartment, she called to let me know she'd be arriving soon. I had three bags packed — a large Ikea bag containing my barbecue tools, assorted food items, a spare blanket, and a six-pack of Mexican Cokes; a duffel bag with enough changes of fresh clothes for four days, plus a bag containing my toiletries and meds; and lastly but definitely not least, a large black backpack containing my laptop and its power cord, my CD burner, a box of blank CDs, and a good number of books to be given out as gifts to some of the coming attendees — and had brought the bags down to the front stoop of my building to await the imminent pickup. After a few minutes I realized I'd forgotten the sack of quarters that I'd meant to bring for tolls on the way back, so I figured it would take me less than sixty seconds to run back up to my second floor apartment and return with the coins. Looking at the broad-daylight street, the only people in sight were one of the nicer Stoop Louts, who was across the street with two friends, so I figured my stuff would be safe for less than a minute.
When I returned in the predicted less than sixty seconds, of the three large bags, only the one with my clothes remained on the stoop. I instantly shifted into hawk-like focus mode and immediately spotted a short Hispanic guy with a bike led by one hand hurrying across the street, struggling to keep my Ikea bag over his shoulder. I yelled "HEY!!!" in my loudest, most ominous voice and he stopped dead in his tracks. "That stuff is mine!" I yelled, as I barreled across the street in a state of Hulk-esque rage. When he lifted my stuff during the seconds in which I was gone, he probably expected the luggage to have been left by some woman or by someone who would not make it back down the stairs in time to catch him, but the look on his face made it clear that he did not expect to be nabbed in the act by an irate black man of nearly six feet in height and nearly 230 pounds. He was clearly terrified but he kept himself together enough to try and weasel out of a crippling ass-kicking by claiming that he thought the bags were garbage that had been left out for anyone to take. I fought back my urge to tear off his head and floss my teeth with his spine, and as he handed my my Ikea bag I narrowed my eyes and said "And the black backpack." The pack was not visible, as he had hidden it behind a nearby car, but he could see the murder in my eyes and he immediately produced it. As I checked my stuff to make sure nothing had been stolen — the backpack showed signs of having been opened for inspection; that was the bag with my computer — the thwarted thief made every effort to ingratiate himself to me, again claiming to have thought it was just garbage and saying "Hey, I wasn't trying to rob you, man," to which I called bullshit and noted that he'd opened the backpack. At that he dropped some of his obsequiousness and had the nerve — THE FUCKING NERVE!!! — to start to lecture me on "In New York you don't just leave stuff lying around..." I angrily cut him off, called him as a liar and a scavenging opportunist, and when he saw how much angrier I was getting he tried to give me a soul-shake and said, "God bless, brother!" before beating the hastiest retreat I've ever seen.
With my stuff retrieved, I slowly began to wind down and by that point the Stoop Lout was paying attention to the scenario. He's one of the Louts who's seen me as a daily presence for eighteen years, so he's used to Nice Bunche and was appalled to see Anger Bunche for the first time. As I noticed him staring at me in disbelief, I asked him if my stuff looked like garbage. He swiftly shook his head and unequivocally stated "NO!!!" and apologized for not paying closer attention as the guy made off with my bags. When Daisy arrived, I told her what happened and had her pick up my bags in order for her to see how heavy they were. I'm convinced that my standard habit of packing heavy is what thwarted the disaster mare than my speed in returning; I tend to pack for maximum preparedness and bearing heavy objects is what my ancestors were bred for, so carrying heavy backpacks and bags has been second nature since I was a child. I don't even think about it when I'm carrying them. Needless to say, Daisy was appalled on my behalf and she noted that she also would have left her stuff if she knew she would only be gone for seconds and there was no one on the street, but she was equally glad that everything turned out alright.
BOTTOM LINE: I learned a strong lesson during this incident and that your stuff is not safe on the streets of NYC for even sixty seconds, so don't be a lazy piece of shit and not bring the items into the locked safety of your building's lobby, especially if you know for a fact that the residents all look out for each other's stuff as an unstated rule of common courtesy and do not rip each other off. Not even relatively-posh Park Slope is free of parasites who cruise around on bikes in search of things to steal and people's good vibes to ruin without a care in their larcenous little worlds.