Yellow eyes are glowing like the neon lights…
Yellow eyes, the spotlights of the city lights
I am behind you, I’ll always find you / I am the tiger
I had a black tri-fold leather wallet in the mid 1980’s. It was functional, and it served well for four or five years. Among other wallets I have owned, I remember this one because of two misadventures in New York City. My wallet was the star. I was only a supporting actor in the drama.
I grew up in the northeast U.S. and I know New York to a certain degree. I had friends who lived there and I visited them several times a year while in my late teens and twenties. I also passed through NYC en route to Boston and other points abroad. Back then, I thought the City was cool. I liked the urban over-stimulation it offered along with the depravity and chaos it promised at every turn. This was before Giuliani cleaned up the place. It really was a freakshow around Port Authority and 42nd St in those days. Like most young people bedazzled by Babylon, I had my head up my ass and didn’t know it.
I was visiting my aunt in Connecticut for Christmas vacation from my college out west. For some reason, I had traveler’s checks but no cash on me, this being 1982, and Visa™ not as ubiquitous as today. My plane had arrived in New York around five o’clock pm. I had taken the subway into Manhattan from La Guardia airport and I planned on taking the Amtrak train from Penn Station to New London later that night. As it turned out, the next train would not leave for Connecticut until almost midnight. I purchased my ticket and paid for a locker where I stashed the ticket with my duffel bag and backpack. I could now check out the city by night for a few hours. The subway brought me to Port Authority station, near Times Square. It was 7:30 at night, it was dark, I was hungry and had nothing to do until about 11:00. I decided to try to buy food with a traveler’s check. I wanted New York street food: pizza, or falafel, or Greek, but no place would accept the checks. Finally, I found a convenience store that would cash one for me with a purchase. I bought a beer and went on my hungry way with less than 20 dollars cash in the wallet. By now it was about 8:30. It was a weeknight; the streets were not super-crowded. I was looking for a place to grab some food and also just strolling. I turned down a street off of 8th Avenue. The block in front of me was dark with less pedestrians and less light. It may have been 45th or 46th Street, I don’t recall. No food there. I turned to go back to the lights of 8th Ave. when I passed a young woman in a dark entry way who spoke to me:
What’s up honey, you looking for company? Want a date tonight?
Nah, I murmured as I hurried away from her toward a Greek food place I had just seen. I didn’t pay anymore mind to her, I was hungry and fixated on a gyro or souvlaki.
It was cold but not icy deep-winter-cold. I reached the joint and bought a souvlaki pita. I was buzzed from the beer on an empty stomach and very hungry. I wolfed down the souvlaki as I wandered aimlessly north on 8th Avenue once again. I turned down a dark side street, finishing my sandwich. Still slightly intoxicated and thinking of ordering one more gyro, I heard the clatter of small footsteps behind me, echoing in the empty street off of 8th Ave. It was the same black woman I had passed earlier, walking quickly towards me. She was looking right at me.
Hey baby I seen you over there before. Let’s go on a date. Where you from? How’s that sandwich?
She was young, smiling, attractive . . . I told her:
Sorry no time to go on a date, I have to catch a train soon.
What you mean soon? How soon?
She got very close and began to touch my arms lightly. She was flirty and her smile was gleaming in the cold night shadows.
Soon—like in three hours I have to leave New York.
She began talking very fast and touching my collar. We got time, baby. We can go to a peep show. We can do a quick date—don’t you want to go out with me tonight?
Suddenly she was caressing my midsection and subtly pushing me toward the wall from the sidewalk.
Come on let’s go out. Let’s go to a peepshow.
My mind was starting to race and she was exciting me, pushing me against the wall with her hips. My thoughts were conflicted. After all, I DID have two hours to kill in the city and she was offering to . . . and—no. No. Bad idea. Well, wait, why not? It would be a cool urban experience, a real New York thing to do, plus I’m horny and she’s making me more horny. We could . . . but where? How? No. NO. I need to be firm and get out of here. This is not a safe situation. What am I thinking?
She was stroking my thighs and murmuring into my collar by now. I was tempted. But the situation was clear. I was alone with a whore on an abandoned street, I had to catch a train at 11:30 and this was not the time to mess around. I pulled her hands off me and stepped away. The whole exchange had been only about six or seven minutes. Suddenly I thought of my wallet. I reached for it frantically in my pocket. It was gone. She got a weird look in her eyes, backed off quickly and began to walk away toward some lights as I searched my pockets. She knew I knew.
My wallet! I yelled.
Now she really walked away, gaining speed. I ran after her raising my voice: I know you took my wallet. Come on. You have it. Just give it back.
You crazy. I don’t have no wallet. Get away from me she said, almost running from me now.
Listen, I KNOW you stole my wallet while you had me against the wall. There is only like ten bucks in there, you can HAVE that—just give me the wallet. I need my driver license and my ID’s—my student card . . . come on.
You better get away from me, she snarled as I began patting her down, feeling on her body for my wallet, walking fast the whole time and periodically trying to cut in front to block her progress. Get your hands off of me. You crazy, she growled.
She turned into dimly-lit hotel lobby, with me in hot pursuit. Due to the beer along with the adrenaline, a sort of desperate aggression had kicked in. There were a lot of elderly pensioners sprawled out in the lobby on sofa and chairs. They looked like the barely living dead to me. I called to them:
Help me! This bitch just stole my wallet! She’s got it on her ! Help me, I know she has it. Is there a security guard here?
Barely a ripple in response. I remember a few wispy geriatric glances and some medicated murmurs. Now she was getting into the elevator. I followed, crowding in as the door closed on us. I harangued her all the way to the second floor, patting her down, trying to pull back her jacket to find my wallet.
Now you gonna be in trouble. Better get out of here. You crazy. You better leave me alone, she threatened as the elevator groaned to a halt.
The doors slid open to a battered flop-house hallway with a wooden railing on one side. A ray of sudden clarity illuminated my agitated mind. I remembered hearing in the news recently about some college kids murdered in New York City trying to buy drugs, middle-class students who got into a bad situation, just like I was in right now. I began to re-assess. As this thought raced through my mind, she reached a door at the end of the hall, about thirty feet away from the elevator. The door of the room opened.
I saw the silhouette of a tall male figure outlined in the frame of the entry. There was another man near him. In my mind’s eye he had some sort of bulky coat on, maybe a hat. He fixed a pimp-stare on me.
Sugar, is he LAYIN’ a HAND on you? his voice boomed forth from the threshold. Time stalled suddenly to a death-crawl.
In that same moment I realized the only sane plan was to return to the street, away from this hall, away from this predatory woman and her protector. I glimpsed a door that looked like an exit. I calmly walked to it. As I turned my back to the man at the end of the hall, I felt very exposed, but I kept my eyes on the door ahead of me, as if by ignoring the menace behind me I could gain protection. I was not a believer at that time. Had I been, I would have prayed hard. Then again, had I been a believer I probably would never have gotten into the situation to begin with. I remember hoping no one would decide to shoot me. I reached the door and (yes!) it opened. Like an automaton I descended back down to the lobby of geriatric stupor, through the dingy doors and onto the chilly night street.
As the cold outside air hit me, so did a wave of delirious elation. The only things lost were a few ID cards and less than fifteen dollars. My train ticket had been purchased earlier and it was safe with my bag in a locker at Penn Station. The rest of the traveler’s checks were safe in my other pocket. I had not lost my life. No one had harmed me. I had walked out of a menacing situation on the second floor of an unknown hotel in mid-Manhattan at 10:30 pm and still had time to catch the train to the warmth and security of my aunt’s house. I felt like leaping for joy and singing in the street. I had regained a viable perspective. I turned away from the hotel and walked purposefully downtown to Penn Station filled with ridiculous Christmas joy.
Three months later, at my university in Colorado, I received a small package in the mail. It was from the U.S. Postal Service. I opened it and out tumbled my black wallet, lost near 8th Avenue in New York that night of the previous December. There was a note with it, stating that it had been left in a postal box very near my misadventure with the streetwalker. All of my I.D.s were there, in fact everything was in the wallet except the less than twenty dollars cash. When I related this tale to my friend Manuel later on, he laughed at me as only a Bronx Dominican can:
Damn, you fell for the oldest trick of all. Everyone in New York knows not to let a streetwalker touch you and get you all excited because they’re only after your wallet when they start feeling you up. She knew you’d be easy, man. Happens all the time.
PART II: Wallet on Broadway