The Amnesia Memoirs and Diaries
JANUARY 1994 - 1/2
It took about a week before I remembered that this letter was only a copy I had intended to send just to be on the safe side, and had not sent after all. I had ben reading lying on my bed facing the wall while my cat was sleeping under the desk lamp opposite me. And when I rose from the bed after shutting the book I faced the cat under the desk lamp and she had pushed the flap-up edge of the desk top and the letter was lying in front of her and she kept looking supremely indifferent while I looked in horror. I was getting stressed out and paranoid. I had considered storming into Bonarti's office and throw the letter on his desk, demanding an explanation. He really would have thought me crazy and for good reason this time.
On Monday January 3rd, I went to Prince Street to sell my berets. First a woman wanted a green one. She tried first a large forest green cashmere which looked very good on her since she had green eyes. Then she tried the grey-green alpaca in the same size and finally the extra large in the same fabric. I had made this one especially for someone with a very big head and thought it was a waste that this small woman should buy it, but hey, she could adjust it to her size with the drawstring and I was not going to refuse to sell it to her and she bought it for $45. Then there was a man who smiled during the whole exchange, who said he loved hats but started to haggle over the price, saying he had bills to pay etc. Finally I accepted to sell him the beret for $27 instead of $30 and he pulled a thick wad of bills. I pointed to him that he had just said that he didn't have much money but he replied that he had bills to pay. I said I had bills to pay too and he left smiling. Next was a tall blond man with a woman and two children. He was walking while speaking on a telephone and terminated his conversation when he reached my table. I sold him an extra-large black cashmere beret but still it was a bit tight. He said he would stretch it. Then came a tall man with curly black hair. He was very well dressed business style and tried on a black cashmere beret. It looked very good on him. He said he couldn't believe that it was so cheap with a suede headband. I thought about telling him it was ultrasuede and not pig or lamb suede, but I thought it would be a waste of energy. After all he had the label inside that said it was ultrasuede. He bought it, again saying that it was incredibly cheap. The woman with him didn't say a word.
Around 4:30 pm I had sold six hats and had about $240 in my pocket when an Asian guy came to my table and with his eyes downcast asked me if I had a vendor's license. I felt the metallic taste of fear and the squeeze in the solar plexus. I asked him to repeat the question and he did, still without looking at me. Then his buddies showed up, they were wearing jeans, parkas and sneakers and their badge was hanging from their neck under the parka, and they proceeded to pack my berets and my table cloth into my bag and fold my table. Meanwhile I was handcuffed with my hands in the back and looked at the process. One tall blond cop said that I was lucky, they were treating me very nicely, not putting the handcuffs too tight. They asked me to climb into their van and I found myself in the back seat, unable to find a comfortable position with my hands handcuffed behind my back. They drove on Prince street and arrested Mary Kay, the woman whom I had called a loser one year ago while speaking to Linda.
This ugly woman was selling her handmade jewelry on a handker- chief sized table and I find it strange that she ever sold anything because her stuff looked like shit. When the van stopped in front of her stand she scurried around but got caught. She talked with them and her handcuffs were much more spaced apart than mine. Once in the van she said that she had a shoulder injury and that it hurt too much to have her hands joined in her back. The cops tried to find a third victim but did not. We waited for a long while on some street in the neighborhood, while my own beret was falling on my eyes and I couldn't push it up. With my sales pitch about my berets being adjustable, I hadn't adjusted mine properly and it was too loose.
Finally we entered the fifth precinct on Elizabeth street in Chinatown. The bastard who would not look me in the eye took for ever to process our arrests. First he took our names and addresses while we were handcuffed by one hand to the chair on which we were sitting. Other cops brought in our bags, which had been put in black garbage bags and sealed. I realized that my apartment keys were in the outside pocket of my bag and they had to break the seal so I could get them. There were also dried figs in the pocket and I took these as well. The little embroidery scissors with rounded tip, I wasn't allowed to take. Two quiet black guys occupied the holding pen. Then they were let out and we were let in. There were black parallel streaks on the yellow wall. I understood that people who had been fingerprinted had tried to rid themselves of the ink. The whole thing took four hours. It looked like the cop had never done this before. He asked my hair color and five minutes later asked my eye color. Then he took two polaroid pictures but realized that the camera was empty and he disappeared another ten minutes. During all this waiting time, I avoided speaking with Mary Kay but as the time stretched into hours we began talking.
I said to nobody in particular that the impossibility of getting a vendor's license in New York made me consider moving to another city. Then I asked her how she was making a living if she couldn't sell her stuff. She said she was waiting for Worker's Compensation benefits but in the meantime didn't know how to earn money. I asked her if she had had an accident and she said that yes, when she was working as a medical secretary, her boss asked her to move some plants that were hanging from a skylight and while she moved a ladder she fell on her ass and injured her tail bone. I suspected that she was lying and saying this only to elicit information from me but nevertheless I asked the name of her attorney. Rita Harris she said. Then she asked why and I said I had a Worker's Compen- sation case also but something went wrong and I needed a new attorney.
I asked her if she had seen the guy who was selling earrings recently. She pretended not to know who I was talking about and finally aknowledged who he was. She said she hadn't and asked why I was asking about him. "Because he owes me five bucks" I said. I was miffed at the way he had ripped me off of these five bucks, by asking if I had change and then not returning the money. "I know, it's only five bucks but still..." and then I added sarcastically "It's only a million". Then I asked if she had seen Linda and she asked why I was asking about her. I said Linda had passed my stand twice pretending she didn't see me.
Although I had been arrested before Mary Kay, she was released a few minutes before me and she said bye when she left. I had the vague feeling that all this had been a set-up, that Mary Kay had gotten herself arrested only to report on what I answered to the cop's questions and I found it particularly unfair that whe was released before me.
When I left the precinct with my table, I was disoriented and hailed a cab to take me to the subway station I was familiar with. The driver stopped abruptly at the first subway station, Canal Street at Lafayette, but I knew that it was not direct to 103rd and that this particular station was dilapidated and I insisted that he take me to Broadway and Lafayette. He took me for a ride, went too far then took a side street. He pretended not to know where that station was and had to return a few blocks, but said that it was my fault, that I had not made myself clear, that he was looking for the intersection of Broadway and Lafayette street, I should have told him the exact street corner where the subway station was. I asked how long he had been driving a cab. He was an old man. He said he never took the subway and didn't know where the stop was and with the guilt he piled on me, I gave him a 40 cents tip when I shouldn't have given him anything.
I had made a deposit on a bolt of cotton flannel for lining and was afraid that if I didn't buy it very soon, someone would take it and I intended to continue making and selling my hats in spite of the arrest so the next morning, with $200 from the $240 I had earned the previous day, I went to 42nd street to buy the bolt and a bag to replace the one that was kept by the police.
When I emerged from underground, I looked around me to find the luggage shop where I had bought my first bag but didn't see it. A man called me from behind and asked if he could help me. I said I was looking for a luggage shop. He showed me one across from 42nd street that was not yet open and said it would open shortly. I went to buy my bolt of flannel and when I returned the store was open. I looked at the cylindrical bags in various sizes and when I spotted the one I wanted I asked a clerk to take it down. Instead of doing it, he asked me to wait and looked at the guy who looked like the boss. I saw another clerk hand the man a key with a big tag on it, and the clerk told me the boss went to the bathroom and asked me to wait. I asked if he couldn't take the bag down instead of waiting for the boss to return but he insisted that I wait. I felt it strange and disrespectful that at the moment of making a sale the boss would disappear to the bathroom and ask his customer to wait. I waited a brief moment and all of a sudden I was certain that this was a staged episode, from the black man who had approached me from behind and volunteered to help, showing me the store, to the store owner ostentatiously grabbing the bathroom key and disappearing (another reference to bathroom) I recognized the signature of my brother though I couldn't figure how he could have foreseen that I would go to 42nd street to buy a piece of luggage.
After saying that I had no time to wait, I left the store and bought a bag at a store next door. Then I went down into the subway and sat down on a bench on the platform while waiting for the train.
Next to me was a man with a new bright green beret on, reading a book wide open on his lap and it was easy for me to read the title: Parliament of Whores. I asked him if it was a good book and we started talking, and I voiced some disappointment at the government and the political system. We took the train together. He made a reference to the people sitting in front of us although the bench was empty. This should have tipped me off but I was so eager to meet someone, and particularly a man, with whom I could exchange views, that I overlooked this small bit of nonsense.
The man told me that he was out of work and was considering studying to become a social worker. I figured he was around 45 years old. He was wearing a grey coat in a cut that reminded the loden coat cut, which gave him a german or swiss silhouette, and rather expensive waterproof leather shoes. The train was an express and I should have caught the local at 59th street but I wanted to continue the conversation so I went all the way to 125th street and before we got there, I said I would like to continue our conversa- tion and wrote my phone number on a slip of paper. He said he was going to ask me. I told him my phone was tapped and I asked him to meet me outside the subway at 103rd street and call from there, but just say "Sorry, wrong number" on the answering machine. I had a strange feeling I couldn't explain while waiting for his call around 1:30. I hadn't planned to spend the afternoon out. As a matter of fact there was a hearing at the Small Claims Court the day after regarding my complaint against Steven Cohen, the locksmith of United Lock and Security, and I wanted to prepare for the eventuality of a trial that day.
The man called at 1:35 and I met him. He looked much younger than 45 after all. I felt compelled to explain why I had asked him to call me in this manner although he showed no curiosity, and I talked briefly about the problems with my family. I added "As the saying goes, it's not because you're paranoid that nobody's after you." We had entered Central Park and when we reached the bridge where the loch begins, I decided to go along the "loch" which is a rather secluded area. I noticed he looked afraid for a brief moment when he saw how isolated the place is, and later I told myslef that it had be very imprudent of me to take a stranger over there when nobody's around. But in this case he was afraid and not me. I mentioned that the whole area had been fixed the previous year, and that this particular spot was a bird watcher's paradise. At the word "paradise" the man seemed to suppress a start. I talked some about my beret venture and he said it was very nice to be doing that. I told him I had been arrested the day before and that my merchandise had been confiscated and he said he was sorry to hear that. I was angry at the police, who said they were only obeying orders and didn't take any responsibility for what they did, like the Nazi before them.
When we reached the end of the loch, he said he had some pot. He explained that his trip to Harlem had been to buy some pot. I wondered if he knew that myself I had bought a dime worth of pot around 9am at the same time I bought the newspapers and if he was letting me know that he knew. He looked eager to smoke and asked if I would like some, and I said I would have a toke. He lit a pipe and I had a toke, more to please him than because I felt like smoking pot at that time. But I knew that one toke was not going to make me lose control of myself. Before resuming our walk, he opened his coat and I saw that his coat was making him look a bit down and out, but his clothing was Gap style. Blue jeans and a faded purple long sleeves cotton tee shirt. I was wondering if he was not trying to seduce me just by making me dream for a fleeting moment of a man's body I could snuggle against, and his was so close I could almost feel the heat of it. I was eager to go to a more populated area.
We walked across field to the main road and started walking south. He stopped and pulled the book he had been reading in the subway out of his inside pocket and handed it to me, saying that he was almost done reading it for the second time and he was offering to lend it to me since I was interested in it. I accepted and as I took it I noticed a sheet of paper sticking out and moved to take it out but he said promptly that it was just a blank sheet to mark the page. I felt vaguely that he wanted the bookmark to stay there and he gave me a strange look. I said that after I had read it we could talk about it and maybe compare it with Hunter S. Thompson's "Generation of Swine".
Some joggers were sprinkled along the road, giving the phrase "rain or shine" a New York twist. It was the day after a heavy snow fall and there was a small accumulation of slush along the road that had been pushed by the plow about 6 feet from the curb. The man walked at a distance from the slush that forced me to walk in it if I wanted to be by his side at a normal distance. When I became aware of this, I moved to the left forcing him to move to the left also and my arm came into contact with his when I pushed him. He offered some resistance and some time later I was again walking in the slush and again I pushed him to the left without saying a word. Several times on the way, he exclaimed that it was not such a bad day after all with an enthusiasm that sounded insincere, and I agreed that it could be a lot worse.
He stopped two or three times between 103rd street and 89th, to light his pipe and I declined to have any more. I was trying to evaluate how the guy was making me feel. Did I feel comfortable or was there something that was putting me on guard? This time I didn't take my excruciating needs for reality as I had done so many times previously, and I had to admit the guy was truly alarming. So I had to find a way to part as soon as possible. During our walk, he had told me that he was being evicted from his apartment and that he was relocating to Roosevelt Island. He repeated this several times during the whole interview, and finally I said that he could not be evicted without a Court judgment and asked if his landlord had taken him to court. He didn't answer.
About his work, he said that he had been a stripper in the printing industry. I wondered if he was making a veiled reference to my brief stripper stunt. He explained that his profession had disappeared due to the computer invasion and that he was going to study to be a social worker. He said he liked to help people. He blamed the government for the sorry state of affairs and voiced deep concern for the small people who are helpless. He wanted to help people but he was in a sorry situation himself. Several times he said that he wished he could help me. Several times also, he said that he had just collected his welfare check and that at least he had that, plus Medicaid health coverage and food stamps. As we walked towards the exit at 89th street, he said again that he wished he could help me. Then he asked, as if by afterthought, if I had my green card. I said my visa had expired. He said he should have asked me this question first, because he had been talking of social services that were not available to people like me and he gave a brief self-deprecating laugh.
He said that this time he didn't know how he could help me, but he knew a few people, city or government employees, who he was sure could help me. He had their address at home and he could give them to me when we met next. I asked if he had fought any wars, just to see if he was eligible for a vendor's permit as a veteran. He said that he was a Quaker by religion and that Quakers didn't go to war. He said he thought like a Quaker, lived like a Quaker and dressed like a Quaker. I looked again at his coat. It had an old fashioned look to it that made me think maybe this was a traditional Quaker cut. "So, I said, you live by higher ethical standards than other people?" He didn't respond. All the harassment I had been victim of was still hurting me. I was interested in a man who was honest but he didn't answer my question. "There are things you wouldn't do? You draw the line somewhere?" I insisted. No answer.
Instead of taking 89th street towards Broadway, I should have said "Listen, pal, I don't think you're the kind of guy I'm looking for, sorry, nothing personal, besides I have work waiting for me at home and I've gotta go." And then I would have taken a cab or a bus on CPW back home but instead, I was thinking about going somewhere for coffee before leaving him. In fact it was his idea and now I had made it mine.
[cont'd: Jan. 94 - 2/2] [ToC] [Home]