ADVICE FOR MY MUGGERS
So a little context here: One night in 2010 I was visiting my friend Nick at his apartment about a block away from Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn. We went to go get some smokes or a pack of Haribos at the nearest bodega and about five steps away from the door I heard the quick pitpitpat of feet running up behind me and then my lights went out.
Have you ever been punched in the head? This is something I like to ask people as a general sorta icebreaker, a quick go-to for lulls in the conversation. I’m always surprised by how many haven’t. It’s like the quickest acid trip you can take. The whole physical veil of reality rearranges itself around your head just long enough for you to go, “What’s happe — “ then it snaps back into place. Or hopefully it does. It did in my case, at least this time.
When I came to I was on the sidewalk, my glasses were elsewhere, a hand was slipping my wallet out of my back pocket, and three young men were kicking me in the legs and side. “Aha!” I deduced, “It’s a robbery!”
In my first second of resumed consciousness, I clocked the kids robbing me at around 12–14 years old which, if you’ve ever dealt with kids or been a male one yourself, you know is the scariest age. They’re bristling with way more testosterone than their body is built for, they’ve just stopped being afraid of their teachers and adults, no one has walked them through all the social rules, there’s just no decorum whatsoever. If I’d had a choice between a 16-year-old carrying a gun and any number of completely unarmed 13-year-olds, including just one, I’d probably go with the gun-teen.
In my second second of resumed consciousness, I made the startling realization that I was urinating. Not a lot — thank god I’d thought to use the bathroom right before leaving Nick’s house — but enough to unmistakably darken my right jean leg down to the inseam of the knee. This occupied the full attention of my thoughts for the remainder of the mugging. Was I really one of those people who piss themselves when they get hit or frightened? Lord, the ignominy. What a thing to find out about yourself.
I was so embarrassed that I promptly told everybody I encountered from that point on that, yes, in fact, I had pissed myself: concerned neighbors, random passersby, the cops who happened to be parked down the block and drove up to make a cursory attempt at looking for the kids, the guy at the bodega. It felt compulsory. Like I had to admit it before they saw the stain and decided I WASN’T telling them I’d pissed myself. Like I was trying to hide it. That would’ve been worse.
I’d probably still be trying to live this down if, the next morning, I hadn’t discovered a dark blue contusion right above my left hip in the shower. I called my doctor, explained the scenario to his pronounced disinterest (fucking doctors), then asked if I had been kicked in the kidney hard enough to leave a bruise while unconscious, could that have resulted in unplanned micturation? “Guaranteed,” he told me, “that’d be like pressing a button to make your body pee.” Phew.
Anyways, aside from the piss-scare, it really wasn’t so bad as far as muggings go. I mean it wasn’t for me — Nick kinda took the brunt of it; while I was on the ground he handed over his backpack with his current sketchbook and a bunch of art supplies and I think a camera? to avoid getting hit. I lost maybe $20 and a wallet I liked, and I had to call and cancel my credit cards (or probably just card), but the kids missed my phone and the kicks hadn’t really hurt too bad and I found my glasses, intact, a few yards away where they’d apparently been flung by the punch.
Oooh, and the punch had also given me a nice shiner. Not too big, not all red and gross and puffy, just the classic little dark ring around the eye. Like a Little Rascals shiner. Have you ever had a black eye as an adult? I’m sorry, but it feels fucking great. You catch yourself in the mirror in the morning or in the reflection of a window and are just like “Oh hey there, rough neck.” Everybody asks about it. God, I loved it. I loved it so much, I figured “Shit, when am I ever gonna have a perfect black eye again,” so I asked my photographer friend Ben Ritter if he’d help me commemorate it in a portrait.
For some reason — and I mean that in earnest, I really don’t remember what compelled me on this particular flight of fancy — I asked Ben if he could shoot me in the style of Glenn Beck’s high school yearbook photo. Maybe it was because my hair was long and looked sorta feathered? Don’t know. But Ben jumped at the suggestion and got super into it. Apparently it’s fun for photographers to try and work out how to duplicate a photo with the same lighting and eyeline et al. Or that’s what he told me. Anyways, see for yourself, I’d say he killed it.
At the time I was running the Vice website, which meant I basically wrote about anything that happened in my life to fill the daily quota for posts, generally under one of about five fake names. Getting jumped was good grist for the mill, but we weren’t yet at the point of running items titled things like “I Got Mugged” or “We Asked A Guy Who Got Mugged About Getting Mugged.” That shit didn’t fly under my watch.
In a weird fit of… something. I guess pique? Pique or, like, sarcastic indignation, I crapped out a quick thousand-odd words in the manner of an extremely involved teacher offering encouragement and gentle criticism to a promising student, but from me to the kids who robbed me. Not the greatest conceit, I grant you, but whatever, it’s what came out of me that night while my adrenaline settled down and my jeans soaked in the sink.
I generally try to eschew sarcasm as a rule, or what Gawker would’ve called “ironic detachment,” but in this case it suited my feelings. Obviously, I wasn’t psyched that I’d gotten rolled by a group of middle schoolers, but it’s not like I was mad at them or I hated them, or even wanted them to get in trouble for it. It was a bunch of kids. Kids are just little fuckers.
The fact that they, or at least most of them according to the lookeeloos who told me and Nick they knew who their parents were, lived in low-income housing might have factored into my sentiments. I’ve been thinking about this upon rereading it, the strange potentially political dimension to me coyly lecturing some poor kids after they physically attacked me and took some of my things. It’s tough to parse. There’s probably something to it too that I went with myself parodying Glenn Beck as a visual, but god knows. I kinda shot from the hip back then.
Anyways, that should’ve been it, right? Weird one-off event in my life, weird one-off little post on the website. But what happened is, there’s (or was) this message board I used to lurk called NYPDRant used by former and current New York City police officers. It’s… God, I was about to say it’s basically what you’d expect from a group of cops talking to each other anonymously, or rather pseudonymously, but in truth it’s a great deal worse. Let’s just call it 4chan for law enforcement. You get the picture.
So maybe a week after this dumb little post goes up, someone on the Rant board links to it on a thread and is all “Look at this fucking marshmallow [“marshmallow” was 2010-vintage NYPD slang for a young white person, used interchangeably with — when not in addition to — “pussy” or “faggot”] actually giving advice to the kids who robbed him.” Took it 100% seriously. Glenn Beck portrait with panda band-aid and all.
I started checking back in on it, super excited to see this guy’s cop buddies rip on him for missing the obvious — I’d argue way too obvious — joke. Nope. Not a one. They all not only took it at face value like their dipshit colleague, they made their way over to the comments of the original post and started leaving such gems as, “I hope next time you get robbed they kill you.” Good one, um, police officer.
It goes without saying that if there are “bad apples” on the NYPD, it definitely includes these guys. Fuck bad apples, they’re just straight-up bad people. Whether that’s from years of dealing with the kind of soul-grating bullshit and close contact with human misery that daily police work entails, compounded by the noxious macho-cum-bureaucratic-hell culture that keeps officers from seeking routine psychological help or speaking up when their fellow cops need some, OR if they were just assholes from the start who get paid to drive around with a gun, well, it’s honestly pretty immaterial.
Any organization legitimately interested in establishing some sort of working trust with the community they are paid a ridiculous fraction of the city’s annual budget to keep secure would go out of their way — would make a public point of going out of their way — to regularly weed out shitheads like this from their ranks. And the fact that they don’t — ever — that they opt instead to let petulant hotheads from their beyond-corrupt “benevolent societies” smear their foaming mouths all over the microphone — is just one more glaring red flag amid a United Nations driveway of identically hued flags with that department.
But anyhoo, just a little side story to go with this old piece. Christ, this preface is probably longer than the actual face at this point. Sorry, got on a tear. Hope you enjoy.
Oh, and just so we’re clear, the “paper plate of wings” I reference my assailants enjoying was not some projected fantasy of mine — the last charge on my credit card, before I had them turn it off, was $4.99 for a medium plate of hot wings at the late-night chicken spot on the other side of the housing project from where I got jumped. I always thought it was cute that they went for the medium.
ADVICE FOR MY MUGGERS
Originally published on viceland.com August, 2010
Dear The Pack of Teens Who Jumped Me,
Nice one, guys. You really cleaned my clock something good. And my wallet. Thorough job all around in the cleaning department. I don’t want to diminish the sense of accomplishment/paper plate of wings you are probably enjoying right now but I’ve put together some notes on a few areas that I felt could use improvement.
It sort of goes without saying that I have never robbed, but as an occasional passive participant in the practice and prototypical mugger’s wet dream, I probably have a good deal more mugging experience under my belt than your consecutive 12–13 years. In any case, take this advice at your discretion.
Obviously you’re going to have your own style, and the benefits of running up and punching a guy in the back of the head before he or the guy walking with him are aware of what’s going on are pretty self-apparent. This is basically the same MO the Army employed going into Iraq. It’s surprising, to-the-point, and it instantly lets all parties involved know exactly what is going on (a crime) without any room for misinterpretation. Another thing it is is funny, at least to you guys, and anyone who happens to see the CCTV footage of it.
Here’s the thing though — maybe the punching isn’t necessary. I realize that probably sounds like the being-punched talking, but consider the basic facts of this transaction: There are six of you and about 130 pounds of me. I realize you don’t get too many of us down in Bed-Stuy, but I am what is referred to as a “nerd.” Time was you would have had to learn a bunch of different fashion cues and band names to tell apart the muggable white kids (ravers, goths, grindcore fans) from the ones you didn’t want to mess with (ginos, jocks, metalheads, some punks), but with the increasing monoculture creeping down from North Brooklyn it’s safe to say that anybody who doesn’t look like they spend three hours a day at the gym picturing their father’s face is basically a nerd. And we are going to go down extremely easy. I know that doesn’t seem like the greatest incentive not to coldcock a person, but bearing this mutual knowledge in mind imagine how eager we’re going to be for viable alternatives.
And even if I was to lose all sense of my abilities and try to fight you, just look at my wrists. The ones with the 6-inch circumference. Now try picturing a sparrow kicking out the windshield of a Crown Vic. That’s how likely I am to do anything approaching lasting damage in the course of retaliation.
Again, far be it from me to tell you guys what works in the field, but just consider the potential pros of the ask-first method: Saved strength and unbruised fists for future muggings, no battery/manslaughter charges, and minimal risk of fluid exchange/bloodstains on sneakers. Pretty good spread, right? And even if they/me say no or pretend not to hear you, you can just go back to the punch plan. You may have lost the element of surprise, but odds are you’ve picked up the element of momentary terror. Win-win.
Take it slower
OK, you’ve got me on the ground and just regaining consciousness. That growing dark patch on my pants is the urine let loose by whoever’s kick connected with my kidney. That high-pitched baby sound is me trying to remember what words are. So, what’s the rush? Tell that one dude to stop yelling “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go” and really think this through. You’ve already got my wallet in hand. Check that one off. Now what else are you missing? Eh? Think, something everyone’s got… Maybe a phone? Maybe in the other pocket? OHHHHHHHH, right. See? See how easy it is to miss basic stuff when you don’t take a minute to breathe and assess the situation. If I were you, I’d let Let’s Go know he’s on probation until he can chill his ass down.
Trim the fat
Actually, you know what? What’s Let’s Go even doing in this crew? I know it feels good to “roll deep” with all your pals, but there comes a point when adding members to your mugging posse goes from shoring up confidence to a make-work project. Really, if you can’t manage a two-mugger-per-victim ratio (one on menace/beatdown, one on collection), you’re either mugging the wrong guys or shouldn’t be mugging in the first place.
SIX dudes on two white nerds? Aside from simple overkill, you’re eating into your earnings. What’s $20 divided by six, like three bucks and change? Congratulations, you just paid yourselves sub-minimum wage for potentially murdering me. That is the most literal example of chump change I can think of.
Drop the deadweight
On the subject, what the hell are you planning to do with my dental insurance card and gas receipts. Expense them? Oh, you don’t know. Then why’d you take them? There’s a reason experienced muggers do things like take the cash out of a wallet and hand it back to the muggee or throw it across the street, and it’s not to help with their Yelp rating. It’s to save themselves the trouble of dealing with a bunch of incriminating bullshit they have no use for.
The nerd I was walking with’s backpack was the biggest and most suspicious thing you guys took and did you even check its contents? I’m guessing not, because I don’t really peg you as the type of kids who cream their basketball shorts over fancy Japanese colored pencils and sketchbooks.
Great initiative getting a round of kicks going while the one kid was retrieving my wallet; terrible execution. When I came to, there were at least three of you working my lower half–I know this because right after realizing I was peeing, I felt three of you connect at the same time. But you know what I don’t see this morning? Three sets of bruises anywhere on my legs or crotch. In fact, the only mark I’ve got at all is a little dime-sized raspberry right above my left kidney from the piss-kick, which I’m now starting to think had a lot more to do with luck than street-savvy, especially in light of no one going for my well-exposed balls.
This kind of lackluster performance may pass for a “stomping” in Kansas City, Missouri, but remember, you are mugging people in New York. I know you’re just getting started, but you guys are going to have to hold yourselves to a much higher standard. You’re up against some of the best of all time.
Now I don’t want you thinking I’m just here to harsh on you, so here are three aspects of the other night’s robbery I think you guys really excelled at:
-Punching my glasses off: Effective, disorienting, and by all accounts looked amazing. Also saved me from having to blow a bunch of money on new lenses, which I somehow doubt was part of your intent, but cheers all the same.
-That kid on the bicycle who did a wheelie right before you punched me to either distract me momentarily or signal the attack: Cinematic. Was that dude part of you guys’ plan all along or just a coincidence? You know what, don’t answer that. I don’t want to know. If he was, excellent work; if not, I’d discreetly incorporate him and his bike into your repertoire a-s-a-p. He’s worth at least three Let’s Gos.
-Shitting where you eat: Classic example of “Rules are made to be broken.” When you guys took off in front of the cop car back into the projects, I was sure you’d just blown it. Ditto when two of the bystanders told us they knew exactly who you were and which buildings you lived in. But you know what they didn’t do when the cop car pulled up seconds later? Snitch. I wouldn’t make a regular habit of mugging people right across the street from your parent’s apartment, but you guys played the odds in this case and came away all the richer for it.
Overall I’d say you guys did a pretty satisfactory job of robbing me and taking me and my friend’s belongings. What you lacked in thoroughness and stomping you made up for in speed and menace. I’m looking forward to seeing some great work from you in the coming years.