The worst part about stumbling upon a guy breaking into your friend’s car, is the split-second decision concerning what you’re going to do about it. I mean, obviously you want the vehicle-buster-inner to immediately cease their vehicle busting, but beyond that, there’s a lot that races around your head. Or least that was my dilemma one quiet summer afternoon in the mid-1990s when I was living in Brooklyn New York.
Those familiar with the New York subways 25 years ago might recall the ‘G’ in the ‘G Train’ previously stood for Grimy, Grievous and Get Mugged. Nowadays the ‘G’ might stand for ‘Gentrified’ because the Brooklyn / Queens neighborhoods that local line travels through have enormously improved. But in those days, a guy on that train looking like me dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase was, in the best of situations, going to be quickly separated from all his possessions, in the worst, he might be separated from a few various limbs or vital organs.
The streets near the train stops featured boarded up stores and burnt-out windowless crumbling apartment buildings. The sidewalks were filled with dangerous looking folks reminiscent of gritty extras from Midnight Cowboy, New Jack City and Dawn Of The Dead. The few remaining open bodegas and off-brand take-out joints had inch-thick bullet proof glass protecting the cashiers. Unfortunately, the G was the most direct route to work. Since I was keen on continuing my breathing habit, I only rode busy times when I would not be standing alone on the train or platform, otherwise I took the half hour longer route through Manhattan on the infinitely safer J and F trains.
I was living in my friend Madeline Gutierrez’s rent-controlled railroad apartment in a Park Slope Brownstone. Her street was on the better side of the transition from slum to trendy. Within the 11 years she lived there, her unit went from a city price-controlled $425 a month to a quarter of million-dollar co-op. To keep it somewhat slightly legal, the original tenet had kept her name on the lease and needed to have furniture (a lamp) in the place to prove she still lived there if an inspector ever dropped by (they never did).
I was basically an illegitimate sub-let of an illegitimate sub-let. But it’s New York; squirrely-er situations then that are common. I once rented a place for three months from the guy, that was hired to do the renovations for another guy, who was facilitating the sale for a third guy that was the overseas real estate agent hired by the actual guy that owned the building. I can draw you a graph it would help.
In that place, the apartment was supposed to be vacant so I was instructed that if anyone ever knocked on the door, I should say I was the guard. I was also instructed to put all my possessions in a closet whenever I left the building, so it did not look like anyone was living there. It was an odd experience living in daily fear of being kicked out at a minute’s notice I never would have agreed to it but the price was like 10% of what it should have been for a completely renovated, three room, wood floor beauty with bay windows overlooking Prospect Park, only 3 blocks from the subway and even closer to my absolute favorite pizzeria, Smiling Pizza. Aaaaaaa, getouttahere forgetabout it!! Done deal!
So back to that day when I potentially foiled a felony or at least thwarted a thief. I had been hired to close and relocate a business out of one of those ghetto-ish areas by the G Train down Graham Avenue (The Avenue Of Puerto Rico) near the elevated J Train tracks. It was my last day there and one the guys I had helped relocate to a better job gave me an amazing bottle of rum from the distillery his father had worked at in Jamaica (the Island, not the part of Queens a mile or so down the dangerous tracks). One sip of the premium Appleton Estates and you got a little numb circle on your forehead. Really!
After we all had a couple of toasts to the past and future, my numb circled brain decided since it was early afternoon, I’d take the quicker G-Train home. Onto the subway I tensely juggled the brown bagged bottle, my briefcase and the closed company’s oversized heavy security system VCR that I rescued from the trash heap. I made it safely to my neighborhood and with arms overly full I was walking up 12th St. to my double subletted apartment when I noticed a guy unusually leaning face forward against the passenger side back window of my re-subleter-er Madeline’s car.
I crossed the street slowly walking around the long way behind him till I was at an angle that I could see the two-inch hole in the glass he was trying to stay in front of. Knowing I could not run in my dress clothes with my arms completely full, I played dumb and engaged him in friendly neighborhood conversation. He said he was staying with a friend in the building that was right next to where I lived. We casually chatted until I suddenly acted all startled to see the arm sized hole gouged into the glass. “hey, did you see what happened?” I asked. He of course said he had not even noticed it, though I could see the large screwdriver handle sticking out of his front hoodie pocket.
I told him this is my friend’s car as I put some of my stuff down on the hood and that I needed him as a witness while I called the cops. He got edgy and started making excuses, but I kept boxing him in between the car and me. I could see the window to Madeline’s 3rd floor apartment was open, so I started yelling for her. This freaked him out even more because I am kinda loud, kinda tall and I kinda stood right in his face repeatedly screaming at the top of my lungs, “GU!!!”, one of my many nicknames for Ms. Gutierrez.
Unfortunately, she had been taking a shower. But after 10 minutes of this crazed, well dressed, hands full freakshow deafeningly ‘GU’ing at the top of his lungs in the stunned kid’s face, Madeline finally came down to see what the racket was. As did half the street. And eventually the police.
The guy really was staying in the un-renovated building next door with some pretty rough people that often dealt drugs late at night on the street in front of the apartment. Although the officers were not happy, Madeline did not press charges. Her fear of retribution was far greater than the desire for prosecution. The nicer of the two cops, played it up and made it very clear to the guy it was only because of her being nice, that he was not being taken in. Insurance paid for the repair and the gang-code good-will worked, because no one else ever tried busting into her car again, at least not on that street.