Friday, July 8, 2011

"Bed Bugs"

I was living in a hotel at the end of West 71st Street. Nice neighborhood, great view, but it was a dump, and it became infested with bedbugs. They were living in my wooden platform bed, and I didn’t want to use a toxic substance on them. So I thought about it for a week or so and let them bite me and suck my blood.

Finally one Sunday night I parked the cab at 1 am and went into an all night grocery and bought a couple of cans of the most virulent insect killer available. I was having a bad night anyway, so I went home, opened the windows, pulled the bed apart, and sprayed all its’ pieces. By the time I finished it was 3 am.

I figured I’d go out and pick up a few stragglers and then turn in. The cab wasn’t due in until 5. 

I had one ride and then was hailed at 94th and Second, by two men in their twenties: one Hispanic and one Black, clean cut with a mustache. 

At this time in New York East 96th Street was the demarcation line between the rich Upper East Side and Spanish Harlem, so these two somewhat questionable passengers were in the Safe Zone, but just. They gave me a destination in the East 50’s, a good neighborhood.
When we pulled up in front of a brownstone the guy with the mustache, who was sitting behind me, got out and walked up the steps and appeared to ring a bell. After a few minutes he came back, approached the driver’s window and said, “we’re getting out here, how much do I owe you?” 

As I turned toward him the one still in the back seat reached through the open window of the partition and pointed a large, brass-colored 44 magnum at me. They told me to get into the back seat and get down on my knees. The guy with the mustache got into the drivers seat. Off we went.

They took my wallet and watch. I’d only made about $100 that night, not enough for them. They wanted to know the pin number of my ATM card. I told them I didn’t have any money in my account, but they didn’t believe me. “You cabdrivers always have money, “ growled the mustache. Then it turned out I was so scared I couldn’t remember my pin number. The mustache went into an ATM, but the number was inaccurate. The mustache grew angrier.
Despite protestations that my account had no money, he took me at gunpoint into an ATM at 79th and Third. It must have been 4 am by that time and the streets were deserted. Finally I remembered my pin number, and the awful truth was known:  money market funds, none; savings account, none; checking account, $12.31. On the way out I made a run for it.

I bolted across Third Avenue screaming for help. No shots followed.  I kept running up 79th Street. Halfway up the block I found a pay phone, and then a patrol car. We went looking for the perpetrators and almost immediately found the cab parked a block away. One cop got out and looked at it.  When he returned with the keys I asked him if my jacket was inside. It was February.  He said it was, but that nothing could be touched since it was evidence. “Aw c’mon, man, I’m freezing,” I said. So the cop went back and got my jacket.

We went up to the end of the block and turned into Lexington.  Two blocks down there was the mustache standing nervously in the doorway of a coffee shop while his accomplice ordered food to go. They both ran, but more cops materialized and caught them. As they held them there I had to make a positive i.d. “Make sure this is the right guy, “ a cop said. I looked at the mustache and hesitated. He seemed younger than I had remembered. Had he removed some facial hair? “Mistah,” he said “don’t do this to me.”

Almost any adult in New York could be importuned on the street by urchins saying things like, “mistah, mistah, give me a dollar,” or “mistah, mistah, I’ll get you a woman.” Now here was my former captor asking in the same way for mercy. I looked at his tennis shoes. They were the big red-and-white N.B.A. numbers I had noticed when he came down the steps of the brownstone.  “That’s the guy,” I said.

Back at the precinct house it was discovered the gun they used was a fake.  Why had I run for it?  I certainly had no inkling it wasn’t a real gun (an accurate replica, the cops said). I guess I’d like to think all my years of driving a cab in New York and San Francisco had given me some understanding of what goes on in public confrontations. Maybe my conditioned instinct helped me know when to make my move. 

But maybe I was just lucky

The morning wore on as I waited for them to process the suspects.  They were led across the room, shackled and without shoelaces, en route to a jail somewhere else in the city. They shuffled, with dumb looks on their faces. They looked like goofs. “Crackheads,” a cop said.

Finally the cops took me home. It was 9 am, but my night wasn’t over. I had to put the bed back together and wash my sheets and bedding. It had been a taxing evening. At least I got rid of the bedbugs.

"Chief Alittlehoarse" currently works in San Francisco's taxi industry.  

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