Ozzily Yours

Friday, June 15, 2007


A stranger tried to help me last night.

His name was Harvey, and he was from Delaware. I wish I could remember their last name, and his wife's name, but it's all too blurry. I wish I could have done more to thank them, and everyone else who helped me, or at least tried.

We were downtown - tourist central - for a group dinner, but we had about an hour to kill. The husband wanted to check out one of his favorite record stores, and I, knowing my proclivity to mark such shopping trips by repeating, "Are we done yet? Are we done yet? Are we done yet?" decided to wait for him in the park across the street. Not really a park in the strictest sense of the word, but a nice little green space maintained by the office building there. It's a routine we've perfected by now.

Sitting in the grass, calling a dear business school friend for some business school gossip, settling in, hmmm, put the phone in the purse or in the pocket? - pocket it is, get the book out, get myself settled, should I sit cross-legged or lie on my stomach? and is the bookmark in the right place or did it fall out and -

9 times out of 10, when I'm sitting in a park, even in a great neighborhood in broad daylight, I keep my purse strap looped around my arm or my leg, just as a precaution. I hadn't quite gotten there yet, as I was continuing to settle, and he knew it. He is clearly very good at what he does.

Without any warning, suddenly, there he was, sprinting past me, grabbed the purse strap smoothly, quickly, efficiently. Definitely a professional, quite frankly. I didn't even stop to think. I didn't decide to pursue him, I just did, shouting at the top of my lungs as I did so, a block east, screaming, running, I think even gaining on him a little bit.

Until we got to the stairs. He has clearly navigated this route, these stairs, many times, and he was down them and into lower Wabash, underneath the bridge, with precision. I don't know the stairs so well. The stairs tripped me up, and down I went. I scrambled up again, chin sore, everything else fine, still shouting, ready to start running again, but - glasses. Damn. I suddenly realized everything was blurry, and saw them, three stairs down, having flown off my face when I tumbled.

As I put them back on and regained my vision, I knew I was out of luck. I jogged across the street, hoping some good Samaritan had stopped him on lower Wabash, but no such luck. I saw people seeing me, I saw delivery trucks that I knew had witnessed the whole thing... but I did not see the guy in the white t-shirt holding the Kate Spade knock-off. I did not see anyone restraining him.

I wearily climbed up the stairs. I jogged back towards where I had been sitting - I had left behind my shoes, my book, the husband's bag with our recently purchased comics. I was discouraged, definitely in a bit of pain, angry.

And then the bus boys from the Thai restaurant across the street appeared - "Was it you, lady? He stole your purse? He went this way." One of them took off jogging, came back, apologizing, he couldn't see where the guy had went. The other put a hand on my shoulder to guide me back towards where I had been sitting. "We have to get back inside, but we'll look for him. Did you call the police? You should call the police."

Cell phone out of the pocket. "911, what is your emergency?" I found myself surprisingly calm - by my own standards for myself, I mean - as I started explaining the situation, stumbling back towards my original reading spot. Suddenly a 50ish woman appeared. "I already called and reported this, tell them there's something in the system about it already. My husband went after the guy - I don't know where he is, but he's a runner, I know he can catch him." The good Samaritans I had not seen earlier were there, and were amazing.

Harvey did not catch the guy. He was extremely frustrated by this fact ("these shoes! if only I weren't wearing these shoes!") but was sure that he had seen the building the guy ducked into. The corner-windshield-squeegee guy flagged down a passing cop car, who responded quickly, and went with Harvey to the building in question. While they searched, Harvey returned, as his wife told me, "He once had a situation where he didn't help a girl... and he said 'Never again.'" "We were in an alley," Harvey told me, "she was a young girl, in her 20s. I mean, I said, 'Are you all right?' and she said yes. I didn't realize that the guy had a knife to her. I didn't know. But I said never again. These shoes were too slippery - I'm a runner, but these shoes...."

It's ok, I told him, you've been amazing. And he had been. He is, they both are. They promised not to return to Delaware and tell all their friends that Chicago is full of purse-snatchers - they understand that it's just part of city living, but they still wish it hadn't happened to me. Harvey's wife handed me a small travel pack of Kleenex, only one or two left, for my chin, which I finally realized was bleeding rather profusely. Another woman offered to run to Walgreen's to get me bandages - no, I said, the husband would be back shortly, we'd just head home (the husband was having none of "just heading home," however, as he is smart like that). Two other men told me they had circled to the other side of the alley, in case the guy came out there, but he hadn't - strengthening the theory about him being in the building. After I bled through Harvey's wife's Kleenex, the windshield-squeegee guy brought me half a dozen more. For him, that's part of his livelihood. I wanted to offer to pay him for them, but I worried that might be patronizing.

I never imagined the husband would be capable of striking out at someone else. Seeing his frustration, his anger, his sorrow, I'm not sure I feel that way anymore. I think if, somehow, he had been able to find the guy, he would have raised holy hell. Even as a hardened feminist, it's nice to know that my man wants to stand up for me.

The crowd drifted away... squeegee guy had squeegeeing to do, Harvey and his wife had dinner reservations at Shaw's. Everyone had somewhere to be. It turned back into just another Thursday night for them. I hope, though, that somewhere they feel really good about what they did. I wish I had a way to tell them how much they helped, as did the ER triage nurse who made me laugh, the medical technicians who were amazed that I had actually tried to chase down a purse snatcher, the cop who reminded me that, even though I had my credit card numbers at home, I could call and get the cards cancelled without them, the landlord who, when we called to ask about getting the locks changed (having lost both house keys, and ID with my home address) responded with concern about me, and refusing the husband's offer to pay for the lock change.

And, of course, the husband. The husband who called and cancelled my REI Visa so that I could talk to the ER. The husband who made me laugh by reading to me from John Hodgman's 700 Hobo Names while waiting for the doctor. The husband who let me nearly break his fingers while I squeezed his hand as they cleaned out the gash on my chin. The husband who went to the bar down the street to buy me mac and cheese with mushrooms when we finally got home at 10:00 pm. The husband who, while expressing concern about its blood-thinning tendencies, agreed that I had probably earned a beer. The husband who provided many, many, many hugs. He's pretty much the best thing I could have asked for last night.

And in the end, there it is: perspective. OK, I'm out $50 (plus whatever the medical attention costs me), a cheap purse, and an iPod. But I was reminded that I married the most wonderful man in the world, that a lot of people are, inherently, good and helpful when it comes down to it, and that in the end? It's just stuff. Turns out it's true. And just stuff really doesn't matter all that much, in the end.


  • i loved every word of this post, and i'm so happy to hear you found yourself surrounded by caring strangers. what a testament to human nature.

    By Blogger d, at 6/18/2007 1:01 PM  

  • I am glad that you are okay after all that! The next time we see each other you will need to relate it in person and show me your battle scarred chin.

    By Anonymous Moth, at 6/19/2007 8:09 PM  

  • i am so relieved to know you are doing okay. thanks to the husband for taking such good care of you as well.

    By Blogger Mrs. J, at 6/20/2007 11:03 PM  

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