And Then There Were Hoodies

On a cold murky night late last winter, at about 4:00 AM, after I had finished my writing, my dogs and I felt like fresh air and a brief, brisk walk – a stupid idea in New York City with the nut cases out at that hour, but, after all, I had my dogs, Mini and Mighty, to protect me. So off we set down 79th Street. As a major thoroughfare on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, things happen on 79th Street, and this night was no different. Still, though small, my dogs are vocal, and so I normally feel safe.

But on this particular night, it was very dark, and unusually bereft of people, of anything, really. I felt as if we were the last living beings on earth. I mean there was no sign of life anywhere. No cars, no buses, no garbage trucks, no cabs, no pedestrians or dog-walkers walking dogs, no pedestrians at all. Deserted. New York City looked deserted, so deserted that it had the specter of an old black and white Alfred Hitchcock movie. While I can’t deny that the vibe made me nervous, the cold air felt good and Mini and Mighty felt good.

Well, we were moving east at a fast clip between Madison Avenue and Park Avenue, on the northwest side of the street, when we noticed three bikers speeding up Park Avenue. Fast! Hunched over their racing bikes, I saw that all three wore hooded sweatshirts, hoodies, you call them. They were as silent as the streets and sidewalks, but I didn’t pay much attention to them. I thought they were kids, you know? Out for a swift feel-good joyride. Still, when my dogs barked a soft warning, I slowed up to watch them. At that point I doubt that they noticed me, not at their speed, and not with the mission they had in mind. I’m right, because when they veered left onto 79th Street, they were lightning fast, a blur as they passed us, yet I could feel their wind on my back. I stopped to watch them when they abruptly stopped right behind me. With my nerves jangling at full tilt then, I started to bolt across Park Avenue. Wouldn’t you? But my dogs strained at their leads and yelled in crescendos of barks and growls when we heard crashing glass. On the median of Park Avenue I stopped once more to look behind me. They’d dumped their bikes onto the sidewalk and from the street, where cars park, where the buses pulls up, two of the so-called kids were pelting the Greek Consulate with rocks or bricks while the third was spraying something onto the walls. Crash. They moved closer to the building. More rocks, or something else, flew through the windows. My dogs went crazy. Screaming, snarling so ferociously that the three kids who I didn’t think were kids anymore finally turned around to stare at us. At that, I high-tailed it across the avenue, dragging the dogs behind me. I didn’t want to be attacked. Would you? But the three hooded people had gotten the message. They threw down their rocks, bricks, or whatever – or maybe they took their weapons with them, I don’t know. And then they jumped back on their bikes, and as I reached the eastside of the street and began running, from the corner of my eye I saw them fly down Park, flat-out, the way they’d come. Out of breath, I slowed down, feeling good that Mini and Mighty had saved the day, or the night, depending on how you look at it.

The next evening police were everywhere and guards were stationed around the Greek Consulate. I wavered on whether to tell these cops what I’d seen, but then, being the good citizen I am, I described my late night experience to a cop who pulled me into his car. Apparently, cameras had caught muddy figures on tape, he said, that was all. Two detectives arrived at my building the next day to question me. But because I, too, couldn’t identify the assailants, since their faces were covered by their hoodies, I really had nothing to add to the story, except to describe the black hoodies and to report the approximate hour – again caught on tape –when the culprits had attacked the Consulate, and of course Mini and Mighty’s role in persuading them to leave.

Afterward, in the news, I saw more and more horrifying stories of unrest and rampage in Greece – citizens attacking government buildings, protesting everything from their severely depressed economy and unfair taxation to stores without produce and no money with which to buy what little was left. These days the world is small, and 79th Street on the upper eastside of Manhattan is a microcosm of it.

I mean, only last month, there was a bearded homeless man, his grocery cart full of junk, who sat complacently on freezing nights, one after the other, on a stone bench outside ex-Governor Spitzer’s building on Fifth Avenue off 79th Street. Maybe he’s still there. You might ask, what was different about this guy. Well, he worked on a computer that was lit up, turned on, I mean. How can that be, you ask. Where did he get this laptop? Where did he charge it? And more importantly, what was he working on?

It occurred to me as I watched him, as it occurs to me now, that maybe he, too, wasn’t what or who he appeared to be, just as the hooded bikers weren’t who they appeared to be. Maybe he’s a terrorist, maybe he’s a man down on his luck, or maybe he’s just a man who likes to sit outdoors late at night on Fifth Avenue across from Central Park in New York City in thirty degree weather, where he can play the Asian Market, then stroll underground at dawn, to push his cart at a leisurely pace and find a place to sleep after a hard night’s work.

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