Thursday, August 13, 2009

Is this synchronicity, or what?

Yesterday I took the #4 subway train from Jerome Avenue, and last week Bill Bratton resigned as top cop in Los Angeles. As we used to say in San Francisco, rolling our eyes and nodding meaningfully, "Oh, wow."

About fifteen years ago, I parked my car by Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx and walked down Jerome Avenue to take the #4 in to East 86th Street. Afterwards with my errand completed, and just in time to get to a plant morphology class at the Botanic Garden, I returned to my car.

As I walked by the cemetery main gate, I began to see books littering the ground. Muttering tsk-tsk to myself, I bent over to look at them and realized -- in horror -- that they were 150-year-old botany books I had borrowed through the state library system ... and they had been thrown all over the ground! I rushed to the car and saw a broken window, wide open. As I gaped, a passerby said to me, "I hate when that happens."

Well, me too. I opened the car and began to paw through it. As usual, it was packed with stuff going here or there or to be used along the way. I thought the botany books were the worst: I was working on a history of plant taxonomy, using very old sources. Fortunately, titles over a few hundred years old had to be used in the Botanic Garden's library. But I gagged to see the casual mishandling of the lovely old books.

On the ground was the box which had held a camera lens I had bought the day before. But! I had immediately put it on the camera, now sitting safely on my desk. So, a disappointed vandal.

But no. I had had a thermal cold-bag containing some cycad seeds I had borrowed to take home to photograph. I swore my life away for permission to take them off the premises. They too were gone. But I brightened -- they were poison! Just let some vandal think they're a new kind of kiwi fruit, and heh-heh, no vandal.

As I went through the very back of the car I realized my greatest loss. I had been working on two 24"-square needlework pieces for a couple years. They were when-I'm-done-with-these-I-can-die projects, using 16-point canvas and 24 shades of red, brown, gold, and green silk thread. One was a variant on a 17th century Hungarian point design, the other I had drafted from a Indian rug I'd photographed at the V&A. The Indian design was finished, all 576 square inches of it, and there were only a couple square inches to go on the Hungarian design. The two pieces, all the silk, and my grandmother's embroidery scissors were together in one bag and that bag was gone. What a blow.

Forgetting my morphology class, I went back down to the cemetery gate and found a gatekeeper, and explained what had happened. "You've got to call the police," he said. He decided I was too upset to dial. "I'm calling the forty-seventh," he told me. "They're always really helpful when we need something."

The desk sawjint, um, sergeant, picked up. "New Yawk P'lice, four-seven," he said. I explained that my car outside Woodlawn Cemetery had been broken into, and stuff inside was stolen. "Whereja say the car is?" he asked. Outside the cemetery on Jerome Avenue, I explained, you turn right outside the gate and walk about a hundred yards. The sergeant was audibly relieved. "That's not us," he said, "you want the five-oh." And he gave me the number.

I called the five-oh. I explained my problem and told him the four-seven said it was the five-oh's jurisdiction. "What's he tawkin' about?" asked the exasperated desk sergeant. "The five-oh ends at the center line of Jerome Avenue. We're to the west. You call the four-seven back and tell them it's their jurisdiction."

I explained all this to the Woodlawn gatekeeper, and dialed the four-seven again. "Ma'am, I tolja it's the five-oh," said the desk sergeant.
I corrected him. "The five-oh says their jurisdiction ends at the center line. They're west of it," I explained.
"Ma'am, I know this is tough," said the sergeant, "but I'm telling ya our precinct boundary's at the Jerome Avenue eastern curb. I know this. You're not parked up on the grass, are ya?"
"But the five-oh says theirs ends at the center line," I wailed.
He paused and you could almost hear wheels turning. "Well," he said doubtfully, "maybe it's the five-two. You could try them." He gave me the number.

The Woodlawn gatekeeper looked on in disbelief. "I always call the forty-seventh and they couldn't be nicer," he said.

I called the five-two and explained my predicament. "They said what? They said it's the five-two? Where are you again?" I explained I was a hundred yards north of Woodlawn's main gate. "We're nowhere near there," he said, "I don't know what's wrong with those guys."

Well, neither did I, and I was late for class. I very much hoped the thief was sitting somewhere dead, preferably in the four-seven, with a half-chewed cycad in his mouth. As I walked out of the caretaker's cottage, off in the cemetery I saw a flash of neon pink -- just the color of the missing thermal bag the cycads had been in. Maybe my needlework was discarded there too! I hurried through the cemetery and found the cycads, still in the thermal bag, but the needlework was not to be found.

After class, I went home, stewing about the fact that I had no place to report a crime. Given the high deductible on my insurance, a police report might not be useful. But, darn it, I wanted this to be a New York City crime statistic. I decided to tell my story to Rudolph Giuliani, then a not-much-loved NYC mayor. I told Rudy the story I have just told you, then, as I licked the envelope, I thought, Why not tell William Bratton?

Bill Bratton was easily a lot of people's idea of a cop's cop, but he was also a people's cop, heading the New York police department after a career in Boston. Regional residents noted the city's falling crime rate and gave his up-to-date policing the credit. He was definitely a popular favorite, so I wrote to Bratton as well.

Within a week, I got a nice letter from Bratton's office telling me that they had determined the correct precinct and reported the crime for me. And a week later, Giuliani fired Bratton; the general view was that he was jealous of Bratton's good press. No, I never heard from Giuliani's office, nor did I hear from the precinct.

I hope that somewhere in the Bronx, an elderly mama got my needlework, accompanied by a fishy story she chose to believe, and loves it. I think of her often, as I did yesterday when I once again went to Jerome Avenue and parked to catch the #4 train. A street sign has been added: it reads "Albany next right" and it's not the allegory it sounds like; the Thruway passes nearby. I no longer do needlepoint: I knit instead.

Jerome Avenue was named for Sir Winston Churchill's mother's family. In the intervening years, of course, Rudy Giuliani has become a Sir too, and next month, Bill Bratton -- just retiring from the job of L.A. top cop -- will be created a Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth. So if that's not synchronicity, what is?

I mean, oh, wow.

1 comment:

Christine Lehner said...

What storytelling. Quelle histoire!
Que historia. Maravilloso.