As regular readers of this website know, my travels have sometimes exposed me to danger. For example, there was the time when I went on safari in South Africa and wandered around the grounds of my lodge late at night, unaware that a deadly leopard was lurking on the premises. Or the time when I boarded a Greek ferry with the knowledge that there might be a bomb aboard. And who can forget the night in Mexico City when my taxi driver robbed me and and then dropped me off in the middle of nowhere? But none of those episodes terrified me more than an incident that went down just a few blocks from my apartment as I was making my way home from karaoke on a Saturday night in 2009.
The karaoke bar from which I was returning on that occasion was Second on Second, in the East Village. Second on Second is one of my favourite places in New York City to sing; it invariably draws a sizable and enthusiastic crowd on weekends, and it’s located in a vibrant area, not far from the colourful three-block stretch of Eighth Street known as St. Marks Place.
I went singing at Second on Second last night. Nothing particularly exciting happened to me during this most recent visit to that location; the most notable occurrence of the evening was the remarkable display of social cluelessness by one of the bar’s patrons. Upon grabbing the mic, he felt compelled to address the audience before his song began. This is what he said: “No offense to y’all, but some of your songs suck.” Then he added, “I’m going to sing some Pink Floyd. So shut the f*** up and enjoy it.” (The particular Pink Floyd tune that he chose was “Wish You Were Here.”) Yes, this individual, who I’m pretty sure has never read Dale Carnegie’s worldwide bestseller, apparently believed that insulting his audience was a viable way to get them on his side.
I didn’t stay till the end of the song, notwithstanding that I’d been instructed to “enjoy” this loser’s crooning. I’d been entertaining thoughts of heading home anyway; and after hearing his opening remarks, I decided that now was as good a time as any to skedaddle.
Last night I arrived safely home without incident. But in the early hours of Sunday morning, October 11, 2009, my journey home from Second on Second was more eventful.
A scary case of mistaken identity
On that prior Sunday morning, to get to Manhattan’s Upper East Side (where I live) from the East Village, I took the number 6 subway line. At about 3:00 a.m., while I was walking towards my apartment from the 77th Street subway station, a 4-door sedan with four men in it pulled up to the curb next to me. One of the passengers emerged from the vehicle and accosted me on the sidewalk. He asked me, “Are you Frank?”
“No,” I answered.
He then asked me again — this time in a menacing tone — “Are you Frank?!”
And then, despite receiving the same assurance from me that my name was something other than Frank, he repeated the question yet again.
The third time that he asked me if I was Frank, I answered emphatically, “No, I’m Harvey.” Thinking about a recent spate of violent crimes in my neighborhood, I was feeling some trepidation by now. The way this thuggish individual was looking at me, I was worried that I was about to be mugged — or worse.
My interlocutor noticed my insecurity. “Don’t be nervous,” he said. But then, after a quick glance at his cellphone, he commanded me: “You have two minutes to get home.” (I was about a five minute walk from my apartment at this point.) Needless to say, I bolted up the street as quickly as I could.
As the guy got back into the car, I heard him tell the driver, “He’s not Frank. Back it up.”
Fortunately, the occupants of the vehicle believed my protestations regarding my identity. (Admittedly, if I had failed to convince them, I could have shown them some identification. However, withdrawing my wallet from my pocket would have increased the risk of my wallet being grabbed by the man who was questioning me. Also, it probably would not have been a good idea for me to show these people anything that had my address on it.) After I’d safely entered my apartment, I had a feeling of extreme gratitude to my parents for not having named me Frank. In addition, a couple of questions went through my mind: What horrible fate was in store for the person for whom I’d been mistaken? (Of course, it goes without saying that I would have met that same fate if the men in the car hadn’t accepted my denial of being Frank.) And what had he done to become a marked man? My friends speculated that he’d stiffed his pursuers in a drug deal; that seemed a plausible explanation for why he was now being hunted down.
My neighbourhood, like most of Manhattan, is generally safe for walking alone at night — a vast difference from the 1970s, when gangs and other criminals ran wild in New York City. But there are few populated areas in the world where you’re immune from the risk of encountering random violence. The world is a dangerous place. And periodically, I’m reminded that no matter where I am — whether on my home turf or 10,000 miles away — I must always be vigilant and aware of my surroundings. But beyond a certain point, if your luck is sufficiently bad, there may be little that you can do. If the dudes in the car had attacked me, there would have been four of them and only one of me; and for all I know, they could well have been packing heat. Such a scenario probably would not have ended well for me.
As for Frank, I have no idea if his pursuers ever found him. But while I don’t know what crimes Frank might be guilty of, I do know that the folks who were looking for him on that night in 2009 are not very nice men. I hope Frank got away.