INSTRUCTION MANUAL: HOW TO GET ROBBED
Glenn Lester works as a telesurveyer. Poorly printed stickers for his book of poems, The New Beat, grace many Chicago lampposts and bike racks.
MATERIALS YOU WILL NEED. You and girlfriend have been playing this game called "0 or 10." The game, to be played in public places, consists of rating other people -- based on appearance, fashion, and attitude -- as 0s or 10s. A 0 is someone you couldn't be paid to sleep with; a 10 is someone you would fuck on the street immediately. The continuum between 0 and 10 is not to be counted; i.e., no one can be labeled a 7, or a 2.5. All or nothing. 0. Or 10.
1. Note that the bartender is a 10. Do not offer to share this rating with girlfriend.
2. Ask if she minds that you steal her cigarettes. She doesn't. Says she doesn't. Tell her you probably won't smoke once she leaves Chicago.
3. Drop lit cigarette onto floor. Kneel, wishing you recognized somebody in this bar.
4. Turn on stool to watch the door. A friend/ex-roommate, who maintains a reputation for clumsiness and heavy feet, is to meet you and girlfriend/0 or 10 co-conspirator for beers. Once, girlfriend, in 0 or 10 mode, labeled this ex-roommate a 10. Much to your surprise. Worry that he will knock over a table after swinging open the door.
5. Light one of gf/0-10cc's cigarettes while she and f/e-r talk about the city. Sometimes, at work, you recite a (shitty) poem about the sinister edges of city life. You made it up. Leave cigarette in ashtray (this is what real smokers do) while nodding to their discussion. You have never smoked in front of f/e-r before. You never really smoke, except when hanging out with gf/0-10cc. Catch f/e-r looking at your cigarette hand. Point your head toward the ceiling. Think of the first line of your poem. Exhale dramatically. f/e-r can't stay long; he works in a library and has to wake up early.
6. When you recited your poem (it contains lines like ever-encroaching blackness) to f/e-r, he said, "It sounds, uh, like you're just, um, freaking yourself out." f/e-r doesn't give a shit about anything.
7. Listen to gf/0-10cc giving you shit about smoking. "Your etiquette is all wrong," she says. "Don't flick the butt to ash it when you're using an ashtray. The ash gets everywhere."
8. Outside, share a cigarette with gf/0-10cc. She has forgotten to bring a warm coat to Chicago and so is wearing your old suede jacket. She has forgotten good shoes, and so wears clogs, which become clogged (ha, ha) (make this joke, which you have made multiple nights, again) with dirt and not-quite-melted snow.
9. Eyeball two men, maybe boys, in hooded sweatshirts, down the block. They are doing that thing where their heads kinda bounce with each step.
10. You and gf/0-10cc are doing that thing where you hold hands in each others' pockets. You are doing that thing where you tap the ice with your heels, that thing where the ice breaks and your heels sink but your feet stay mostly dry. That thing where you press your mouth to each other's faces without really kissing. That thing. Or something.
11. One of the men, maybe boys, snatches your elbow. Let him have it. He is a boy, definitely a boy.
12. Note boy's fist balled up in his hoodie pocket. Note his first finger extended, pointing through the hoodie fabric, like how little kids make guns. Wonder if you should be looking at gf/0-10cc.
13. Watch the boy's finger waggle in his hoodie pocket. Hiccup.
14. Hand your wallet to him. She sucks her lips into her mouth, like sometimes she does on the train. She reaches into her purse, cigarette clamped between her lips. She looks cool, really cool, actually cool. Know that later you will wish you had done more to protect her.
15. Do nothing more to protect her.
16. This street: well-lit and residential.
17. The other boy seems shorter. Don't look at their faces. Know that they are black. You are white, as is gf/0-10cc. And f/e-r, for that matter.
18. New development: you and gf/0-10cc do not possess enough cash to satisfy these punk-asses. They want what's in your front pockets. Keys, phone. If keys, then not entering apartment. If phone, then not calling bank/cops. You and gf/0-10cc have been doing symbolic logic since she has been here. K > ~A. Maybe it should be ~K > ~A. Try to remember these propositions for later conversation with gf/0-10cc.
19. Wonder if the other boy is touching her. Your right pocket: an old grocery/Xmas list and pencil. These fuckers aren't any older than your youngest brother.
20. Relief: talking boy has decided to take down your PIN (or, as he calls it, "PIN number"; the redundancy here, of course, not needing to be pointed out), writing it with your pencil and your grocery/Xmas list. You will not need to accompany him to the ATM (or, as he, apparently enthralled with redundancy, might call it, "the ATM machine").
21. Take a step toward gf/0-10cc. Tell the boy your PIN. He removes his hand from his hoodie pocket. Said pocket contains only loose cigarettes and a wet matchbook. Like gf/0-10cc's purse. Watch him write, cupping your grocery/Xmas list in the palm of his hand.
22. Your actual PIN. What the fuck are you doing. You fucking idiot.
23. Where the fuck are those fuckers going with your wallet. Remember your first week here, walking drunk past the Halloween-decorated houses on this street. Half the houses had fake graveyards. Start to laugh. Laughing it off will impress gf/0-10cc.
24. Use these words, and perhaps others, in various pissed-off combinations: punk-ass, fuck, fucker, black, goddamn hell, white, the only reason, jesus, kids.
25. And: sorry, I, if.
26. As in: "Sorry if anything I said was, you know, like, racist."
27. gf/0-10cc: "It's kinda easy to say."
28. Kiss on the back stairs. Feel kinda gross and angry, not in any mood for a tongue down your throat.
29. Answer the buzzer. The buzz-unlock thing doesn't really work, so put on the big heavy boots (in your wallet-less back pocket: wet socks) and clomp down the front stairs. Trip. Think of f/e-r.
30. Worry that the cop, promptly arriving after a quick call, will know you are drunk. Certainly your last half-dozen encounters with cops were drunken affairs, what with noise violations and public intoxication.
31. Listen to gf/0-10cc say: "They were both pretty dark-skinned."
32. Follow cop out to his car, realizing that gf/0-10cc has done a better job telling the story. Be bothered by this. Be bothered that you are bothered by this. gf/0-10cc brings a cigarette to her lips.
A: "Police officer?"
B: "10. Bartender?"
A: "10. Guys who robbed us?"
A: "Both of them?"