It was the night before Thanksgiving -- that dreaded night when Americans head back to their hometown bars en masse to bump into old middle school and high school “friends” and assure everyone that life is good! Everything’s coming up roses for me.
On Thanksgiving Eve a few years back, my best friend Suzanne and I were doing just that in downtown Boston.
Suzanne and I were all dolled up -- heels, tight jeans, big earrings, dope hair (my dope hair being the only constant, other than death and taxes, in this topsy-turvy world). When we inevitably bumped into the old Weston High School crew, I wanted to show them that Weston High School’s Class of 1998 winner of “Best Hair” could still defend the title. We drove into downtown Boston from the suburbs, parked her black Jetta on posh Newbury Street, and had a lovely dinner at our favorite restaurant, Croma.
That night, I was carrying a black satin purse, a 1970s-style sack hanging from two silver rings that I clutched in my hands. So the sack hung down from the rings.
The Gap purse in all its glory.
As we walked down Newbury Street, we saw a teenager riding an undersized dirt bike down the sidewalk directly toward us, so we moved into single-file formation to let him pass (because we weren’t raised by wolves and we’re polite). Just as he pedaled past me, he scooped my satchel purse from my hand and kept biking down Newbury Street.
It took a moment for me to register what had just happened. That kid had just ripped my (retro-style) Gap purse from my hands and was now pedaling for dear life down Newbury Street. The Gap purse that contained all of my designer makeup (OK, there was some CoverGirl in there, but the rest of my makeup was from MAC and Sephora, I swear), my money (six dollars cash!), all of my credit cards (mostly maxed out), and my ID (featuring my name and an old address from when I lived between two projects in South Boston and had blue-collar thugs at my fingertips).
My ID! My ID! I’d be unable to get on the bus back to NYC without my ID! I was about to start a new job the Monday after Thanksgiving -- I had to get back to New York!
Once I was done processing the fact that I had been robbed (it probably took one-tenth of a second, but it felt like forever), I turned on my heels and started chasing the punk-assed perpetrator. I was half in the bag, and I had something to prove: Blondes might catch your eye and stand out and seem like easy targets, but we are not to be messed with.
“HELP! HELP!” I shrieked as I chased the cycling criminal over the uneven slabs of sidewalk, my high-heeled leather boots propelled forward by surprise, anger, and fear.
I then remembered something that Oprah had told me (and a million other women, via the television): During an emergency, you shouldn’t yell “Help,” because people are inherently selfish (don’t I know it!) and won’t respond to cries for help, but they will respond to screams of “Fire,” because they think that they could be harmed by a fire. Humanity, I tell ya. With this newfound knowledge, I changed my refrain.
“FIIIIIRE! FIIIIIRE! FIIIIIRE!” I yelled, as if doing an awful impersonation of Jim Morrison belting out the Doors’ most famous song. Suzanne gave chase just a few steps behind me as she dialed 9-1-1 on her cell phone. We ran for blocks down Newbury Street, passing an Indian couple who then joined in on our little crime parade, bless their hearts.
We also cruised by a few jaded valet attendants, who must have seen this type of thing a million times, as they simply watched the chase scene zoom by without doing anything to assist. This pissed me off, and I was already shrieking for my life, so I let a few choices words fly for the cowardly valets: “Fuck you! Fuck you! I hate you!”
I finally caught up to the thief on his bike, and for at least one full block I was running directly along his right side and screaming. There was nothing left to do but swing my arm at him and hope that I made contact, so I did just that.
My fingers were knotted up, and I heaved my fist and arm left, directly into his chest, prompting him to lose his balance on the bike. As if in slow motion, the bike began tilting dramatically to the left, then to the right, being pulled downward by the blessed force of gravity in the bizarre motions that precede a person eating pavement.
He fell over on his left side as the bike shot out from between his legs and directly into my running lane on the sidewalk. Thank God I used to be a dancer and I took figure skating classes in childhood, because I was able to jump over the bike as it slid across the sidewalk and stick the landing on the other side, like a little Romanian gymnastics wunderkind.
But the moron mugger wasn’t ready to throw in the towel -- the chase continued on foot. I was ready for it, though -- I could run up and down Newbury Street in heels while screaming swears all night long. The ridiculousness of the situation was starting to affect my moves, and I decided to change my message to the perpetrator. I’d reason with him and make my purse seem like it’s not worth all this trouble.
“I’m so broke! I work in publishing! I only have six dollars in there, asshole!” I screamed. After a few blocks of sprinting while learning about the financial hardship of a publishing career, the thief gave up, either out of pity for this poor publishing drone or because his abandoned bike was more important than my 45-dollar Gap purse.
He tossed my purse into a bush to his left, cut right and crossed the street, then bolted back down Newbury Street in the direction we had just come from. Shaken and shocked, no doubt, he grabbed his bike and pedaled away into the darkness.
“Holy fuck. Holy shit. What the . . . ” I could barely form words. Retrieving my purse from the bushes, I unzipped it and found everything still present and accounted for -- makeup, money, ID, credit cards -- everything.
“Dude -- he didn’t even take anything. Everything is still here!” I marveled.
“Yeah, well, how would he have unzipped your bag while he biked and fended off your punches? He probably didn’t have time to grab the wallet or anything,” Suzanne said.
I couldn’t believe it. I kept fingering the contents of my purse. It had been in a stranger’s hands for a few blocks, but here it was, back with me and no worse for wear. Would it become my bad-luck purse now?
“Oh, cops are on their way,” Suzanne informed me.
“Holy shit. That was insane,” I said, exhaling a puff of warm air into the chilly night.
We thanked the Indian couple for their instinct to help, and they moved along, perhaps to their own Thanksgiving Eve high school event.
Within a minute or two, an assortment of Crown Victoria cars pulled up and assembled around us. Some were obvious cop cars, others were unmarked cop cars, all were Crown Vics. The officers driving the Crown Vics parked every which way all over Newbury Street, the abutting side street, and the sidewalk.
Within moments, Suzanne and I were surrounded by cops -- some were in traditional uniforms, others were in street clothes, all were hot (to me). They are public servants -- show some respect (in the form of shameless flirtation), I thought. Perhaps this night wouldn’t end badly after all.
“Can you please describe exactly what happened, as best as you can rememba?” asked a young cop with a notepad. I carefully recounted the night’s events, and Suzanne assisted: nice dinner, walking down Newbury Street, then the next thing I know I’m chasing some crazy teen on a bike and screaming swears, then I’m punching him, then I’m jumping to clear the bike, then we’re on foot, then my bag is in the bushes and he’s gone.
“Wait, the perpetrayta didn’t get away with ya packetbook? You have ya packetbook now?” the cop inquired. “So the perpetrayta did not get away with ya purse, but did he remove anything from it?”
“No -- everything is in here,” I responded.
“So, just to be showa I fully understaaand, ya purse was taken from you, but you chased down the assailant and managed to retrieve ya purse, then he fled west on Newbury Street toward Mass Ave?”
“Yes, exactly,” I said.
“Huh.” The cop seemed bewildered and delighted. “You must got some bruthas at home, right? You got a lotta hustle in ya.”
“I guess I’m tougher than I look,” I conceded.
This essay is excerpted from The New Rules for Blondes (It Books/HarperCollins) by Selena Coppock.