Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Contextual

We’re back from our trip; a slapdash tour of beaches, firepits, sleek storefronts, outrageous hotel rooms and one zooming rental car in which the air conditioning actually worked. We said we were scoping out the scene covertly, yet everywhere we went we exclaimed, “Someday, we’ll live here!” Our foolproof logic is this: a place with great weather solves all problems.

One night, on the second leg, we went to The Grove. For those of you who may not know, as I did not, it’s an outdoor plaza swarming with ready-made purchases and diversions. It’s surely a tourist trap, but I liked it anyway; brick paths, a trolley, a dancing fountain, a live band, alfresco seating and “expensive” cocktails priced at $10 (and for jaded “New Yorkers” like us, that was reasonable).

Something about vacation, I can’t really place it, but for me, my mind goes. And quick. It’s as though everything I think I know is left on the tarmac. All of a sudden, the money (or, credit card swiping, rather) flows like water. I slap the plastic. Hard. Everything is justified because it’s vacation. I’m like a belligerent uncle. This is vacation, damnit. We’re going to have a good time whether anyone likes it or not. To hell with what it costs; we’ll feel the budget hangover when we get home.

So on vacation, damnit, I decide that maybe forty pairs of scivvies, thongs, boy shorts (I’m not fond of saying “panties”—I think it’s too sexualized and have been creeped out by the word ever since they used it to described JonBenet’s underclothes in the Ramsey case back in the beginning, and then heard it again on vacation when they were transporting the suspect and had to change the channel) spilling out my bedside table don’t quite cut it. I stop at Gap; they’re having a sale on cute little hipsters and I snag four. Then we hit another store where I buy even more things I don’t need, like summer dresses and a green necklace that bears a striking resemblance to one I already own in blue, and as I cross the threshold into the robust, Californian air, I realize: I don’t have the Gap bag.

I step back and search where I was standing mere moments before, half-trying on a ruffled shirt in front of a metal pole's reflection to catch a glimpse of sizing instead of waiting in the monstrous dressing room line. Not there. I scan the rest, weaving in and out of manic shoppers. Still nothing. I ask the clerks at the front, at the back, at the desk. Nope. That was it. Someone had stolen the bag.

I don’t like it when things are taken from me, even if my own stupidity aides. I still think it’s cheating, unfair, cruel to take something from someone else—maybe especially so if they aren’t the sharpest tool in the shed…as I am never.

I mean, who steals someone’s underwear? Was this person, this thief even the same size? Or did she want to return it for store credit? Or was it some crazy weird guy that wheezed with glee when he saw it and skipped back into the night? And come on! I “needed” them, if only to put off doing laundry! Why would someone do that?

What kept me from getting really mad was context. Last time I had something taken, I was asleep on an Italian train without my hands intertwined in the straps of my bag, and someone entered, left with my wallet. I awoke with the sound of the compartment door slamming and knew. Of course, this had been the only time I had cash on me, nearly $200, because I was Christmas shopping for my family while abroad, and with my emergency credit card, my debit card, my license, it was gone.

I freaked out, to say the least. Irrationality kicked in and I came to the clear conclusion that whoever had taken the wallet would have just taken the cash, then ditched the worthless nylon and its enclosed cards. I figured, criminals are smart—they know I’m going to just cancel the cards, and also, maybe, that I’m a stupid American and could use some of the things in there, like my NYU id, which was the only thing that gave me access to campus and some of the dorms in Florence as the security there remained tougher than in the Pentagon.

So what did I do? I began running down the train’s halls at four in the morning, prodding every dark corner and turn, convinced that it was only a matter of time before I came upon it. The boy told me to “calm down” repeatedly, which, obviously, only encouraged my hysterics more. I knew that the thieves were mean, but not that mean—after all, they had left my passport in the bag, so at the very worst, I had something to get me home. These were kind, caring thieves. I kept on, altering my strategy now to jamming my hands in the garbage and pulling out rumbled papers, ticket stubs, chip bags.

I plunged my grasping hands into all receptacles: the big bins first, then the little pockets studded along the walls, meant for small pieces of benign trash. I spied on at the very end of the car and raced towards it. It was the last place to toss before exiting, and I was sure that was where my deflated wallet lay.

I thrust my hand in, even as the boy called, “Give it up!” Even as I felt it rush and run on my knuckles, the act was already set in motion, and my body did not respond to my brain’s sharp screaming turn.

It was wet. It was cold. It was urine.

The small trash can was filled to the brim with urine.

The search was called off, and as no plumbing on the train worked, probably why the man who had relieved himself had done so just there in the first place, I spent the rest of the miserable ride—two hours—holding my now stinking arm away from the rest of my body and staring out a black window, cursing the day I decided to board abroad.

So, all in context. Missing underclothes vs. an arm damp with urine. I’ll choose the former.

More, happier vacation stories to come this week…

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is why you should never leave NY, even on vacation cause bad things happen :)

Sorry!

themarina said...

I KNOW it's not funny because I've been a victim of thieves in the past but I must say that the train story, one of the funniest things I've read in a while. Thanks for bringing things into perspective! Hope you had a great trip regardless of the lost bag!

Another twentysomething said...

How unfortunate- both times! I do agree with you about "panties"- whenevr necessary I say "undies" becasue you're right- "panties" is a creepy, dirty word now.

Sunday's Child said...

Yep, that story puts the underwear in perspective. I am totally with you on the "panties." Why do people still use that word?

Anonymous said...

I am glad that you have forgiven him despite what he has done. I would not have stayed with him.

K said...

Anonymous--what do you mean? I'm so confused. Can you email me or something?

almostliterary@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

Why is that other anonymous so weird and shadowy?

Stephanie Green said...

why thank you. it certainly wasn't an easy fight, although I def. had the law on my side and some kick-ass, take-no-prisoners lawyers. plus, since my dad is a lawyer and I'm a fighter by nature, I was NEVER going to let some faceless corporation steamroll me. I don't think AMI EVER thought I'd fight back. So victory, even though it didn't get me far, was indeed sweet.
stephanie

Amy said...

The Grove is bomb. Endless restaurants and stores at your access. Overpriced movie tickets. Where else did you sojourn in LA? :)

Blog ho said...

you should combine missing underthings and urine.

Lux Lisbon said...

it's all about perspective Yo!

debo said...

I'm now truly convinced that every member of the fairer sex hates both the word "panties" and Jennifer Love Hewitt.