In fifteen years everyone will have 20/20 vision, she said. That was
how my girlfriend, Vera, introduced herself in the lobby of Laser One.
I was waiting to get laser surgery for a half-price introductory special.
$1000 an eye, but you had to get both eyes done. They made you sign a
My father was an ophthalmologist, but he retired
when Bush became president, Vera smiled. She nodded at the Sports Illustrated
in my hand and added: Now he plays golf everyday.
When I went to visit Vera's parents a few months
later, her father didn't look like an ophthalmologist, but more like an
actor. He wore a silk scarf, quoted Ezra Pound, and as he mixed me a gin
and tonic, made a joke about a Jew, a colored, and a woman. When he asked
how Vera and I met I told him we both had laser surgery. He asked how
my vision was. I said that one eye was still blurry. He told me not to
worry, that it goes away with time.
Vera was crying because we had been fighting about
wearing shoes in the house and one thing lead to another and I said that
her father was a racist. She said that he had been mugged when he lived
in Detroit by a black man with a knife. He was a doctor for Godsakes,
Vera shouted, throwing her tiny running shoes across the room. And this
kid threatened to 'cut' him if he didn't give him cash. Wouldn't you be
racist too? No? You wouldn't? Well, at least try and be understanding.
For Godsakes try and be a little understanding.
Besides you're dating me not him.
On the precinct walls there were eighty-three
wanted pictures of black males. Only two were white. See any of them around,
the sergeant smirked. Crown Heights ain't a place for you. You stick out.
Move somewhere else. Try the East Village or Soho. They have nice places
there. The sergeant then walked over and bought Peanut Chewies from the
vending machine. He lived in Jersey so I felt confident enough to say
that I liked my neighborhood. Crown Heights sounded better than Hoboken,
I joked, but he didn't laugh. He just ate his Peanut Chewies and stared
I went to go look for Vera and found her alone,
sitting on a worn wooden bench with NYPD written on the back, her eyes
dark like ripe blueberries. She was still shaken up. The boy, her mugger,
was losing five to ten years of his life and she had something to do with
that. She had clearly identified the boy, the kid who couldn't even read
the Miranda warning. She had identified him and he was going to jail.
To prison, she clarified, in case I hadn't understood the first time.
Jail will ruin his life, Vera cried. He was polite.
He only took my cash. Five to ten for eighty bucks. It seems so...so...disproportionate.
He made choices the detective shrugged, a black,
thick, caring woman who spoke with enviable confidence. Everyone makes
their own choices, some choices eventually bring them here. He was a good
kid. Middle class upbringing. Lives in a better building than me. Now
his family is going to get evicted. They always evict felons. Well, not
always, but usually.
When we left the precinct the detective said they
would reimburse us the eighty dollars. They have a federal program for
that. Just fill out the application. My eyes are still blurry, Vera replied.
My boyfriend will fill it out. Besides he's got better penmanship.
Outside, Vera stopped on the steps and looked
at me. I'm so scared, she whispered. So very scared. There were five other
muggings tonight all by different guys. All different black guys. All
the muggings were against women. All against white women my age and height
and hair color. What do you think that means? Let's talk about racism,
she said, her voice rising. You heard the detective. I am a prime target.
I'm scared as hell. But...But...Yes, let's talk about racism. You and
I. I'll tell you my fears and you tell me your philosophy. I really want
to hear what you learned at that Liberal Arts school of yours Mr. Six-foot-hundred-eighty-pounds.
Tell me. I'm very interested.
Then, once we finish talking about racism you
can tell me all about sexism.
That night I threw out my rap tapes. For some
reason the fact Eazy-E was a stick-up kid and Ice-Cube slapped "hoes out
of habit" sounded different, the texture less playful. Sure, I was mugged
once, Donna, our office secretary admitted to me on her lunch break, her
Haitian accent richly texturing every syllable. I didn't go to the police.
I probably knew the kids parents. Everyone knows everyone in my neighborhood.
The police don't take that into consideration. They don't care about nothing.
They would have locked the kid up.
Donna was eating Triscuits and thumbing through
the Daily News. I forgot to tell you, she said. Vera called, poor girl,
she sounded so sad. You should be taking care of her. Donna tapped her
newspaper. You read about what Giuliani been doing to my neighborhood?
In her sleep Vera mumbled that she saw a shadow
in the bedroom. Someone with a flashlight. There was no one there when
I checked. I made sure all the windows were locked. The bag of rap tapes
was still by the front door as I went into the kitchen to get a glass
When I got back into bed Vera told me she loved
me, but asked me to respect her fears, to really ask myself if I loved
her for who she was, to try and understand what it meant to feel that
you were an easy target, and why, when she was traumatized, I lectured
her about Eldridge Cleaver.
When Vera went to the Grand Jury the only question
they asked her was how much she made a year. When she answered, one of
the jurors, a black woman dressed in a khaki work-suit, coughed as if
she were choking down her surprise. And you're worried about getting mugged
over eighty bucks someone whispered. Vera cried for the whole subway ride
home and people stared aghast at me, as if I had caused the pain.
They didn't ask me how I recognized him, Vera
said on the walk from the subway stop. They didn't say how did you recognize
your mugger in the lineup. If they had asked I would have told them. I
would have said that I recognized him by the way his eye twitched when
he laughed. I thought he was blinking at me, but he was just laughing
as he took my money. As if he thought it were funny that I didn't stand
up to him. That I was an easy target. In the lineup he did it again as
he stared at me behind the glass. He was smiling and laughing, like he
knew how it was tearing me up inside.
Jesus, why did all this have to happen? she asked
and looked at me as if I had known the answer all along.
The next day I received a Special Birthday Card
from My Friends at the laser surgery center. My birthday was six months
away. I clipped the letter to the refrigerator door to show Vera, thinking
it might cheer her up. When she came home I pointed it out and she just
gave me a sad smile before going straight to bed, mentioning as she brushed
her teeth that her birthday had been the week previous and she understood
why I hadn't remembered. With everything going on, she said, I almost
They say that I might have to wear glasses when
I am sixty-five. They say that sometimes the laser procedure reverses
itself. I see perfectly now, today, and that is what matters. The blurriness
is gone. Vera occasionally has to use eye drops. We are both very pleased
with the outcome. Laser surgery has given us halos at night, but that's
to be expected. That's what the brochure says.