We’ve all got them. And I’m not talking about the springy appendages that insects sport. I’m talking about intuition and sensing the bad. (There’s also intuition and sensing the good, but that’s a whole other topic.)
As many people do, I learned about my antennae the hard way. It was a summer afternoon in NYC. I was probably a year out of college. And after leaving my lunch-rush waitressing job in the Wall Street area, I’d taken the IRT back uptown. I got off at 110th Street and headed to my friend Robin’s apartment.
She lived in a beautiful old U-shaped building. The entryway was at the bottom of the U, and upon accessing the building (by way of the buzzer system), one had to walk the length of the confronting wall and hang two rights before reaching the elevator.
When I arrived at the building and buzzed Robin’s apartment, she asked who was there. Once I’d identified myself, she buzzed me in. There was a man just behind me, and I held the door open for him, letting him in on my buzz.
During the 15 seconds it took to walk to the elevator, my thumb did something very smart. It manipulated the sapphire and diamond ring that I wear on the ring finger of my right hand. It turned it so that the gems were facing the inside. My thumb turned the ring so that, when the man pulled a gun on me, he did not see the gems.
My mugger scared the shit out of me, got the seventeen dollars I’d made in tips that day, and gave me a good, strong case of PTSD that fucked with me for several months.
But I didn’t lose the ring, and the incident gave me a lesson. My thumb knew. Which means, I knew.
And for the rest of my years in NYC (and these were some tough times in that city), I’m sure I avoided all kinds of victim situations simply because I was aware that I was aware. I knew that although I may not be able to trust passers-by, I could trust me.
Fast forward: Los Angeles, 2003. I’d been in L.A. for 13 years at that point, and not having to watch my backside was becoming the norm. After 15 years in New York, it was a relief not to feel that danger could be lurking around every corner.
One afternoon, I went on “my walk.” Essentially a tour of remarkable real estate, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis Brown House. This particular afternoon, I went on the longer version of the walk, and because I’d been on that stretch enough times, I had a good sense of the topography and the presence of dogs.
I was at the top of a small hill that would go down and then up again quickly before it winded to the left and headed down for a bit (these are the hills below the Griffith Observatory). And just as I began to head down the small hill, I got that NYC antennae vibe. (“Warning, Will Robinson! Warning.”) I saw a man emerging from a driveway. He looked to be Latino, and I wondered if he were a day laborer. (I often saw day laborers in that area.) Regardless, he was heading not toward me, but in the same direction I was heading, and so in the split second I had to respond to my antennae, I decided to continue on my path. I’d rather he be ahead of me than behind me.
I continued to walk down the small hill, aware of my surroundings.
As I reached the place where the hill took its upturn, I noticed that he had stopped walking. He was now sitting on a thigh-high cement structure (something architecturally connected to the multi-million dollar home that graced that location in the turn). As I continued to walk closer to where he was, I didn’t give away my fear. But I took in his appearance. His army pants were well-pressed and tucked into polished lace-up black boots. His tee shirt, which was tucked into those pants, bore no wrinkles and indicated no sweat. His cap matched his pants, and he wore large sunglasses that were so dark there was no possibility of seeing the eyes behind them.
This was no day laborer. This was a man who brought to mind the word “guerilla.”
In addition to an olive green duffle bag, his possessions included a long brown paper bag that apparently contained a loaf of baguette-type bread. As I came within 10 feet of him, he began pulling pieces of the bread out of the bag, and he threw them in my path.
I’m so fucking dead, I thought, as I continued on my walk.
But, I didn’t give it away. I met the gaze that might have been there behind those dark glasses, I nodded, semi-smiled, and said, “Hi.”
Within seconds after my passing him, I sensed his dismounting from the wall where he had sat. And that’s when I immediately began to run.
I’m not a runner, and although I knew, in that moment, that my adrenalin would take me wherever I needed to go, I was embarking on about a quarter-mile of low-grade downhill pavement. This was really going to piss off my knees. But, I kept running. And I was so grateful to get to that hairpin turn. Because… I knew about the dogs.
There’s a hairpin turn on that walk, and guarding the house that occupies that turn are some seriously overzealous dogs. I knew they would bark as I approached, and of course, they did. And, when I got to the other side, and they’d followed me all the way – a hedge between us – they stopped barking. Their silence told me that I was not being followed. Their silence told me that I could stop running.
Their silence gave my knees a respite.
In retrospect, it might have been smarter for me to do an about-face the minute my antennae told me that the guy down the hill was bad news. But, my antennae didn’t fail me that afternoon.
They told me to be alert.
They told me to own every second.
They prepared me for the moment when it was time to run.