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 contract.
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 James Joyce, and as he mixed me a single
malt, he 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 at me.
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
Jail will ruin his life, Vera cried. He was polite. He only took
my cash. Five to ten for eighty bucks. It seems so
He made choices the detective shrugged, the blackest, thickest,
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. 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.
I'm very interested.
Then, once we finish talking about racism you can tell me all about
That night I threw out my rap tapes. For some reason the fact Easy
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 Triscuts 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 Guiliani been doing to my neighborhood? It's
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 kaki 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
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 forgot myself.
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.
The laser center does a good job. Really. We don't make mistakes,
the doctor said to me during the surgery. We're very accurate. Now
lean back and relax. I have a good joke for you. Have you heard
about the one with the Jew, the colored, and the woman?
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