Granny Gets Gangsta: A Stupid Thing Happened on My Way to the Holocaust Center

Once a year, the Holocaust Resource Center of Washington in Seattle honors the members of its Speakers Bureau by inviting them to a bagel and lox brunch. I am on their speakers’ list, not as a survivor of the holocaust as are the other guests, but as the daughter of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. When they introduce themselves, recalling firsthand experiences at Auschwitz or Dachau, I, as ‘one generation removed’ from the Genocide, feel uncomfortable speaking about my mother’s experiences in Turkey.

Hoping to blend in with the other guests, at least superficially, I decked myself out in my mom’s heirloom jewelry of diamond rings, pearl bracelets and turquoise pendants, even though I had fleeting doubts about the wisdom of flaunting gold in downtown Seattle when its price has sky-rocketed.

I drove into a coin-operated parking lot a block from the Holocaust Center. When the machine refused my cash, I debated whether to drive away or try using my credit card on this newly installed contraption. Following the instructions, I inserted my credit card. Nothing happened. I resisted giving it a couple of swats as Armenians tend to do at anything inoperative – instead, I sighed.

A young fellow loitering nearby, with his ear-buds corded to a cell-phone hooked to his belt, approached me to help. He slammed his whole torso against the machine and punched a few numbers. “It’s done,” he said.

“What did you do?” I asked wanting to learn the process.

“I punched my code,” he said and stepped into the crosswalk.

Punched my code?

Something was amiss. The machine remained inactive and this guy was already on the other side of the street.

Anxiously, I waited for the green traffic light to flash while I watched him walk uphill without once looking back. Instead, he bent down for something on the sidewalk. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry.

As soon as the crosswalk lights changed, I dashed across, yelling, “Hey! You,” knowing quite well, he couldn’t hear me over the busy traffic and the distance between us. I ran uphill, in my stack-heel shoes. Normally I would look down at the ground, stepping ever so carefully, lest I trip. But here I was running—uphill, to boot! The keys to my car were in one hand, and my small clutch-bag was in the other. Later on I realized my credit card case and loose dollars were exposed halfway out of my unzipped purse.

The guy had slipped off my radar. Where did he go? What happened to him? Why couldn’t I see him? Nevertheless, I maintained my momentum uphill. At the sight of an alley between the two main streets, I stopped. Aha! That’s where he had slithered. I ran into the alley.

Midway, next to colossal, commercial, orange garbage cans, he was talking with three similar-looking guys.

The dangers of being in an alley with enormous trash containers, surrounded by four or five gangster-looking kids, in downtown Seattle, never occurred to me.

“Hey, you!” I yelled again, knowing quite well I’d likely be heard in this secluded, noiseless backstreet.

He turned around, surprised to see me.

“I want to talk to you,” I said. “What is your name?”

“Paul.”

“Paul what?” I asked and he uttered a common one.

“Do you have a card, Paul?” I asked, knowing quite well the futility of my question. But when he said, “Yes,” I quickly asked for one.

“I don’t have any on me,” he said, patting the pockets of his khaki pants.

I handed him a Between the Two Rivers postcard about my recently published book and a pen. “Would you please write your name?”

He pressed my pen real hard, and traced his name several times, as if his scribbled letters wouldn’t be legible otherwise.

Is he making up a name? Is that why he’s going over P-a-u-l and then over his last name?

“Would you write down your phone number, too?” I urged him.

At that moment, one of his buddies with a naughty twinkling eye, said, “Do you want my number, too?”

Paul, my gangster, looked at him and said, “Shut-up, Bro. She’s too old fer yo’.”

I wanted to laugh with the total capacity of my heart, lungs and libido, but my concern was my felon’s phone number. Again, Paul retraced the numerals of his phone – reasonable local digits.

Only after retrieving my postcard, did I exhale the pent-up exhaustion from running uphill a downtown Seattle street, so steep that a Ford Model T could only climb it in reverse.

Now that my mission was accomplished and my lungs refreshed, the faculties in my head began to function again, and I realized my predicament—alone in an alley with gangsters and garbage receptacles.

Like an aged gazelle of the Sahara, I sprinted back into the main street.

A driver in his parked truck looked at me and asked, “What was that all about?”

Thank God! There was a witness to my reckless pursuit, after all. “That guy may have photographed the number of my credit card,” I said.

“I noticed something funny about him, too,” the truck driver said. “He was piddling with that street sign for no reason. I thought he was goofy. You better call the police.”

If this Paul somehow stole my credit card number, I had his name and phone to pursue him. But the police? Although I doubted he had given me accurate information. I’d think about that tomorrow.

I returned to my car, debating whether I should find an old-fashioned parking lot or maybe just return home. A fellow was at the machine and reaching down to get his receipt.

“What’s this?” I heard him say. “I got two receipts?”

Looking over his shoulder, I said, “Maybe one of them is mine…what is the parking space number?”

He said, “25.”

“That’s mine!” I was jubilant, now suspecting the whole episode with Paul was probably for naught. Perhaps I had been too impatient to wait for my receipt, which meant that chasing Paul had been akin to punching a hole in a bucket of water.

Eventually, when I entered the fortified Holocaust Resource Center, I was breathless, but rational enough to call the credit card company and cancel my account, just in case.

When it was my turn to introduce myself during the reception, I said, “Being the only Armenian at these occasions, I’ve always felt like an outsider. Furthermore, you are all survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, while I am only the daughter of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. But today, I’m happy to declare that as of this morning, I too, am a survivor … for I have survived a Seattle Heist.”

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