“How Wrong I Was” – West Side Rag

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By Peggy Taylor

I was tired of crime on the Upper West Side. Enough of muggings, stabbings, 90-year-old robberies, street vendor terror, McDonald’s shootings, street fights, park holdups, large and small business robberies.

The elegant showcase. Photographs by Peggy Taylor.

So last week I jumped on the crosstown M72 to escape to the swanky Upper East Side, which I was sure would be safer. I sought refuge in my favorite French bakery/patisserie/tea parlor/ice cream parlor, Ladurée, on Madison Avenue, where I indulged in a treat hard to find in most restaurants: coffee ice cream.

There I sat in a miniature Marie Antoinette boudoir, adorned with silk draperies, loot-framed mirrors, and a velvet banquette facing a display case of beribboned gift boxes and macaroon trees. custom-made, priced at $95 to $545.

Now I had read in the New York Post that last April Madison’s high-end clothing stores were hit by such a massive network of illegal thefts that they were now locking their doors and not opening only by appointment. But the authorities had since charged the leader and forty-one accomplices, the traders were less afraid. Anyway, these were high-end clothing boutiques; surely we were safe in an ice cream parlor.

How wrong I was.

I had been going to Ladurée since 2017, and before the pandemic, indulging in their over-the-top Café Liégeois – three scoops of coffee ice cream drowned in espresso and topped off with whipped cream and caramelized almonds.

Now, post-pandemic and belt-tightening, I’ve ordered a single scoop with no whipped cream or almonds, but still served in style in a bulbous silver bowl with a tapered silver spoon and a silver espresso pitcher on the side.

What the would-be thief saw, minus the ice. (This I have pieced together.)

The staff knows me and my routine. I place my credit card and a $2 cash tip on my small marble-topped table, and they pick it up whenever they get a break from the macaron lovers thronging the store. But on Monday, May 23, forty-five minutes before closing, a tall woman in her forties, wearing a black and white headband, fitted jeans and a long black sweater walked into the boudoir, spotted the card and money, and before I could say, “Let them eat cake,” reached out to grab the two.

Fortunately, my 81-year-old reflexes were faster than his forty-year-old arm, and as I screamed, “No, you don’t!” I grabbed the card and the cash and put them back in my wallet. She nonchalantly turned away and let out an eerie giggle, which the manager, later viewing her on the store’s videotape, described as coming from “someone on drugs and crazy”.

Angry, in disbelief, scared and frozen, all I could do was say to a neighbor sitting on the other end of the bench, “Did you see that? “Yes,” she said, as shocked as I was, especially when we realized that the would-be thief hadn’t exited the store like a normal thief would, but was instead standing calmly in front of the counter. , as if pondering what flavor of macaroons. to buy (raspberry-ginger, cherry blossom tea or blackcurrant violet.)

I’m still trying to figure out why I didn’t yell at the whole store, “That woman tried to steal my credit card!” Was it paralysis? To fear? The embarrassment of having almost been had? She had failed to get the card, so I had no evidence that she had tried. Other customers would have looked at me sympathetically as I interrupted their selection of quiches and croissants as well as macaroons.

The assistant manager had momentarily left the shop; one of the two waiters had come down, and the other, a woman in her twenties, was helping the customers. Should I have confronted her with a thief who might have packed a gun or a knife? Someone who could have jumped over the exhibit counter and attacked her just as a disgruntled MOMA member jumped over the Museum desk and stabbed two receptionists three months ago.

When the deputy director returned, I recounted the saga, to which he replied, “There’s a lot going on on Madison Avenue today. But we recorded it,” he reassured me, pointing to a security camera perched near the window above the silk draperies.

The camera that took it.

After closing, the manager played the tape again and found the section with me and the upset thief. He emailed it to me but asked me to keep it for myself. The store didn’t file a complaint with the police, and neither did I. “We always advise people to file a complaint with the police, even a few days after the incident. Both of you can still do it,” said Matthew Bauer, president of the Madison Avenue BID., whom I briefed. But with crime so pervasive, I felt, and still feel, that it would be futile. Prisons are already overcrowded; even if she was caught, she would probably be back on the streets the next day.

Bauer was shocked that the woman tried to steal the card and cash right under me. “We have cases of bag snatching in restaurants when customers leave their belongings unattended, and we always encourage them to secure their bags, but this is the first I’ve heard of. an attempted theft at Ladurée.”

But the manager of Ladurée confirms that burglaries are on the increase there: “They take everything that is outside the window: jars of jam, sachets of marshmallows and the scented candles located right next to the cash register! ” The assistant director pointed to the statuette of a naked, Roman-looking boy reading a book next to a cup of coffee stirrers. “One day a guy tried to steal it, but I caught him before he succeeded,” he said.

The assistant director saved him.

Then I remembered that three years ago, all of Ladurée’s sidewalk chairs had been stolen. Every evening, they now chain the chairs to the sidewalk tables.

So all the tension and anxiety of the Upper West Side did not dissipate when I sought solace on the Upper East Side. After speaking with friends about the increase in crime in their neighborhoods, I have concluded that post-pandemic crime, both petty and serious, is city-wide.

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