Getting your wallet stolen is always such a hassle. First, you convince yourself that it’s just been misplaced. So, you check all the usual locations: coat pocket, refrigerator, that rock climbing gym in Staten Island. Next, you begin to panic. This is the stage when you begin to mutter profanities under your breath. It usually sets in when the first pangs of hunger strike and you realize that there’s no hope of procuring food without cash, credit card, or sympathetic pictures of family members. Finally, you reach what I call the “abject resignation” phase, and call your parents with the bad news. The stern words you receive will be comparable to the “you crashed the car” lecture, but not as bad as the “you forgot your 11-year-old brother at a gas station after midnight” lecture.
If I sound familiar with the process, it’s because I’m an extremely empathetic person. Also, someone stole my wallet on Tuesday. The irony that the theft occurred during my self-defense class was not lost on me. If only the bandit had assailed me face-to-face with that extremely specific and ineffective attack that I’d been trained to ward off! Instead, the varmint slipped the wallet out of my jeans-pocket after I’d changed into my “gi,” a karate uniform that makes me look like a portly chef.
What hurt me most was not losing my driver’s license and my Pinkberry stamp card—although losing the stamp card was a tremendous blow. It was the realization that somebody in the Columbia community had stolen my wallet. I felt short of breath, tired, and a cold sweat ran down my spine. Of course, it’s possible these symptoms had more to do with my P.E. class than the betrayal of my trust. But it feels much better to blame the thief.
Abstractly, I always knew that something like this could happen to me. My inbox gets more spam from Public Safety than Viagra. (Not by much, though.) Yet, Columbia has always felt too much like home for me to take the notifications seriously. It probably doesn’t help that I’ve never read those emails, anyway.
Pretty soon, I found myself re-examining some of my basic assumptions about our school. Is Columbia a tight-knit community or a cold bureaucracy? How many people on this campus can I really count as friends? And why is there a lactation room in Carman? None of these questions have simple answers, but most of us go about our daily lives taking them for granted.
Luckily, I did not have to wait long for relief. That evening, my roommate took me out for pizza. When we stopped by Pinkberry afterwards, a sympathetic employee gave me a frozen yogurt on the house. More surprisingly, a complete stranger approached me on the street and offered me a back rub. He seemed quite genuine.
The best news of all came when I arrived home and checked my email. Someone had not only found my wallet, but also taken it upon himself to personally return it to me. While the money was long gone by the time it was discovered, the thief had left behind my credit card, driver’s license, and my ticket for a show described by the New York Times as “shockingly mediocre.” I thanked the student for tracking me down, resisted the impulse to jokingly ask if he was the one who’d stolen my cash, and parted ways.
With the incident behind me, there are now two options going forward. I can embrace Columbia as an imperfect, yet generally good community. Or I can barricade myself in my room with a mini fridge and cry hysterically until the semester is over. For most of us, it should be obvious that the former is better than the latter. Just be careful not to leave your valuables out in the open where they can be stolen.
At the end of the day, it’s impossible to live somewhere for four years without beginning to feel invested in the place. Schapiro Hall is my house. John Jay is my kitchen. The underground tunnel system is my rat-infested basement. And all of that is as it should be. Except, please, someone get rid of the rats.
Jeremy Liss is a Columbia College junior majoring in English. He is the creative editor of The Current. Liss is More runs alternate Thursdays.