I’m not gonna bring my phone, I thought, as I packed the bag for our trip to the beach yesterday. My daughter and I decided we’d go to Brighton for the afternoon, and with just the two of us going, that meant no one would be left to sit on the beach and watch our stuff while we were swimming. But I’ve never had a problem at the beach before, and I wasn’t going to bring anything of value.
I changed my mind, though, and packed my cell phone and my credit card. I don’t know why. Well, I know why I brought the credit card, because you just never know if you’ll need it in an emergency. But I don’t know why I changed my mind about bringing the phone. Partially it’s because I wanted to be able to take pictures, and partially it was because I wanted to be able to share those pictures - at least one – via social media. “Look everybody! We’re at the beach! Hey, if one of you was here with us, there would be enough people to take turns watching the bags!”
I knew not to bring my phone. It’s going to get sand in it, I thought. Then I thought, no, I’ve got this nice insulated bag that zips up, it’ll be fine. I had a vision of someone stealing my bag. I even thought about what I would do if my bag got stolen. It’ll be fine, I thought. The cops would get us home. I’ve got spare keys.
I don’t know why I was so fixated on the idea of my bag being stolen. I’ve never had a bag stolen from me in 13 years in New York. I’ve dropped my driver’s license on the street twice and had it mailed back to me by a kind stranger each time. A friend recently posted a story about how her son lost his wallet on the train and it was returned to him completely intact, even the cash. New York City is the safest big city in the world. But for whatever reason, I was hung up on the fact that I could be robbed, and in a sense I knew I would be robbed.
Some would call this manifestation, right? The Secret says what you believe and think comes true, therefore if you believe someone is going to steal your bag, your bag will be stolen. I dispute that idea for many reasons, the first and foremost being that I was not worried that someone was going to steal my bag, manifesting its theft through fear. I had a full-on premonition that someone was going to steal my bag. I don’t want to come right out and call myself a psychic, mostly because I don’t want to have to start dressing in mumus and wearing turbans, but I have always had a very strong sixth sense (without the dead people). My intuition is excellent, and every time I haven’t followed it has been a reminder for me to always, always, always follow your instincts.
So I knew not to bring my phone but I brought it anyway. And not just because I wanted to share a photo of my daughter and I on the beach, but because I love my daughter and I love to take pictures of her on the beach. I’ve come to a much more selective place with my social media shares in recent months, and so I’ve got lots of pictures on my phone that are just for me to be able to look through in a quiet moment or when I’m feeling down or when I miss my daughter if she’s visiting her dad.
When we got to the beach I set our stuff down near other families and we went in the water. It was freezing cold, so thankfully I didn’t feel like staying in very long. I kept looking at the bag, making sure it was safe. My daughter was having so much fun in the water and looked so happy, I had to get her photo. I grabbed a great shot of her jumping over a wave, then I asked her to pose. She did, but then said, “Mommy, put your phone away and play with me!”
Those words really struck me. “Mommy, put your phone away and play with me!” Why had I even brought the phone to begin with? We’ll both make better memories from living in the moment than photographing it. Luckily my daughter doesn’t have to ask me to put my phone away very often. I’m not the kind of parent who multitasks by “playing” and doing business at the same time. But I realized in that instant that I didn’t need to take a picture of our beach day at all. I didn’t need to take a photo to look at later, I needed to splash in the water now. I didn’t need to have a great photo for social media or to use in a killer blog post slideshow of my daughter at the beach in the same jumping pose over the years. I needed to play.
I put the phone away, sticking it at the bottom of the bag, hoping to deter someone from taking it. I headed back into the water. My daughter was running around in the surf and when a big wave hit her, she yelled, “I love Coney Island!”
This is where I should mention that instead of going to Brighton – a quieter, less populated beach – we decided to go to Coney so we wouldn’t have to transfer on the train. When I was packing the bag at home, another thought that allowed me to rationalize bringing the phone was that we were going to Brighton and no one would be there, so I didn’t have to worry. But Coney is an entirely different story. It’s usually swarming with people in the summer, which increases the opportunity for crime. It’s easy for a petty thief to snag something and run away unseen.
I kept looking back to the beach, making sure no one had touched my bag. I thought of that Ani Difranco lyric she wrote years ago while she was living in New York: “We lose sight of everything when we have to keep checking our backs/I think we should just smile, come clean and relax.” It’s from a song called Anticipate, the chorus of which is, “Someone you don’t know is someone you don’t know, get a firm grip girl before you let go, for every hand extended another lies in wait, keep your eye on that one, anticipate.” The song is about never allowing yourself to live in the moment, and since that’s what I was at the beach to do, I decided to ease up a little bit. I went back to our spot and laid down and my daughter started burying my feet with sand. The people next to us offered her a cup to dig with. They’re keeping an eye on our stuff, it’s safe, they’re looking out for us, I thought, so we went back in the water a final time.
I had gotten used to the frigid temperature by then and wanted to really relish in the feel of the salt water on my skin. I finally let myself breathe in the smell of the beach air and feel the grit of the sand on my chest. I played a game with my daughter involving jumping over the first wave then running away from the next one. We were laughing and having fun. I got my face wet. I felt that healing feeling I usually do from the ocean. I was happy.
I noticed the kid was starting to get cold so I said it was time to get out. I looked up at the beach for my green bag. It was gone. I knew it. I wasn’t looking in the wrong spot, it hadn’t just blown or tipped over so that I couldn’t see it, it was gone. I ran up to our spot, my daughter right behind me, and asked our friendly neighbors, “Did someone steal my bag?” They said it had just been right there, they turned around for one second, they didn’t see anybody come. My animal brain had already taken over, scanning the beach further toward the boardwalk. I saw it about 200 feet away. It was still zipped up but clearly tossed away. I ran.
I grabbed the bag out of the sand and asked the two women sitting right near it, “Did you see the person who tossed this bag here?” “No,” they replied, trying to catch up. I was already rifling through. I knew the phone and the card would be gone, but did they leave me my keys? They did. “They stole my credit card and my phone,” I said. “Go tell a cop,” the woman urged. “There’s undercovers all over the boardwalk. My cousin is a cop. I’m sorry, mami. What a bastard.”
I went back to our spot where my daughter was playing with the family next to us. It reminded me of the very first time we went to Coney Island, when we sat in much the same spot, my daughter the same age then as the baby she was playing with now. That first visit to Coney we made friends with the couple sitting next to us, and their daughter – who was the same age then my daughter is now – was playing with my baby. The circle of life. People. Friendliness. Comaraderie. Summertime. Joy. Trust. Delight.
“They stole my credit card and my phone,” I reported. “Why didn’t you ask us to watch your stuff? We would have,” the mother said. “I don’t know, I never had a problem before,” I offered. “Do you want to use my phone to call your credit card company?,” she asked. I did. I reported my phone stolen, too. I thanked the family for their help, grabbed our stuff and headed to the boardwalk with my daughter. I told some police officers what happened, they told me where to file a report.
As we walked back to the street against the backdrop of the amusement park, I thought about the pictures. That was the only thing I was upset about. I just don’t understand why anyone in this day and age would steal anything from anybody. Bank accounts and credit lines can be shut down immediately, phones get shut down and don’t really have any resale value. (It was a Windows Phone, not an iPhone.) Data can be wiped, and if a thief uses a card or the phone they’ll be traced and caught. It’s just a way to be mean, really, to violate someone.
It’s funny – I think I knew to check for the bag after years of working with Wendy Ho, whose comedy song “Bitch, I Stole Yo Purse” taught me that most criminals leave the shit they don’t want behind. (Thank you, kind sir, for leaving me my keys! I hope it was the fact that I’m a single mother that tugged at your heartstrings enough not to leave me stranded outside my home. I truly appreciate it. I only wish something had moved you not to take my phone when you saw my daughter’s tiny little skirt and shoes sitting there in the sand. But seriously, dude, a Windows Phone? Really? Cheers to you for being a totally geeky thug. p.s. – You can have the credit card. It only had $10 left on it, anyway.)
I understand that this story in-and-of-itself is maybe not the most compelling crime drama, but that’s not why I wanted to tell it. I wanted to tell it because I learned so many lessons through this experience, and not just, “Don’t leave your bags unattended in a big city, idiot.” Many of the lessons are listed above, but some of them aren’t. In either case, I thought I’d break them all down for you below so that you can take something away from my experience like the guy (or gal, let’s not be sexist against criminals now!) who took my phone:
Lesson No. 1 1 of 12
If your gut is telling you not to do something, DON'T DO IT. It is really and always that simple. I think women are especially good at rationalizing bad ideas and - on a related note - bad behavior from other people - because most of us were socialized a) to not trust ourselves and b) to "be nice." Nothing wrong with being nice, but not at the expense of being smart first.
Lesson No. 2 2 of 12
In other words, before you change course midstream like I did (deciding to go to Coney instead of Brighton), think, "Am I prepared with everything I need to make this course change?" If I had been planning to go to Coney from the jump I would have been in a different mindset about what to bring, and I let my guard down when I shouldn't have.
Lesson No. 3 3 of 12
I know we all feel awkward in that moment where you have to look at the person next to you and say, "Would you mind watching my stuff while I go to the bathroom?," or in my case dip into the water, but it works. And sure, I've heard a few comics do jokes about being annoyed when asked to watch someone else's stuff, but most people aren't childish brats. Most people really don't mind, totally get it, and will ask you to return the favor in 5 minutes. Remember, most people are honest and kind. Referring back to my first point, listen to your instincts about that, you'll be able to tell. I should have specifically asked the people next to me if I could move my stuff into their little camp while my daughter and I went swimming. I'm sure they would have said yes, but I didn't want to be a bother (see trying to "be nice") and I assumed since we'd already chatted that they were sort of on it.
Lesson No. 4 4 of 12
This is a big one that has many components. I guess the first part is that I would never bring a laptop to the beach and assume it was safe in a bag, so I shouldn't have assumed the same thing about a smart phone. Secondly, I should have password protected my phone, but I didn't even know I could do that (since it's not an iPhone with that automatic password thingy). Having a password doesn't deter theft, but it does make it so a thief can't access your data. (Unless he's a brilliant hacker, but come on, this ain't a scripted crime drama. It's real life.) Finally, insure your phone and download whatever data safety tool your carrier and/or insurance company offers so that if someone does steal your phone you can remotely wipe the data from it immediately.
Lesson No. 5 5 of 12
If you don't want to have to start over collecting contacts or you don't want to lose all your photos, be sure the data on your phone is backed up somewhere. The only thing I was really sad about when I discovered my phone was stolen was losing the pictures. I think they may be backed up via an online system my carrier uses, but I'm not sure. Some of them are in my email and on social media, but lots aren't. It's worth adding here that I was extremely relieved that there were no compromising photos of me on my phone, because even though when you report a phone stolen your carrier will usually suspend your service so that no calls can be made or received and the Internet can't be accessed, items actually stored on your phone as well as any email accounts you have linked to your phone are still accessible, unless you have data security and can wipe your phone immediately.
Lesson No. 6 6 of 12
Just don't. They are never "safe." So unless you wouldn't mind nude photos of yourself ending up on the Internet, don't ever take nude photos. Just sayin'. Tell your children and your wives and your husbands and your aunts and your uncles. God, no, don't tell your uncle. That's awkward and he should already know better.
Lesson No. 7 7 of 12
So I called my carrier right away and they suspended my service. Great. But they wouldn't fully block my phone's data/email from being accessed unless I filed an insurance claim. In order to file a claim, I had to order a replacement phone. That's total bs, btw, but that's likely how your insurance works, too. You should look into that, in fact. The cost of a replacement phone was $100, and I didn't have access to any money or form of payment there on the beach, so I had to wait until I got home to sort it out. That left my phone accessible for a few hours. Most petty thieves are not looking for your data, they just want the physical phone, but still. Bear this in mind. Had I downloaded the data safety tool that I was paying for monthly but didn't realize required a special download I wouldn't have been forced into ordering a replacement phone just to get the phone blocked. I could have maybe turned this lemon into lemonade by upgrading to an iPhone. Hrmph.
Lesson No. 8 8 of 12
If social media has proven anything besides the universal appeal of cats, it's that consumers have immense power. I had a great experience getting help from my carrier via online chat last night, and I told them that I think they should block any stolen phone immediately whether or not a customer pays for insurance. Consumers have a right to be protected, damn it! If you have a smart phone, you pay enough in monthly charges to deserve some real help if your phone is lost or stolen.
Lesson No. 9 9 of 12
It's taken me two years of therapy to learn this, so don't think this is some quick epiphany I had as a result of successfully dealing with a stolen phone. On the contrary - I was able to handle my stolen phone situation like a champ because of the work I've been doing for two years in therapy that has taught me not to spiral into helplessness and shame when something bad happens. What that means is, if you catch yourself feeling like it's all your fault that someone stole something from you and that you have no idea what to do now or how you'll handle it or where you'll get the money to replace it and OMG what am I doing with my life I should have moved out of New York City years ago it's too expensive and people steal from you here and what makes me think I have the right to be an entertainer when I really should just be responsible and this would never happen to so-and-so she's got her life together and MY MOTHER NEVER LOVED ME THAT'S WHY EVERYTHING IS FUCKED UP, just stop. None of that is true. You did nothing wrong. There is nothing wrong with you. The person who stole your phone is the one who was wrong. People have things stolen anywhere and everywhere, even in the tiniest of small towns, you're very talented and deserve happiness just like all human beings, she's had her shit, too, and I love you. So there. You're welcome. Don't buy into victim-blaming culture. It's hard because it's all around us, but you don't have to buy into it. Like I always tell my daughter, freaking out makes a good situation bad and a bad situation worse. So keep calm and go to therapy. It's the best.
Lesson No. 10 10 of 12
I mean, it feels like it is, anyway. That's not to say that I'm gloating over the fact that whoever took my phone will have something bad happen to them. I'm not. Something bad - probably many bad things - have already happened to them, that's why they're in a dark enough place to need or want to steal a phone. I'm sorry about that. I wish you would have just talked to me instead, dude. My therapist works on a sliding scale. I could have given you her number if I still had a phone. But anyway ... I mention karma because my good karma paid off in a friend being able to help me deal with all of this, and for that I'm very grateful. I guess one of the main morals here is ask for help. Ask for help from the people around you, ask for help from a therapist, ask for help from a friend. The only way people can get through life and be healthy is to admit that we all need help and that there's no shame in it since that's just how life works.
Lesson No. 11 11 of 12
Just a reminder that while using the Internet is fun and we all love it and in my case it's my job, technology isn't everything. By trying to capture a moment to use later online, I ended up writing about something entirely different and losing money trying to make it. Be smart, not just about your devices, but about the time you give yourself away from them.
Lesson No. 12 12 of 12
As my daughter and I were riding the train home, I felt a rush of appreciation for her. That's not unusual, but there was something extra special about this feeling that really drove home the point to me that people are the only "things" that matter. My daughter was so relaxed the whole time while I was dealing with the stolen phone that I was not only proud of her, but proud of myself, too, because I was clearly indicating that everything was under control and there was no reason to panic or be upset. It was kind of like a bonding experience for us in a weird way, and ultimately it didn't sully our day at the beach at all. We had a lot of fun, and on top of that we gained a story. We watched kids breakdance in the train car all the way to our stop and ran into a friend on the walk home, then peeled our suits off with another day at the beach behind us and many more to come.
Main photo: iStock/PicMonkey
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