Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Donuts At Knifepoint

A random, non-art related memory:

As stated before on this blog, I attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. Pratt has the distinction of being one of the few colleges in New York City with a closed campus (as well as having the second largest sports complex in New York City, Madison Square Garden being the largest). The campus is comprised of 3 Brooklyn city blocks fully enclosed by an iron fence with only 4 total points of entry during the day and 2 at night. It was a relatively safe haven in what was at times a sketchy neighborhood (this is '94, I believe so I can't comment on the neighborhood now.).

I spent all four years there in a fairly typical dorm (2 as a resident, 2 as an RA), and during my freshman year, I got held up in the middle of campus. It was a friend’s birthday and I had made the cross campus slog to the C-Store (which was a small convenience store located in the only off-campus dorm building) to buy a cake. Lacking the required appliances to make a real cake, I was forced to settle for an Entenmann’s chocolate sheet cake and some candles. For myself, I purchased some Entenmann’s chocolate covered donuts.

On my way back to my dorm, while crossing campus, I noticed a group of 6 local kids hanging out (somewhat unusual as it was around 10:00 at night). I really didn’t think much of it until I noticed that they started to move towards me. By the time I realized what was about to happen, it was too late. I was completely surrounded by the six kids (all of whom seemed younger than me, but much larger). My eyes immediately began searching for one of the campus security cars, another passerby — anything! From where I stood I could see two of the school's security booths, but no roving cars and I was too far away to get anyone’s attention. Furthermore, the closest buildings to me were locked for the night. I was trapped.

Oddly, while the incident unfolded, I wasn’t in the least bit worried for my personal safety. I was more worried about what I actually had in my pockets. Fortunately, the only things I had were my keys and my meal card — neither of which would be of any use to them. No, I figured I’d be fine and had little to lose…until I saw the knife. The kid directly facing me brandished it with a certain level of comfort that finally brought home the reality of my situation.

“Give me your money.”

I emptied my pockets, showed him the contents and apologized for having nothing more. A guy behind me patted my pockets to be sure.

“All right then, what's in that bag.” He took the bag and looked inside. “Give me this cake then.”

At this point my mind split in two. One half was thinking how nice it would be to be alive in my dorm room having lost only a cake and a certain level of dignity. The other half of my brain was blown away by the situation and a little angry that these guys were stooping to holding me up for baked goods. Unfortunately, that’s the half that spoke.

“I’m sorry, but you can’t have the cake, it’s for a friend’s birthday,” I said. The intelligent half of my brain lost it. What are you doing? Why are you saying this? You’re never going to get the blood out of these pants!

Not surprisingly, the kids looked pretty surprised and irritated that I would argue. After all, they had the knife and the superior numbers. I was just some idiot from Pennsylvania who trusted that the security that his college loans were paying for would actually be somewhat effective. As it was, I had just made the situation worse, and I realized that I had to do something to placate them on some level and so the reasonably intelligent side of my brain finally kicked in with a stutter and added after a brief pause, “But you can have these donuts!”

The kids all looked around at one another having some unspoken discussion about whether this was an acceptable offer, and finally concluding (to my utter relief) that it was. They pulled the box of donuts out of the bag, handed the bag back to me, then opened the donuts. I can still remember the chocolaty smell wafting from that box and mixing with the smell of dead leaves on that fall night. I remember, too, the buildings and trees and leaf-covered grounds bathed in the pinkish orange light of the streetlamps and feeling so alone in what was the only truly dark part of the entire campus. And finally, I remember having the box of donuts handed back to me, still containing two donuts inside, seeing the knife disappear under the kid’s shirt and being told, “Thanks, and tell your friend we said ‘Happy Birthday.’”

*This story was inspired by Chuck Wendig's blog over at Terrible Minds.  Check it out.


  1. Everyone likes donuts. I think this proves it. I think I toured Pratt once while looking at colleges ... it's the one with the black wrought iron fence around it, right?

  2. That would be the one. It was designed to be a shoe factory, if I recall. The shoe factory was the backup plan in case the art school failed. Might be an urban legend, but that's how I heard it.

  3. Wow, that sounds like quite the experience. Way to play your cards right!


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