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  • In early December, 2010, I was a struggling freelance journalist in New Orleans, much like I am now. The summer had been a time when work had been plenty since I'd been not only employed by the census, but also selling lots of oil spill-related stories. Now, four months after the census gig ended and five months after the well was capped, I was earning just enough to cover the bare minimum of expenses, about $800 a month.
    Late in the summer I had decided to put together a radio documentary comparing flooding and land-loss issues in Venice, Italy and New Orleans. My father lives near Venice and has been there most of my life, so it was a comparison that was meaningful to me. Plus, since I had gone out to remote Louisiana outposts to report on the oil spill, my relationship to the Mississippi Delta changed dramatically from the non-existent place it had been in beforehand.
    Once the census was done, I worked from home most of the time, but since it's nice to see other human beings sometimes and since my big, old house was just as drafty and frigid in the winter as it was designed to be in the summer, I would sometimes take myself to a cafe'.
    One such afternoon arrived in early December.
    Towards the middle of an afternoon with dull sunlight and the gray tinge of winter on the street, I took myself to my favorite spot in the Marigny. When I arrived, I put my computer on a table in the corner near the door and then took myself to the counter where three young men were ordering from the barista.
    One of them was hanging back, away from the counter and closer to the window. The other two were at the counter ordering a ridiculous array of things, racking up a bill of some $50. It was clear to me that something was wrong with the scene when the card one of them offered to the barista didn't work, and the young man offered to read him the numbers from another card that “should” work.
    Why the barista didn't pick up on this, I don't know.
    Why I didn't recognize the con and take it as a warning to step away, I don't know. Maybe I didn't want to believe that three young, Black men could be scamming this café.
    The guy without the card stepped away from the counter, and the one with the card offered to let me pass ahead so that I could order. As I waited for my tea, he asked me what I thought about white chocolate mocha and other taste options running to the ridiculous.
    When I turned around, the young man who had stepped away was walking out the door with my computer. Too stunned to believe my eyes, I went over to the table and went through the requisite motions of looking for it for a moment before I followed him out the door. But, of course, at that point he was nowhere to be seen.
    Nor were the police.
    In spite of the barista's efforts to keep the remaining two guys engaged, they melted away, long before a police officer showed up. The one in plain clothes guarding the movie shoot up the street was too busy to get out of his car.
    Although I went to a local conmputer repair shop to notify the owner, who I knew, to keep an eye out for my MacBook, he told me straight up that it wasn't likely to show up there. His prediction was that the guys would just keep it. And all the material I'd been working on for my documentary would get wiped.
    Later that evening, my buddy Ben, who shares my background in independent media and happens to be much more of a computer nerd than I am, came by with an old, old spare computer that he had lying around. He'd lent it to another friend for a while, someone who'd had a computer emergency that I think involved a total meltdown of her system. But now, after a long absence, he had it back and could lend it to me.
    Ben and I met during the spring when we were both working on the census. He lived a few blocks away, and so stopping by wasn't a huge deal. My kitchen was cold, as usual in December, but Ben's loaner, and the thumb drives he gave me to provide an external storage space so that I could protect the material I had and would collect, warmed my heart. It didn't change my financial situation or the drafts in my apartment, but it meant more to me than either of those things.
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