Mugged twice

(Modified monologue – inserted in frame)



            Rick was always the man that sat in the corner of the bar, drinking one and a half beers a night before going home. He was too well dressed for a place like The Red Baron, which always put other people off. We speculated that he had a job in Newark, perhaps at the Prudential building selling insurance, yet in the back of my mind I knew he was something more. Perhaps it was the way he carried himself, tough, yet smooth, too, like a one-time marine in the war who had found a more gentile profession after service.

            Being as nosy as I am, I could not resist the temptation to ask him one day on a slow night, even though Tommy the Bartender glared at me to keep away. Tommy didn’t want to lose the one patron that gave his little tavern some class.

            When I offered to buy Rick a beer, he looked at me as if studying me for flaws, and apparently satisfied, agreed.

            When I asked him about himself, Rick smiled, and then started talking, handing me a parable rather than an explanation.

            “I didn’t think it would happen to me, despite what the statistics said,” the man told me, sipping his beer slowly, carefully patting away from the foam from his upper lip. “My friends warned me about it, citing every myth about going into Manhattan.”

            He gave a short snort of a laugh.

            “I didn’t listen. I figured if I could survive New Jersey with all its crackpot gun owners and high school bully’s acting to be cops, I can survive anything,” he said, looking straight at me for the first time. “Then, suddenly I found myself standing on a street corner letting some creep drag the wallet out of my pocket.  And let him get away.  I could have the kicked it out of him as easily as I had beaten bullies back in high school but all seemed different there in New York.

The gun was one point but the unreality of it another, me standing watching it happened, knowing it was as much a part of city life as buying the newspaper or catching the subway.  I wasn’t supposed to stop it.  I was supposed to let it happen.

“Afterwards I felt stupid, trying to explain it all to the police, unable to say whether the man was white or black, or even if there really was a gun.  They weren’t exactly cold about it, just unsympathetic, taking the facts down as if it all was routine for them as I suppose it was.  It happened so often to make it all seemed routine.

“But it wasn’t routine for me.  I felt empty and embarrassed, as if the mugger had walked off with more than just my wallet.  I wondered how I was going to go back to New Jersey and face my friends after denying all of their rumors, becoming for them just another confirmation of how bad it is in New York City.  The prospect of that seemed as cool as the police had been, lacking any place for comfort.  And I wanted comfort, and they didn’t know how to go about getting it without being labeled a wimp by my macho Jersey friends.

“Somehow I got through it.  I got home, did the endless repetition of tale telling which graphically depicted the event in no way the police had only taken it down his facts.  It seemed it was rehearsal for the courtroom, though in truth the odds against finding the man were so remote, I didn’t put much weight on it.  I left the whole thing to die its natural death, covering up the discomfort of the talk with the aid of clownish behavior, often exaggerating the offense depiction into farce.  And then when it was all nearly over I got a phone call from the police.  They wanted me to come back into the city to see if I could identify the mugger, apparently they had defied the odds and blasted someone.  Maybe I should’ve told them to forget it.  I didn’t want to go into New York again and I didn’t want to tell anyone I was afraid.

“No shell shock is a better word, looking over my shoulder, waiting for the hand to strike in some new face to ask me for my money.  But it was the old face I saw in the lineup.  Less haunting and terrible as my imagination had made it.  Smug, yes, but rather pathetic, to.  Like those self-deluded tough guys in high school who no one takes too seriously, doing bigger and more foolish acts until they finally do what it takes to make the big-time and go to jail.  I pointed my finger and went home, but I knew I would have to go back again later many times, and pictured myself telling and retelling my tale the way I had with my friends.

“Only I never quite got a chance to say anything, I went there all right, suffering through the various machinations, through the cancellations and the postponements, losing work to see justice done.  But each time I was sent home before I could speak my peace. Sure, I could’ve written it out in a deposition, but it seemed the court already had too many documents of that ilk, which told only of the facts, and not the feelings of the crime.  It didn’t seem adequate to the sense of violation I felt as if the mugger had not just stolen time and money but had stepped inside me and rooted through the dusty draws cluttered closets of my life, leaving what had been an organized chaos in shambles in shame.  I needed to say this for myself one human to another.  But as I said I never got the chance. The man, mother, rapist, pathetic villain coped some lower plea and was off to jail.

Just like that.  No one say anything to me.  No one asking me if I thought this was appropriate or right.  No one ever look to me twice as I shuffled out of the court room, as confused as I had been after the mugging, and doubly ashamed.

“That’s why I eventually went into law. That’s why I work as a prosecutor in Newark today. I’m bound and determine to make sure someone in that system lets the victim speak.”

Although Rick never said why he came to the Red Baron each night before going off to his home, most of the boys in the bar presumed the worst, and kept their talk low whenever he was in the bar. No one every messed with him, not even the toughest of motorcycle thugs. Most figured with a chip like that on his shoulder, the man might just decide to get even with us for the two muggings he’d suffered one from the creep in New York, and the other from the legal system.

Me, I just kept buying him beers. I figured a little insurance couldn’t hurt.



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