When he pulled a gun from his waistband and jabbed it to my belly, I thought it was a phone. I stopped walking and asked, “What’s wrong?” He waved the gun under my nose as if to say, ‘This is a gun. That is what is wrong.’ Recalling that guns are a method by which murder happens, I realized the gravity of the situation, that psychological trauma was imminent. “Oh boy,” I said to the gun. Reality disintegrated at the sight of it, this object I’m only familiar with in movies and tragic news stories.
I see now this was inevitably going to happen. I often walk around Chicago late at night, either coming home from a show or prowling the streets in search of candy. In this particular instance, I was coming home from a show at 2AM, listening to On the Media through headphones, oblivious to all danger except to free speech in Egypt.
My mugger, meanwhile, had been sitting on the curb, legs sprawled out, less than a block from my apartment, scoping out easy (dumb) marks. I did notice him there — I’m not entirely clueless — but I never conceived this dummy would spring up from that position and stalk me down the street. I should have known better. I look vulnerable, like someone whose face flashes on the news under the words “Grisly Remains Found”. People have told me this for years—“How has no one murdered you when you’re so oblivious all the time?” Hell, I’ve never mugged anyone, but if I saw my frail lanky skeleton hobbling down the street, even I would say, “Might as well mug this guy” because it’d be so easy.
With the gun trained on vital organs, he said, “Give me the money, man.” No aggression or meanness, just weary resignation. “I’m not enjoying this, you’re not enjoying this. Let’s just get it over with, so we can move on with our lives,” was the general attitude. “This has to happen to someone tonight. Might as well be you. The wheel of fate has spun and unfortunately landed on gun to your belly.” I pulled out my wallet and looked at the contents: a punch card for pizza, a Starbucks gift card with 2 dollars on it, and a 10 dollar bill.
When being mugged, I’d heard you want to have a reasonable amount of cash or the probability of being beaten up or shot rises dramatically. After all, when you hand them a Pizza Hut gift card, they think you must not be taking this transaction seriously and so require further instruction. Was ten dollars enough to avoid grievous bodily harm? Seemed doubtful. Seemed like I might be getting a new orifice. My stomach tingled with anticipation: the picture of a hole through it; my corpse lying on the sidewalk; my friends saying, “He makes more sense as a dead body than an alive person anyway”; my parents perusing my computer, looking reverently at all the memes I made; my embarrassing web history exposed.
I also thought: Death is real. Real people die. I’m an alive person now, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be a dead person in the imminent future. I could be one of those dead people on the news, all those dead people who seem so divorced from my daily reality where I’m surrounded only by alive people. If I saw more dead people, maybe I’d have been more cautious when walking home, avoided the strange man lounging on a street corner at 2AM, recognized the fragility of my biological machine. I live in a privileged little bubble where my top priority is chocolate flavored coffee when it should be avoiding death.
Following this brief belated thanatopsis, he snatched the ten dollars without examining it. “Turn around and run as fast as you can or I’ll seriously kill you,” he said. This I did, with all haste, around the corner to my apartment where I immediately called 911. “I was just mugged,” I heard myself say. “There was a gun involved.”
Being on the north side of Chicago, the police arrived within two minutes, three cars worth of police. The sergeant himself arrived in his own SUV, wearing a black hoodie and sweatpants, eyes bleary from being dragged out of bed.
“Are you the victim?” he asked.
“Yes, me, I am the victim!”
“Of course you are. Take off those glasses. You look like a victim.”
I took off my glasses. “But now I can’t see. Are you serious right now?”
He laughed. “What? No.”
I nearly broke into tears. Never trust a person wearing a uniform: police, athletes, especially businessmen in their business suits; these people are the enemy. Their only concern is for those wearing the same uniform and the abstract concepts that unite them, and they’ll destroy anything that gets in their way.
“What did he look like,” asked the sergeant. “Black guy?”
“He, um, well, he was an African American person, yes.”
“Did he look street to you?”
“Street? I guess Belle Plaine Street.” I knew what he meant.
“No, I mean did he look, you know, gangster?”
“He was wearing a rust colored t-shirt and jeans.”
“Did this goddamn animal whack you over the head at all?”
“No. He was actually very reasonable about the situation. He took my ten dollars and then fled the scene.” I left out the part where he said he’d seriously kill me.
“Except he put a gun to your chest.”
“Yeah, but other than that, he was very civilized about it.”
At this point, I found myself rooting for the mugger to escape. Run, I thought. They will shoot you to reclaim my ten dollars, but I don’t need ten dollars. It’s fine. You can just have it.
I heard a police officer putting out an APB for a 20-something black male, height 5’10″, and I thought of my roommate who fit all of those characteristics, who would also be walking home around this time. Whoops, accidentally pushed him into a bucket of institutionalized racism. Sorry, buddy.
The police circled the neighborhood for an hour or so like an ominous blue and red parade. Seeing them on patrol for the next week made me feel only slightly safer, though, considering a) I’d never been robbed before in the two years of living in the area, and b) I doubted the mugger would be stupid enough to continue mugging in the same neighborhood. They never caught him, of course.
For days afterward, I found myself rubbing my belly reflexively, the part of me that had almost been obliterated. If I summoned the memory itself, my stomach would ache with psychosomatic pain, which actually seemed exciting in a way. My brain is attacking itself! How novel!
Friends bought me drinks to celebrate my not being a dead body, a kind of un-wake. Many had their own far worse stories of being mugged, which was both reassuring and troubling. One friend was held at gunpoint in his own home while the robbers hauled away his computer and music equipment. Another tried to snatch the gun out of the robber’s hands. “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who go for the gun and those who don’t,” he told me. Personally, I’d rather be one of those who empties his pockets and runs away screaming.