And here begins the story of how I was mugged on the streets of Barcelona.
It was around November 15th, 2005.
I had just spent a very pleasant week in the sunny cultural capital of Spain. El Sol shone on the stone buildings and the man urine from the night before stank–but it was but a common vestige of the past night’s madness. I had gotten used to the smell.
I had just enjoyed a relaxing picnic of olives, avocado, fresh baguette, and brie in tropical park of Mont Juic. Strolling down a street a couple blocks from the Mediterranean in my lazy afternoon food-coma-stagger, passing a group of deaf kids signing furiously while playing soccer, listening as the whizzing scooter daredevils raced by, doing all these things at once–I felt like I was home.
I was shuffling along with my new found Canadian friend Sally, enjoying the sights all relaxed-like. After our descent from the cliffs of the park overlooking all of Barcelona, we were making a beeline for The Aquarium near the center of town. On the walk we were deciding whether a post-lunch siesta or a walk through a Spanish aquarium would be better.
I had been having a good time here, but this particular afternoon was quickly rocketing past even the sunniest beach-filled days at my beach back home in California. We soon passed a local church, with flocks of 15-18 year old high school kids milling about and smoking. I was walking on the left side of street down the sidewalk and Sally was on my left. We soon passed the kids and I found myself stopped by a young man on the street.
He was between the ages of 17 and 25, and was of Spanish descent, with a 5 inch scar down the left side of his face. He looked homeless, and I slowed down to see what he was now energetically talking to me about. He stepped up to me–a reasonable distance for such a city–and with a quick flurry of eyebrow raises, quickly asked me:
“Hello! Where are you from?”
I replied “Los Angeles.” and he looked as though he had heard something about Los Angeles the way people look when they want to quickly find common ground. He then even more excitedly asked me:
“Do you play futbol?”
In the back of my mind I was thinking “Oh isn’t this special. I’ve going to have a conversation about something these Spanish folk busy their time with… something to break the barrier of distance and culture. Why don’t I take a few minutes out of my relaxing afternoon to chat with this fine excited fellow. I won’t even need to break out my poor high school Spanish to enjoy this cultural journey for unless my ears deceive me, this kind futbol-obsessed gentleman was speaking Ingles!” Wrong wrongidy wrong.
He then calmly stepped even closer to me, and in a flash had his left leg wound between my legs kicking as though there were a ghost soccer ball between them. He almost sang “Futbol Futbol” as he did this.
How strange, thought I. His left side was now tight against my right side, and he had worked his left arm over my shoulder. What a strange thing to do to a stranger, I thought, even if one were so excited about soccer. Then before I know it, he’s returned back to where he stood when he spoke his first words to me, only his hands were busy behind his back.
A thousand things went through my mind at once. I first meant to make sense of exactly what he just did, then I noticed a dull airiness about my back right pocket. It was as though a breeze and lightness was now faintly felt where it shouldn’t be. I put two and two together, and asked in a very nonthreatening and calm voice: “Did you take my wallet?”
These first words will forever ring in my mind as the five dumbest words I’ve ever spoken. Any talk about ‘the middle path’ or ‘bending like reeds in a river’ or ‘the prudence of diligent inaction’ will forever bring me back to this one moment in time when I should have done one thing: Swift kick to the balls.
A couple milliseconds passed and Scarface still had his hands behind his back. As I regained the use of my mind and voice, I sad in a much louder and threatening voice: “Give it back.” I then lunged for him and after a quick step backwards and a half second of fumbling behind his back he threw my wallet to the ground.
Scarface then ran a few steps to where a black man sat on a small red motor scooter and appeared to pass off my money to the man. I watched the hand off, but I only saw the moment after Scarface unblocked my line of sight. I did not see any money in the black man’s hands after Scarface began walking down the street. I didn’t know what to think.
I immediately went up to the black man and said “Give me my money” (in Spanish). Of course he said he didn’t have it, and pointed at Scarface who was now 20 yards away. He was casually walking towards the square where all the kids were fooling around and occasionally turned his head back to see what me and Scooter were deciding. I realized he had only taken 20 euros, so I was not as angry as some might think.
I told Sally to stay nearby Scooter while I tracked down Scarface. Just as he made a corner around the church we had just passed, I bolted after him so he wouldn’t know I was after his semi-homeless vagrant ass.
When I turned the corner he was pretty close, but still casually walking away. I stopped him and talked to him, trying to be as calm as possible. I asked him where in sam hell my money was, and he said he gave it to the black man. He looked furious that I thought he had the money, so all I asked for was a promise that he didn’t have it. At this point Sally came up to me and said that the Black man had gone inside a cafe nearby and may have handed the money off to a third person. It was getting rather complicated and the conspiracy theories were piling up in my mind.
Was this a city-wide ring managed by Miguel the Butcher, THE THIRD MAN? Was the black man perhaps the adopted brother of Scarface, with whom he had made a blood pact with to rob tourists of enough money to pay for Scarface’s mother’s kidney transplant?
With Sally’s urging, and my conspiracy theories, we resolved to let Scarface go–who had in fact recently, and quite believably, swore on his mother’s life that he did not have my money.
We returned to the scene of the crime, and Scooter was still around. Funny, we thought, but better for our next plan of action. A woman who was loitering outside her hair salon got the scoop from us and called the cops in to question Scooter. Sally did the conversing as I nodded when I understood a certain amount of their conversation.
The woman said that the whole ‘futbol thing’ happens 4 or five times a day, and not always by the same child. Conspiracy theory growing. Third man becoming more apparent. She did not know about scooter, but thought it a good idea that he be questioned. Another man came up to us and informed us that yesterday a thief was handcuffed and arrested just down the street.
As the minutes drifted by and the fate of my euros seemed to drift into the dizzy sun, my heartbeat slowed and I began to take mental notes as if I were conducting a sociological study. Glad that I had my credit cards, passport, and the 50 pounds sterling in a hidden compartment still with me, I almost wanted to walk home and siestar my cares away.
Twenty minutes later the cops showed up, and we walked with them to Scooter. He looked frightened, and the cops thoroughly searched him. After seeing his expression for only a few seconds, I realized that it was Scarface who outwitted us all. Scooter never even saw Scarface before. Scarface was only utilizing the skill of the American Football pass fake to his (and his mother’s) advantage! Not like I play American Football, but I feel oddly betrayed by a sport I should have paid more attention to.
I felt absolutely rotten as the cops rooted through Scooter’s pathetic belongings. He called me racist and stupid, and he was half right. The 20 euro pass Spanish scooter fake did me in.