Feb 19, 2024, 06:24AM

On Robberies

The first time I was robbed I was with my brother on the way to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to hear the Verdi Requiem.

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The first time I was robbed I was with my brother on the way to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to hear the Verdi Requiem. It was going to be a great concert. Besides the massed choral thrills of the Dies Irae, it was announced that conductor David Zinman was placing the trumpets in the balconies for the Tuba Mirum for spatial effects. The Apocalypse couldn’t get much better. At the time my brother and I were living on Calvert St. It was late-spring, the sun was still out, and we were crossing the bridge over the train tracks to go up Mount Royal Ave. Suddenly two boys, around 14, appeared in front of us. One held a gun. He seemed drugged. He mumbled something but I couldn’t make out his exact words. I asked my brother what he’d said, his response was “Give him your wallet.” Which I did. They then ran off. Unfortunately, the concert tickets were in my wallet so instead of the Requiem, we went home, made the calls to cancel my credit cards, found a few dollars and went to the Mount Royal Tavern for a beer.

The next time I was alone. I was at a bank machine on the corner of N. Charles and Biddle Sts. I’d put my card into the machine and typed the code when a man appeared next to me. His hand was in his pocket and something was bulging ominously. He said “This is a gun. Give me everything that comes out of that machine or I’ll shoot you.” Unlike the first robbery, this man enunciated very clearly. I asked him to hold on because the machine was taking a lot of time. Suddenly on the screen came the message that my account was dry. I turned to the man, told him I was sorry, but didn’t have any money. What would happen now? I saw him glance behind my shoulder and then he said in an almost friendly voice, “That’s okay, no problem!” and quickly walked around the corner. I turned and saw a police car was coming down the street; this explained his sudden change of attitude.

Another incident occurred just after I moved to Paris. I was living in a fifth floor walk-up, directly below the roof. I was at home, it was mid-summer twilight. I was tired so I took a nap. I was dozing off when I heard the glass break in the kitchen and the sound of someone fumbling around. In a quasi-dazed state, I thought “Someone has broken the kitchen window. I’m going to be robbed. I’ll go to the kitchen, turn the light on and he’ll leave.” I went to the kitchen, turned on the light. There he was at the window. But he didn’t move. The sound I’d heard after the breaking glass was him trying to turn the window knob to open it, but he kept turning it in the wrong direction. He was wearing black gloves and started to turn the handle with more and more violence. He then said, in French, “I’ve lost my key, let me in!”

I then had a strange series of thoughts. I saw my butcher knife laying in the sink. I said to myself, “Should I stab his hands?“ But then I thought, “if I do that, blood will go everywhere, it’ll be a mess and I don’t want to hurt him, I want him to leave”. Then: “Maybe he’s going to cut my throat?” Seeing the broom I thought, “Should I use the handle and push him off the roof?” Then I realized he’d be killed, and I didn’t want that. I froze in place and screamed “No!” The telephone rang. A downstairs neighbor had seen someone cross the roof and heard my scream. The man fled over the rooftops.

There have been other such events in my life. After each one, I’ve pledged the next time I’ll be prepared. I’ll be more circumspect, look around before I do anything or go anywhere. But how does one prepare for “the next time”?

Currently there’s a lot of talk about a new rise of 1930s-like fascism. I won’t say speculation is pointless, but I wonder if it serves any constructive purpose. I think it’s more likely that whatever does happen will come out of the blue and until we’re in the middle of it, it’ll be impossible to predict both what form it will take and how we’ll respond. 


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