I had just finished talking to Justin Hunt and Ted Mathot about fakey movie trailers and TV commercials and food, and been dropped off at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland; my regular stop. It was about 8pm, and the San Francisco/Daly City train had just pulled out--there was almost no one on the platform, and the next train wasn't coming for another 15 minutes. I had just sat down on a bench and opened my notebook and began to sketch in a little panel when a young black fellow walks by, just a little strangely. Not so much that I would have noticed except that as he passed in front of me, he hovered around to my right, and sort of hesitated. He wasn't much larger than I; he wore baggy jeans and flashy nikes, a baseball cap and carried a purple duotang.
"Heh-- let's see that sweater?"
Hm? I found this confusing. He stammered about the zipper, saying "wow... lookit that!.. zips all the way.. That's just...what is that!?" I was thrown off. "Uh... Banana Republic?" I managed, lifting my notebook. A pause, and he asks if he can borrow 50 cents. "Sure," I say, thinking that this is finally his business, and that once handed over, it will be the end of it.
Indeed, after handing him the change, he thanks me and walks off, rapping to himself, cleaning off his shoes, laughing. He walks down the platform and eventually around behind where I'm sitting. A glass partition divides benches facing both sides of the platform, and I turn around and look through to see that he exchanges a few words with another young black guy sitting behind me. It occurs to me that maybe I'd been pick-pocketed while I had been distracted; unlikely, but I opened my bag, anyway, to check--yup, everything there... my wallet...
Exposing my wallet was a fatal error, I think--beyond having acknowledged the fellow in the first place. He had walked back around to my side again, and as I went to put my wallet away, he said "What's that picture!" "What?" I said, and immediately he pitched forward and clutched at the bills. "WHOA!" I yelped, wrenching his fingers (with a little difficulty) off the bills. "WHATTHEHELLIZTHAT!?"
"NO! I just wanted to show you that thing where you fold the bill, an' it looks like the twin towers... you know...? I just wanted to show you---" I shake my head pointedly. "That's cool man. That's alright." "NO! I just wanna show you!" "That's OKAY--" "I just want to show you." "THAT'S FINE MAN--" He's insistant, and so am I, and we go back and forth this way quite a few times before he takes his cell phone off his belt and throws it in my lap.
"Take my cell phone, okay? Hold on to it--I just wanna show you this trick!" "That's FINE man. I don't need to see it." I push it back at him, and he reaches into his pocket. "HERE. Here's a DOLLAR." He drops four quarters onto my sketchbook. "THAT'S FINE." I say, taking the quarters up and holding them out to him. "I ain't touchin' that," he says, shrugging and backing off--I put the money on the bench. "Why you like that with my money?! I give you my money--I just wanna show you the fuckin'..!" "I don't need to see it man!" He gestures to one of his many arm tatoos. "My BROTHA died, yo! That doesn't mean shit to you?! I'm just trying to be nice, share something...show you... My brotha is fucking dead, man... does 'at mean nuthin' to you!?? My brotha is fucking dead~!"
I'm shaking my goddam head. I begin to get loud. I shake my head a lot and throw my hands up; I narrow my eyes. "YOU KNOW, I'M FINDING THIS REALLY FRUSTRATING! I'M JUST TRYING TO SIT HERE AND MAKE SOME FUCKING DRAWINGS!" He looks through the glass: "We don't got no trouble--" and back at me muttering, with forced control, "Why you being so DIFFICULT!?" I glare back, shaking my head. "Why you being difficult!? Why you being DIFFICULT!!?" He's beginning to shake now, gritting his teeth and glaring at me. His eyes are RED. "WHY YOU BEING SO DIFFICULT!!" He is grinding his teeth and losing control, and his hand is clenched and his arm is trembling. He is going to punch me, I think to myself, and it is REALLY going to hurt...
He gestures behind me. "I got a friend there, and one over there--if you run, you ain't gonna get away." "WHY WOULD I RUN!!" I say quite loudly now, really thoroughly fuckin' fed up. He raises his head and shakes. "YOU THINK I'M A SUCKA!? You think I'm a SUCKA?!!" I squint. "I don't know what that means." "YOU CALLIN' ME A SUCKA! HUH? YOU THINK I'M A SUCKA!!?" He paces around me. I shake my head. I shrug. "I don't know what that means." He's totally gonna fucking punch me.
Now, I don't remember exactly what happened at this juncture, but I think he somehow goes back to, "I'm just trying to be nice and show you blah blah blah blah blah." Time stops. I consider this.
"FINE," I say, (pause) and I give him a one dollar bill. It only works with a twenty, he tells me. I roll my eyes and shake my head and stop again. Time stands still. VERY reluctantly I hand him a twenty. He takes it, and immediately changes tone! He sits down, and it's like I'm with another person. He mumbles something about how he just got outta jail seven days ago, and about his mom, and how she's been unwell, and they need money...--all inflective and falsely compelling and worried-like. I'm pretty goddam frustrated at having handed him any goddam money. "DID YOU WANT THAT MONEY!? WHAT IS THAT, GOING INTO MY WALLET!?" He babbles something idiotic, and I press again. "DID YOU WANT THAT!!?" I motion to the bill. He's already got the goddam 20 halfway into his pocket. He weakly acknowledges this. "DID YOU WANT MONEY?? THEN NEXT TIME ASK!!! DID YOU WANT THAT!!?" A weak yes. "OKAY! THEN YOU CAN HAVE IT! OKAY?" and I extend my hand to shake, and we do.
The train pulls in now, and I feel finally relieved to have this whole stupid mess out of the way. But he's telling some sort of story about god and fate and intuition now, and I just shake my head and step onto the train. "Just do the right thing." I say stepping on. I know, super lame. But I didn't know what the hell was up. He follows me on board and hugs me and pats me on the back. What? I sit down, and he sits beside me. What the hell is this? The train starts to head towards the city.
He tells me about a letter he recently wrote to explain to a possible employer (fedex) about his criminal charges; thus the file folder. I ask him about why he was in jail and he tells me. He relates a story about a friend of his in prison who was small, and so picked on, until one day he stood his own and beat the shit out of some guy in the bathroom. "After that day he earn people's respect." While he was talking, some guy walks past and knicks him in the foot. He looks towards him. Was that the fellow from the platform behind me!? OH SHIT, is this some sort of set up for really kicking the shit out of me or robbing me blind, or breaking into my house once I get out of the subway? I'm totally paranoid at this point.
"Where are you getting off?" I ask him. Before we leave Oakland, he tells me, although when he finally exits the train (giving me props on the way out? WTF?) he walks away and stays on the platform (rather than swtiching sides, which you'd have to do at this station). We pull away, and I look around. Are his thuggy friends planted? I walk up and down the car, looking into the adjacent cabins for the fellow who had walked by earlier. Was I just being paranoid? I sat back down again, strongly compelled to talk to just about anyone about what the hell had just happened.
As the train entered the first San Francisco stations and began to fill up, I started feeling marginally more comfortable. This is why I like cities, I thought, remembering Jane Jacobs, in my head. Surrounded by people I was okay. Walking home from the station, and even being back in my apartment, bars on the windows, made me nervous again. I called Jen and told her the story; I'm glad it wasn't worse. I did some stupid things in there too, but fortunately everything was fine. Had there been a weapon or it had seemed more dangerous and less... wierd, I definitely would have handled things differently. In any case, that's it, for those of you who read all that. Not the most exciting mugging story ever, but definitely enough for me.
I don't like needing bars on my windows, but I do fear I may need more.