Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Random Encounter

Random Encounter

On Saturday morning, I get mugged. Like most muggings, it happened quickly and with no warning.
It’s my official last day at my old apartment. I’m moving boxes out of storage, mentally focused to getting the hell out of dodge, away from my low class neighbors, the pawn shops and liquor stores, the section 8 housing. I’m alone in the parking garage digging through a storage cabinet when two men round the corner, unmasked faces cloaked with menace. Similar to what a gazelle must feel to when it spots a lion on the Savannah, the minute I saw them I knew I was in trouble. They were not normal people, but hallowed men, empty receptacles filled with hungry avarice, souls scooped out and tossed away somewhere during childhood. They radiate rage and terror, mouths shut, demeanor and posture shouting violence.
It’s a random encounter; an unpredictable event that get hurled into life in an effort by the Creator to alleviate boredom and create excitement. In this, God functions much like a film or TV director who will toss in a bit of random “action” whenever they need to pick up the pace; Spider Man webbing a purse snatcher, Bruce Lee beating the crap out of a street gang, Arnold Schwarzengger mowing down a legion of minions in Commando. While I appreciate the “Big Man” trying to keep me on my toes, I am unfortunately not a super hero, martial artist, or indestructible action hero.

In fact, this encounter is blatantly unfair for several reasons, the first being that I’m unarmed, and the second being that I’m a dual class 8th level teacher/3rd level comedian. Some people choose to be soldiers, or hunters, or boxers; adventuring classes that can defend themselves. One example would be my friend George, a 3rd level marine corp sniper. Others like Vinnie are tough just by nature of where they live, (10th level New Yorker) armed with a protective aura of attitude.

So when God rolls invisible cosmic dice, determining that is time for one Brian Leiken, 8th level teacher/3rd level comedian to be robbed by a pair of 4th level thugs, I’m not prepared to handle it. A moment before the robbery I’m mentally focused on moving out of my old apartment, returning early Saturday morning to collect the last of my belongings, most of which remain stashed away in a small parking garage storage unit. (This is the exact same spot where my car was stolen, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised about what is going to happen next, even though it is broad daylight.) I’m digging through the storage cabinet for a box of old clothes, wondering if I should just throw them out when the dice are thrown.

The odds of getting robbed at 8 in the morning are extremely low, probably about 1%, but unbeknownst to me - God’s daily been rolling a d100, looking for that 01. Today, he rolls it. Two 4th level thugs materialize around the corner.

It reminds me of a time I was playing in a D&D game being run by Dan Kaplan, who randomly rolled up a pack of a dozen trolls against Dave, a 4th level thief armed with daggers. Having no chance against such fearsome enemies, Dave fled. It turns out that even against such overwhelming odds, his imaginary character had a better chance than I do.

The thug on the left is a bald Latino in white baggy t-shirt and shorts, the universal uniform of the LA cholo; he eyes me with the contempt of a schoolyard bully. His companion, eyes wild and amped, is African American, but has opted to don a gray sweater and black sweats, crack head approved drug user apparel the world over. Two feet away the pair of them stop; flanking me, bracing themselves for resistance or an attempt to escape.

Unlike Dave and the trolls, fleeing isn’t an option, I’m pinned into a corner of the parking garage, my only chance is to try and run through them. Standing over six feet tall, skin pock marked and crisscrossed with scars, they are physically intimidating. For all I know they could have weapons concealed beneath their baggy clothes.

I have no gun, no belt knife, not even a can of pepper spray. All I got is my fists – and a mouth. Perhaps I could offer to grade them, offer critical feedback on their technique by creating a four point rubric that assesses their mugging on intimidation, efficiency, risk, and professionalism. Alternatively, using my teacher powers I could lecture them about the history of crime, or use the Socratic method in an attempt to appeal to their higher reason.
Shit, as a character class teachers are more worthless than a D&D druid.

At least the Druid could turn into a bird and fly away; all I can do is grin and try not to sweat. Should have picked a modern day adventurer class, like a cop, martial artist, spy, or bounty hunter. I guess I could always try to joke my way out of it, make them laugh and hope they decide to let me go. It’s time to make a decision. Fight, run, or surrender.

Having gained the surprise round, the Latino speaks first. “You know the drill, empty your pockets.”

I attempt to make a skill roll to talk my way out of it. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I snarl angrily. That's it? You got to be kidding me? The roll fails.

Their turn, the Latino rolls for intimidation. “Do it, or you’ll get beat up.” He gets an 11 on a d20, not a great roll, but given the circumstances he only needs about a five or better. His friend assists, adding +2 to the roll by glaring menacingly. That makes it a 13. Shit! I pull out my wallet, phone, keys, and toss them to the ground.

“Is that it?” the Latino asks, rerolling his intimidation a second time. It works, but I got nothing left to give.

“That’s it!” I bite back, pissed at myself for failing my saving throw.

The Latino approaches and pats down my back pockets, but they’re empty. His friend snatches up my belongings.

I rally, roll a 15 and have the temerity to ask a question. “Can I at least keep my ID?”

Neither of them respond as they dart around the corner. I follow, suddenly afraid they might try and steal my car. At least it’s lo-jacked.

“Can I have back my keys?” I ask.

“They’re in the dumpster!” the black man shouts back. Neither of the thugs run, but they move at a brisk pace. I follow, not sure what I should do. “Hey, they’re in the dumpster,” he calls back again, “I swear.”

“Don’t follow us!” the Latino warns.

I stop to look in the dumpster. Sure enough, my keys are on the top of a pile of trash. I’ve never been more grateful to see them.

I look up, but the thugs are already a block away. I could pursue, but then what? I’m not armed; I don’t even have a phone to call the police with.

I run into the building and knock on a neighbor’s door. The apartment building I’m moving out of has turned into government housing, and not filled with the friendliest people. I can hear kids crying out from behind the door as I knock, a concerned mother’s voice telling her children not to answer it. I shout that I don’t mean to alarm her, but I’ve just been robbed and need to contact the police.

A black woman answers the door, her three kids behind her, all staring with wide eyes. I explain what has happened and she nods, dialing. I contact an operator and she tells me to sit tight while they dispatch a patrol unit.

A few minutes later a police car rolls up, I wave to them as one of the officers calls out that they’ll patrol the block to see if they can spot the thieves. I nod, hoping they’ll catch the unrepentant scum who took my belongings, the yellow bellied trash.
But in my heart I know they won’t.

The police return five minutes later, take a report; ask for a description and how much was stolen. Losing the wallet is painful, I had $120 in cash, $70 of which was going to a maid I had coming to clean out the apartment. The loss of the iPhone is near catastrophic, there is no insurance on it and it cost me $300. Because I’m in the middle of a move, I have no Internet and no way of immediately contacting anyone about what has happened.

I give the police a description, but while bald cholo’s and black crack heads might attract notice in small town USA, in Los Angeles I might as well be describing lampposts and freeway pavement. The cops are sympathetic, but there’s little they can do, expressing surprise only that I got my keys back. They call my phone number, but the thugs are smart enough not to answer.
I’m given a report and told that a detective will be in touch if they find anything. (Yeah, right.) Quivering with rage, I go back into the apartment and lock the door, waiting for my roommate to arrive to help with the rest of the move.

I play the event over and over in my head; wondering if I should have tried to fight or make a run for it. I’m not Jackie Chan, I can’t do back flips and spinning round house kicks. I didn’t have any weapons, I’m not particularly strong or massive or trained how to fight. Like a low level character being forced to fight a dragon, this wasn’t an encounter but a Kobayashi Maru, an unwinnable scenario.

But what If I had won? I would have gotten to keep my belongings, $120 in cash, my ID’s, and my phone. But if I had lost I would have lost not only my belongings, but taken a beating, possibly been hospitalized or killed. Any kind of rational analysis leaves only one correct solution: give up your belongings; it’s not worth it.

Then why do I feel like such a coward?

I log onto my laptop and piggy-back on someone else’s internet, leaving a message on Facebook that I’ve been robbed. My sister (10th level producer) arrives about an hour later with her husband (12th level entrepreneur); both are supportive and concerned. “You made the right move.” She exclaims, worried. “Things can be replaced, you can’t.”

I nod dumbly. All I really want to do is take a bat to the mugger’s heads and split them open until the red runs out like ice cream sherry. Friends and family alike contact me, are you okay, is everything alright? I tell them I’m fine. Really. Other then wanting to bury a couple of fools, I’m fine. I daydream in my head if I had just had one good friend with me, this might have worked out differently.

I decide to Skype Harry, a 10th level grad student/5th level professor. He tells me I did the right thing. I complain bitterly about being a teacher and feeling so helpless.

“You’re not a teacher,” Harry responds, “your a bard.”

“I should have fought back!”

“Fight?” Harry scoffs. “Over what? Some cash and a phone? Street trash like that is a dime a dozen, bards are rare. As a criminologist I can tell you that eventually they’ll be caught, or robbed by other thieves, or end up murdered in a crack house or a ditch. You did make one mistake though.”

“What’s that?”

“You should have called out that you’d pray for them!” Harry laughs.

The next day I get an email from my father, and although I’m still pissed about what has happened, he somehow still makes me feel better.

Remember these two assholes do not and never will have 1/100th of what you have. They are still losers and you are Brian Leiken, teacher, writer, and world traveler who is loved by hundreds of people you have touched.

Thank you for that Dad.