“I’m okay, but I was just mugged. Can I use your phone?”
[/pullquote]I got up, took a deep breath of LA night air, and brushed the loose grass off of my clothes. “Here ends Act One?” I thought, slightly confused. I looked down the street. They were gone. What was I supposed to do next? Call the police. Right. I reached down for my phone only to remember that it was gone. “Right, they took your phone.” I walked down the street a few paces and then up the flight of stairs to my apartment. Deep breath. Don’t scare her. “Hey baby. So I’m sorry, but I don’t have those drinks. I don’t want you to worry-I’m okay, but I was just mugged. Can I use your phone?”
It had not been a typical Monday evening. I had received word from a friend in San Francisco that a mutual friend who was a leader in the anti-circumcision movement had taken his own life. As the friend contacting me was not very well-connected to the intactivist community, she was asking me to get the word out. An hour later, after multiple phone calls, texts, and Facebook messages, I needed a break. LA is known for its good weather and my favorite time to take a walk here is in the evening, when the air feels like soft silk on my skin.
The police arrived. There were a lot of questions. The cop who was asking them was clearly the more experienced of the two. As his partner took notes, he intervened correcting her method with thinly veiled-annoyance. What’s the term for her? She’s a “Rookie.” Right. Why am I trying to recall police terminology? Right, I was just mugged.
“It obviously happened to atone for something you did, or something you didn’t do.”
[/pullquote]Where were you exactly? What did they look like? What did they say? What kind of gun was it? Did they point it at your face, or at your chest? What did they take? What kind of car did they drive off in?
The following days would be a blur of bureaucratic procedure, conversations with the police, and support from close friends and family. It was a strange time. I was processing how I felt about what had happened and watching those around me process it too. The teller at the bank who helped me print a new debit card had one question: “What kind of guys were they? Like, were they Black or White?” My mother told me that it was a “Kapara. You know what that means, Eliyahu, right? Don’t dwell on the ‘why me?’ It obviously happened to atone for something you did, or something you didn’t do.” My brother pointed out that the close proximity of my friend committing suicide and having a gun put in my face was too much to ignore. “It’s your subconscious trying to tell you something.” My father told me that I should “get a gun.”
After a short period of wounded-masculinity during which I second-guessed my decision to obey the kid-with-gun, I settled in to wondering what it meant. I could feel my brain trying to derive a lesson from the experience. Don’t walk around the neighborhood at night anymore? Fuck that. Carry a weapon, like my father suggested? Tempting, but that would probably make me less safe if something like this were to happen again. Unlike the bank teller, I didn’t have a racist worldview that needed reinforcing. Unlike my mother, I don’t believe in God. And if I did, I would not accept this as a kapara, because I find that sort of theology to be both simplistic and deeply offensive. And unlike my brother, I didn’t think that there was a cosmic or projected subconscious meaning to the experience.
“Give me your phone.” For a split second, I brace for a fight. Then I see the gun.
[/pullquote]All I was left with was the experience itself. Walking down Corning, listening to a tech podcast, managing a Facebook thread, a Oaxaca Film Festival tote filled with cold drinks slung over my shoulder. I hear “…Phone.” I look up. That kid who was walking with that other kid who had passed me back at the intersection of Corning and Pico is standing there. “Give me your phone.” For a split second, I brace for a fight. Then I see the gun. It’s a revolver. Pointed at my chest. He raises it to my head. “Stop looking at me. Why are you looking at me? Stop looking at me.” Just do what he says. If you take any unnecessary risks, your wife will never forgive you. “Get on the ground.” I raise my hands and lie face down in the grass next to the sidewalk. He takes my phone and yanks the bluetooth headphones out of my ears. He takes the Oaxaca Film Festival tote. He starts patting around my shorts. “Where your wallet at? Where your wallet at?” He finds it and then tries to take the ring off my right hand. You’re not getting that ring, motherfucker. That’s one of only two objects that my grandfather managed to take with him from Austria when he escaped the Nazis. I make a fist. He stops trying to pull it. I hear him run off. I hear a car door close. I hear the car drive off.
My mother is now urging me to say Birkat HaGomel. It’s the traditional Jewish prayer that one says after surviving a life-threatening incident. It’s a strange, mildly alliterative blessing. “Blessed are you my master, our God king of the world, who bestows good to the culpable, for he has bestowed goodness upon me.” There are a number of problems with this idea. First, I’m not a believer. Second, the language of the prayer bothers me. But more important than either of these first-order problems, is the practical problem of not having a Jewish community in which I’m comfortable enough to say it. My defense of Palestinian human rights has made me a pariah in the one Jewish community that I used to frequent in Los Angeles.
In a better world, we could have been friends.
[/pullquote]As time goes by, another note is rising in my consciousness, one that feels more like me. My assailant and I are the only two people who know exactly what happened that Monday evening. It’s a strange kind of intimacy. Like we were both the actors and the sole audience in a play called “Mugged!” I wonder what he’s doing with my stuff. I could show him how to use the Moment mounting plate on the phone to add lenses and take better pictures. I could talk to him about my general disappointment in bluetooth as a technology for headphones and recommend that he get a solid pair of wired cans instead. And I could tell him the story of my grandfather’s ring and explain why that part of the play had to be improvised. Compassion for the kid-with-gun is the only meaning I’m comfortable with here. Of course, we will never meet again. His chances of avoiding the prison-industrial complex are not good and I will continue to live my wonderful, crazy, independent-filmmaker rollercoaster of a life. Which is too bad, because in a better world, we could have been friends.