On the Blue Line

I was mugged Wednesday while riding the Blue Line out to school, near Cicero, trapped by four young men who saw some easy money. It was not my first time in an ugly situation, in the midst of hungry violence, but I’ve somehow escaped being a direct target like this before. It started with an infantile taunt, which I ignored and got slugged in the face for doing so. I didn’t fight, as a conscious choice, though I tried to avoid shots to my ears and nose (he concentrated on my face). I was knocked about 12 times or so & had my wallet lifted from my Khodi shoulder bag, which was strong enough to resist being torn from my shoulders. [Thanks Khodi!]

I was left with a numb jaw, picking up my wallet and sundries from the ground where the guy who actually stole my wallet flung it to try and further humiliate me. Honestly, though, the whole time I felt a measure of sadness for them, and for how damaged their sense of pleasure must be. Who can walk up to a stranger on a train and just punch him in the face?

On the Blue Line,  off to Chi town

It’s so complicated…I am a pacifist by nature & feel deeply divided about the efficacy of violence. Overall I think it senseless, except where mortal harm is concerned, and in order to prevent mortal harm to others. Or, as Sean Penn recently said, “I think we’re past that point in human evolution where there’s such a thing as winning wars.” In the moment after the first fist bent my glasses and before the second numbed my jaw, I managed to check out the three guys who stood down from me, but I didn’t see any weapons and felt a slight relief. That was all, though. It’s really hard to think about anything while you’re being punched in the head.

Overall, I was lucky and my situation could be much, much worse. They got some money from me, enough to send them running, though I worry about any further stupidity caused by their access to some quick cash. Realistically, the cash was probably gone before I got the the hospital that night. The CTA train driver screwed me over right after the incident as well. (I haven’t complained yet, but believe me, I will) I hit the emergency paging button to make sure the train didn’t leave the station, and when the driver came out he asked me if I was robbed “by the four youths I saw running from the car.” He was actively talking into his walkie-talkie, assuring me that he police were on the way. He stood with me for a minute and then told me to walk up to the turnstiles because and officer was there or arriving shortly. He did not escort me which, as I later learned from the police, is what CTA employees are obligated to do for victims of crime on the scene.

Turns out that no officers were called, and that the train, as well as my sole witness, pulled out of the station as soon as I arrived at the front. The woman there was helpful, though she refused to give me her name, and she too did not call any police officers. In fact, she took a call from her brother while assisting me. I now know, and am telling you so that you are informed as well, that if you are the victim of a crime while on the CTA you are 1) entitled to a CTA employees’ presence, 2) there are dedicated police patrols whose sole beat is the CTA, and 3) the CTA is obligated to contact them on your behalf so that a report can be filed on the scene. You do not need to be put back on a train, as I was, and sent to find a station all on your own to report the crime.

My police report was made to a gloriously named Officer Rent, and my visit to the hospital afterward was fairly surreal and uneventful. The whole ER ward was empty, probably in a lull but more like a Coen Brothers waiting room, full of awkward silences and aggressively verbal intake nurses. It took seven attendants about a half an hour to print out my exit papers.

I’ve had too much experience with hospitals in the past two years. While traveling in Thailand in 2005 I contracted a nasty eye condition in Lopburi, in the last 2 weeks of my trip, that only grew more serious in Ayutthaya and remained mysterious until my third hospital visit once I arrived back in Bangkok. The skin surrounding my eye continued to swell, crack and burn, staying gummed shut for 15 minutes or more each morning as I flushed it with lukewarm water to quell the rash’s advance. My first instinct was that I needed steroids to dry it out, which is what I was prescribed in Lopburi, as I was observed and prodded underneath the blazing Mass Casualty Zone B sign. The doctor told me, if it gets worse go to another hospital right away.

Which is what I did in Ayutthaya where I was given a salve and some pills, and was told to immediately cease my use of the steroids. The new cream said it should only be used for known conditions, which did not do justice to my condition quite yet, because the topical ointment could cause blindness or “paralysis of the eye,” which somehow sounded worse than mere blindness. My first thought after reading the warning was of Dr. Octagon a.k.a. Kool Keith, and his diagnosis of “cirrhosis of the eye” in one skit, which is probably why I only used the cream once. Sparingly. I joked with the fee-taker at Wat Phra Si Sanphet that I should only have to pay half price, since I could only see out of one eye; he laughed, but I still had to pay the full 30 Baht.

In Bangkok, at the magisterial Bumrungrad hospital near Siam Square, I finally found not only the answer to my pain but also received such attentive, gentle & telepathic care by a team of 5 attendants that I finally understood what a nurse fetish is all about. Luckily for me, before the situation got all Jonathan Ames, they had to repeatedly swab my eye causing a straight rod of pain like a molten needle to my brain.

It turned out that I came in contact with a beetle that is extremely rare in Thailand and normally found the Middle East, especially Iran, which likes to crawl about your face while you sleep. Unfortunately, this little beetle can be crushed quite easily, if you roll over or try to brush it off while you sleep, for example, and is filled with a potent, acidic skin irritant. My doctor had traveled in the Middle East extensively and was familiar with the symptoms, recognizing my bloated, peeling skin immediately. She gave me steroids again, told me I would be fine and to avoid direct sun to my eye for a while. Once the medicine took hold I understood why, as my eyelid skin flaked and peeled, as if sunburnt, for weeks afterward, at one point the remaining skin so thin that I could see my eye through the closed lid. I thought it was cool, actually, which is probably why I traveled so well by myself for so long, and also why I felt so calm throughout my mugging two days ago.

So here I am, with what seems like very little bruising, all concentrated in a panoply of red and purple surrounding my right eye, and a puckered mark like a hickey on my forehead, but unfortunately with a right maxillary sinus fracture. I will not need pins or surgery, but after palpitation, x-rays and a CAT scan modern medical science has directed my, in big capital letters, DO NOT BLOW YOUR NOSE. Seriously. I have to look out for clear or bloody drainage, drowsiness or confusion and, under no circumstances should I blow my nose. I just wish all my upper teeth on the right side weren’t still numb. You don’t really think about how it feels to bite into food, at least I didn’t, until the past two days. Check it out, it feels pretty good to bite into things, and you’d miss it if it were numb…

Sliced Brain, Anyone?

Basically I could unsettle the floating sliver of bone that is hovering inside my face, and I am grateful to not need pins much less surgery. As I said, it could be much worse. I don’t feel as violated as I did when my New Brunswick apartment was broken into many years ago, damaged and thieved from whilst I slept in an adjoining bedroom. I realized what happened after waking, imagining the perp peeking in on me and avoiding my room as I slept. He almost got caught in a separate upstairs apartment, which he accessed through our shared back stairwell, jumping on my roommates’ bike and peddling furiously with a radio and jewelry in tow, trying to avoid the righteous fury of my neighbor who chased after him.

That was a hard one to get over, in part because I am such a light sleeper, a lifelong insomniac, and I cannot imagine how I slept through it at all. The hardest part of that one was ignoring the flashes of brutal violence I would imagine as soon as I closed my eyes, what I would’ve done to the nasty little burglar if I woke before he opened my door. Those images of violence grew and bred like cellular division, an unwanted commanding force that occupied my head. The worst I’ve ever done is smack a man, but I have a vivid language of violence in my mind I now know. That took many many months to dissipate, and periodically the unwanted visions return, obscured and splotchy but visceral.

So no Thursday quiz this week, sorry for the absence but I’m sure you understand. Moments before my mugging I was thinking that I would like to go home and not have to sit through class, because I was tired and somewhat sad already (I’ve not had a good week overall, in fact — I was rear-ended while driving by a car on Monday [no injuries, no insurance claim, but frustrating nonetheless] and I was stood up for a movie date on Tuesday. So it goes.). As I watched my assailants flee the scene, a song ran through my head briefly and I forgot about it until I lay in bed Wednesday night when it suddenly occurred to me what song it was. Burning Down the House by the Talking Heads. You know the one,

Watch out
You might get what you’re after…

Hold tight wait till the party’s over
Hold tight were in for nasty weather…

Heres your ticket pack your bag: time for jumpin’ overboard
The transportation is here
Close enough but not too far, maybe you know where you are
Fightin’ fire with fire…

Robot Robbery Menace!!!


5 Responses to On the Blue Line

  1. Kristin says:

    I came to your website because you (so kindly) talked about my “Books for Breakfast” blog. But what a horrible story! I’m sorry that you had to deal with that, but what surprises me the most is your empathy. I don’t think I could be as forgiving.

    Anyway, what strikes me most is your gift of language, so I’m adding you to my list of must-reads. Take care and DON’T BLOW YOUR NOSE.

  2. yolaleah says:

    This is so awful. :( I feel like sending a letter of complaint to the CTA as well. The way the dealt with this, or rather how they didn’t, is disgusting and a disgrace to our cities public transportation.


  3. Andrea says:

    When I heard about what happen to you, I was very disturbed and upset, because you or no one deserves to be treated so badly. For me, living in a city as big as Chicago can be very scary. Your sound spirit, calm nature, and quick thinking served you well in this chaotic situation filled with a disarray of intimidation, cause by a culture of violence. I hope the numbness in your teeth stops. Thanks for sharing what happen to you. See you in class.

  4. Kirston says:

    Hi Steven,

    I’ve been meaning to comment ever since your Sound of the Century post, which both Tarrl and I greatly enjoyed and which brought back some very pleasant memories of chocolate and armagnac.…

    We’re both sorry to hear about the mugging, but happy you’re in one piece and apparently in good spirits, if sleep deprived from the current workload.

    Send me a note, if you like, and I’ll pass it along to Tarrl who, I’m sure you’ve guessed, does not leave comments anywhere….

    ~ Kirston

  5. Equiano says:

    A belated comment. I am horrified by your experience! But you kept your cool very well. I don’t think there is a right way necessarily to respond as each incident is different, but unless you are martial arts trained to high level and can defend yourself, there seems little point in responding. Perhaps the incident in your home was more disturbing because it was an invasion of your private space, whereas the CTA is a public space? Hope you’re feeling better now.

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